There are no salt and pepper sets on the tables at Todd English’s Olives. “If it needs salt and pepper, it ain’t cooked well,” says executive chef Jaime Mendozo. He’s right, and it is cooked well – the dishes we try are perfectly seasoned.
They are just about perfect all round. For proper fine dining you’d want more tablecloths, an army of waiters and maybe a menu that isn’t one-third pasta and also has a chicken Caesar on board. But the ambiance is great, in a clubby New York way. The service is impeccable yet friendly. And the menu is clever, mixing good wholesome fill-every-crevice foods with beautifully cooked and artfully presented dishes.
Not that the pasta is exactly thrown together. Try the veal agnolotti al plin, veal-packed parcels (agnolotti are made by folding a circle or square of pasta over the filling) sitting on a slow-cooked veal osso bucco that has been simmering for six hours or more. ‘Unctuous’ is a word that could’ve been invented for that osso bucco.
And the idea of taking quite ordinary ingredients to another level runs through the menu: the grilled squid is the best you will taste in Abu Dhabi; the seared sea bass comes with a topping of charred endive and an undercurrent of wild mushroom risotto that makes for a perfect match; the grilled tenderloin sits on a bruschetta and has Roquefort cream, peas and the capacity to induce uncontrollable drooling.
Prices? Not bargain basement, but not fine dining either. But given the quality of the cooking and the sheer pleasure of the eating, it feels like real value for money.
Location: Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton, Khor al Maqta’a
We say: An all-round winner
Cost: AED325++ for three courses
Opening times: Daily 12.30pm – 3pm and 6.30pm – 11pm
Contact: 02 404 1941 venetianvillage.ae/olives