Saadiyat Island is beginning to boom! Following the launch of the cultural hotspot Louvre Abu Dhabi late last year, we now welcome a new five-star resort property to Abu Dhabi’s prime beachfront location renowned for glittering waters and long swathes of isolated sand.
The Saadiyat Rotana Resort and Villas is already starting to make waves (see what we did there) with a slew of exciting new dining options which include the picturesque Turtle Bay Bar and Grill, the capitals first true gastropub in the form of Hamilton’s, and Saadiyat Island’s first specialist Italian restaurant – Si Ristorante Italiano & Bar.
Seven distinct dining destinations are always a reason to celebrate, especially when set against a backdrop of natural sand dunes and palm-fringed beaches in an upmarket dining enclave that feels more like the Caribbean than the Middle East.
The old adage “go big or go home” immediately springs to mind as we step into the cavernous Si Ristorante Italiano and bar on a buzzing Monday evening. Presenting a semi-rustic look, Si evokes the feeling of a traditional Italian trattoria with its simple wooden tables and tiled floor. Anchored around a central pizza oven, the dining room has the capacity for 150 covers (there’s also an ample outside terrace) with tables well-spaced allowing for a sense of intimacy, especially if you’re lucky enough to procure one of the raised booths.
Aside from the impressive wood-fire oven which rotates the pizzas as they cook! Si features a separate bar (ideal for a pre or post dinner drink), open show-kitchen, an appealing Mozzarella bar (where trestles of sun-kissed tomatoes and earthy mushrooms offer just as much appeal as the cheese) and a pork room – scheduled to open during the summer. Wooden pizza paddles complete the dining environment, with children actively encouraged to sit at the pizza counter to watch the flaring of the dough and the preparation of toppings.
With so much going on in the restaurant, the menu is more simplistic with its choice of Italian home-style cooking that will be familiar to those accustomed to Rotana’s other Italian favourites – Prego’s and Rosso’s. Forgoing the fine dining setting which the majority of Abu Dhabi restaurants are currently following when it comes to Italian cuisine, Si sensibly keeps things simple with a casual and family-friendly approach via simplistic dishes with honest ingredients as the primary focus
Our meal begins as all Italian meals should, with a rustic loaf of bread accompanied by a delightful olive tapenade, olive oil and chunks of Parmesan cheese. The bread is essential for mopping up the beautiful juices from our starter of oven-roasted messy prawns, presenting three plumb crustaceans in a buttery sauce complemented with chili and garlic. We continue the seafood theme with two glorious tentacles of char-grilled octopus, perfectly cooked to provide a tender texture and charred flavour. Yet it’s a potato salad featuring sweet peppers and capers, and a robust citrus aioli that really work to bring the plate together.
Intrigued by the boards of cured meats and cheeses which are a Si speciality, we gleefully tuck into the signature mozzarella tasting. Presenting three variations of Mozzarella, the cows milk has been flown in from Italy before being processed right here in the UAE. The trio are very good, with the smoked buffalo mozzarella being of particular note for its subtle smoke infusion, though the creamy stracciatella burrata represents our standout choice.
Unable to eat Italian without at least one slice of pizza, we found the thin and crispy hand-stretched base of the bresaola e rucola to be one of our favourites in the city. Topped with air-cured beef, an abundance of tomato, and plenty of parmesan cheese the construction of this particular pizza allows for each individual ingredients to shine through.
With close to fifteen pasta options on the menu, we’re drawn to the house speciality of calamarata pasta with Canadian lobster and scallops. Rings of wonderfully al-dente pasta prepared in a rich tomato sauce with lobster broth, plus pan seared lobster and scallops. It’s pleasing to see the seafood is generously dispersed throughout the pasta in a strong dish which works to further enhance the rustic concept of Si.
While the braised lamb shank doesn’t quite reach the same highs as the pasta course, the tender nature of the meat cannot be denied. Enhanced with a winning combination of orange and olives and accompanied by a hearty mashed potato that works wonderfully with the sauce, we would’ve appreciated a touch more seasoning and flavour to the meat itself.
Desserts stick firmly with the traditional and it would appear our search for a great tiramisu in Abu Dhabi may finally be over. The typically Italian dessert which layers mascarpone with coffee soaked biscuits is given the required oomph via the optional addition of Kahlua. A dense Italian doughnut also comes recommended as do the mini cannoli stuffed with ricotta, maraschino cherries and chocolate.
As expected from the dependable Rotana brand, service at Si is friendly and the team are well versed in both the food and beverage offerings. In terms of service style it makes for a welcome change when management are actively involved in the customer experience and at Si we’re engaged in conversation with the Italian manager and duo of Sicilian chefs. The customer focus at the core of the Rotana experience is one of the brands strongest points and we’re pleased to see the service style traversing over to the Saadiyat Rotana Resort and Villas.
We’re saying “Si” to this new Italian opening on Saadiyat Island! For not only does it work as a showcase for Italian classics executed to the highest of standards but also for the Saadiyat Rotana as a dining destination in itself. We’ll “Si” you there…
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of FACT Magazine.
Location: Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
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Hours: 12:30pm – midnight
Phone: +971 2 697 0000
Out & About UAE were guests of Si. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.