Spaccanapoli was actually the first restaurant we dined at having relocated to Abu Dhabi a number of summers ago. A restaurant representative of Italian charm and understated Italian food.
The name Spaccanapoli derives from a straight and narrow street that traverses the historic center of Naples, Italy (and a name that quite literally means “Naples splitter”) and despite its location on a busy city street, Abu Dhabi’s Spaccanapoli is thankfully not Naples. A place we visited some years ago and did not care too much for. Despite offering great food options, Naples is less than desirable, full of criss-crossed laundry lines, dirty streets and an oppressive summer heat. If visiting the Amalfi Coast we suggest you use Naples as nothing more than a transport hub for access to the Amalfi Coast and the exclusive island of Capri.
Back in Abu Dhabi, we access Spaccanapoli from street level via a cellar, ascending a wooden staircase into the charming restaurant. There is little doubt that Spaccanapoli is a sanctuary from the capitals busy streets, providing diners respite and a chance to pause. Taking in our surroundings, we picture ourselves in a family farmhouse deep in the Italian countryside. Spaccanapoli oozes rustic charm, from the tiled trattoria floors, to the wooden shutters, hanging lanterns and painted murals that adorn the walls.
The restaurant has changed little in the years since our previous visit and the interiors present a refined space, featuring an intimate bar area for pre (or post) dinner drinks. A feature missing from so many restaurants in the capital and a place to linger after the meal for those who aren’t quite ready to go home.
The roasted garlic, one of our favourite elements from our last meal at Spaccanapoli, still remains prominent and arrives first to the table. Accompanied by a tomato dip and some morsels of bread. There is something about dissecting the garlic bulb and spreading one of the soft cloves onto freshly baked bread, that beautifully sets the tone for this Italian dining experience. One where the food is home cooked, or as we like to call it “made with love.” Undeterred by presentation, the emphasis at Spaccanapoli is more on the cookery, with dishes full of homemade flavour and presented to the table as if they were cooked by your stereotypical nonna.
Being an Italian eatery, diners should expect an abundance of pizzas and pastas, as well as a good mixture of salads and seafood options. We begin with the Spaccanapoli Antipasti, a platter for two people that presents the very best of the restaurants offerings. A creamy ball of burrata pugliese works wonders against the crisp tomato bruschetta. Meanwhile the thinly sliced carpaccio di manzo may be drenched in olive oil but this doesn’t deter from the flavour profile. The only weak link for us was the fritto di misto di pesce (deep fried seafood) that despite being lightly battered, wasn’t as crisp as one would expect and instead provided more of a soggy consistency. A due of delightfully delicate seared scallops were the final item to savored over.
Both myself and my dining companion opted for pasta as our main courses. Though we’re sure to return for the one meter long pizzas that Spaccanapoli has grown famous for. Our Linguine allo scoglio in crosta di pane al forno, can only really be likened to an Indian Biryani. A dome of light bread houses the mixed seafood pasta, tossed in a rich sauce of chilli, tomato and garlic. A great example of carbs on carbs, with the bread acting like an edible bowl in which the sauce can seep.
Our dining companion selected the far more picturesque Ravioli di aragosta con salsa bisque. A beautiful dish of lobster stuffed pockets of ravioli, topped with a thick lobster bisque. Both pastas dishes were remarkable, with the pasta itself veering just on the right side of al dente. All to often the ravioli shell is created too thick but here at Spaccanapoli the composition is as pleasing as one would expect.
With Italian desserts being so desirable, it’s certainly hard to pick between the gelato, apple cake or the classic vanilla creme brûlée. Eventually settling on the Tiramisu fatto in casa (homemade tiramisu) and Tortino caldo al cioccolato fondante con gelato al cioccolato Chocolate fondant).
Our fondant was especially good, representing the right level of sweetness and that all important interior ooze factor. We only wish for a little more in terms of presentation, as a white ramekin does little to promote the wow factor that this dessert truly deserves.
Having discussed tiramisu far too many times in recent months here on Out and About UAE. We’re not going to bore you with another disection of our favorite dessert. All we will say, is that tiramisu offered at Spaccanapoli is hands down one of the best you’re likely to find in the capital. Thick layers of cream and mascarpone, accentuated by the sweetness of the chocolate and the mildest hint of bitterness from the espresso.
As evening draws on the restaurant reaches capacity. A rarity in this city, where the common trend is for things to be ticking over nicely but never too busy. It appears as though the reputation of the hotel has only grown with the years and it’s still a very popular haunt with the expat community in Abu Dhabi.
With a lot of competition on the Italian fine dining scene in Abu Dhabi (Villa Toscana, Circo, Roberto’s and the recently opened Cafe Milano at the Four Seasons) is Spaccanapoli worth your money? We believe the answer for us is a resounding yes! Offering an extensive wine list, competitive pricing, a calming atmosphere and those all important one meter pizzas – for which we are sure to return!
We were invited to dine at Spaccanapoli. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.