One of our favourite hotels in the capital, Le Royal Meridien, have launched a really exciting new fusion concept at their restaurant Amalfi. Combining the restaurants usual Italian cuisine with Lebanese flavours and colours to create something altogether spectacular.
We were invited by the team at Amalfi to sample the new ‘Amalfi to Beirut’ tasting menu during its launch. Assembled on a table with fellow bloggers and media-types, we were very excited by the prospect.
Amalfi is a dark and intimate space that blends wooden tables with a touch of modern class. The decor features plenty of glass partitions, bare hanging light bulbs and contemporary styled furniture. A pleasant space that exudes sophistication.
As chef Justine explained to us prior to our meal, for one month only (starting March 21st 2016), Amalfi will bring the taste of Beirut to Abu Dhabi, with an enticing blend of dishes that burst into delight with each and every bite.
The fusion concept brings a bit of fun to the award winning Amalfi restaurant – known for its authentic Italian home cooking – is a masterful one. Taking inspiration from the Southern coast of Italy and its historical link to the spice route, Amalfi has concocted a wonderful fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours and ingredients, that amounts to East meets West, at its very best.
The meal began with a selection of the freshest of vegetables, the most colourful slices of carrot, asparagus, carrots and ruby radishes, accompanied by a traditional labneh (yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey), accentuated to delightful perfection with the addition of black truffle oil. A simple idea that elevated our first taste of Italian/Lebanese fusion to greatness.
All dishes were designed for sharing and what followed, was an array of sumptuous delights. The heirloom tomato fatouche salad was a delectable mix of poached lobster, cucumber, crisp crouton and mint, making for more than just a mere salad. The flavour of the mint, mixed with the tender lobster chunks and scatterings of luscious pomegranate seeds, really added to the wow-factor of the dish.
Everything that arrived at the table was immaculately presented and truly inventive. Even a simple hummus was transformed into something altogether spectacular with the addition of braised short rib – a perfectly executed idea that proves that fusion cooking done well, can create innovative flavour combinations. Chef Justin and his team have taken the simplest of concepts and by adding either Lebanese or Italian ingredients, created remarkable re-interpretations of classic menu items. A grilled halloumi salad was transformed into a sensory feast by the simple additions of beetroot and blood oranges -with the colours creating an extravagant splash of colour on the plate, that looked far to good to eat.
Lebanese food is a staple of this Middle Eastern region and shares many of the same aspects of Italian cuisine, at t Amalfi the two have become intricately linked. The sharing table is common in both Lebanese and Italian culture and it is this concept that Amalfi are trying to replicate. The food comes to your table as a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, and believe us when we say that there was a lot to be devoured.
Main courses were a mix of fantastic pizzas, from lamb kofta inspired combinations, through to grilled hallooumi (the vegetarian option) and a remarkable harissa chicken. Using the traditional Italian wood-fire-cooked pizza base, with a combination of sun-rich vegetables, the freshest herbs of mint and basil and a zesty lime mayonnaise, made even the vegetarian option appealing. The dishes evoke a feeling of warm hospitality, presenting a home-cooked feel and enticing colours, that encapsulate the evergreen mountains of Lebanon and the olive groves of Italy, into one unique and ambitious menu.
The menu is paired with a selection of the finest Lebanese grapes, hops and cocktails. We were enchanted by the Lebanese sunrise, an exotic mix of tropical fruit juices blended with a dash of vodka. While those looking for something less boozy, should not miss the pomegranate muddle, a refreshing choice.
Though not the biggest fans of foie gras (fattened duck liver) the pieces that arrived at our table were plump and visually appealing. The texture was melt in the mouth with a rich and buttery flavour, though still something that we would never order when eating out. The scallops presented to us with charred cauliflower were definitely one of the standout items and cooked to absolute perfection, remaining tender and altogether satisfying.
The experience was akin to that of eating with an Italian family (something we have a bit of experience in), copious amounts of food continued to arrive at the table and despite being full, we could’t resist a taste of the next alluring dish. From quail legs served on a creamy risotto, remarkably tender braised beef cheek and grass fed cutlets of lamb.
The long braise of the beef cheek is a staple of Italian cooking and Amalfi is becoming a vessel for experimentation and exciting food innovation. Just look at the lamb smoked eggplant or braised beef with dates and carrot puree. What is currently occurring at Amalfi, is the development of very exciting food,that transcends cultures, to provide sumptuous bursts of flavour via an appetising balance of ingredients.
Chef Justin and his team had certainly been saving the best for last. A fig and orange blossom pavlova arrived at the table encased in a wispy cloud of cotton candy that had to be lifted off to reveal the delights within. Accompanied by a passion fruit labneh cream, this was a remarkable dish, that was as much about flavour as its intricate presentation.
We also sampled the spectacular mango and pistachio kulfi (a frozen dessert similar to ice cream) which had an exciting palatableness, but was not the best kulfi that we have sampled in the UAE. There was also a selection of ice creams bursting with flavour – we loved the strong essence of dates, coffee and saffron that worked as the perfect palate cleanser.
Unfortunately for us, shisha was unavailable on the evening that we dined (due to poor weather conditions), but with the ambiance of our surroundings and the delightful live Arabic music, we barely noticed its absence (and we are massive shisha fans, so thats saying something). As the evening turned to night, we sipped on hot Moroccan tea and marvelled at the remains of the feast before us.
With the freshest ingredients, remarkable flavour combinations, and an eye for colour and presentation. Amalfi have pulled off a remarkable feat that we wholly recommend. Don’t wait too long though, as this fusion concept is only available for one month.
The concept of Amalfi to… is something that will continue at the restaurant until Ramdan.. So where could we be journeying to next? Hints indicate that Amalfi could be travelling to Morocco, Turkey or somewhere else entirely, one thing’s for sure though – we can’t wait to continue on this journey of fabulous fusion.
Amalfi to Beirut is available daily from 21st March – 21st April 2016. The set menu for two people inclusive of shisha is 399 AED.
We were invited to this event but all views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.