It would appear that every restaurant in Abu Dhabi has decided to launch a Saturday brunch concept, with only one month left until Ramadan! In this climate of falling revenues, does this trend represent a last minute money grab before the inevitable summer slump? Or perhaps an opportunity to soft-launch a concept and determine if it’s one worth keeping once September brunch season rolls around again?
Don’t believe us? In the last month we’ve had new concepts from Butcher & Still (a Saturday BBQ which has already been discontinued), Circo (the Intercontinental’s Italian table brunch) and Finz at the Beach Rotana (review pending). Abu Dhabi’s Crowne Plaza on busy Hamdan Street have also throwing their hats into the Saturday brunch ring, with the launch of brunches at both the Asian inspired Cho Gao and Italian themed Spaccanapoli.
Spaccanapoli has been a firm favourite on the capitals dining scene for over a decade, a well established favourite with expats and locals alike. The name derives from a straight and narrow street that traverses the historic center of Naples (Italy) and quite literally translates as “Naples splitter.” Spaccanapoli Abu Dhabi may not be a street, but it’s narrow and full of rustic charm. Wine barrels and corks make for a focal feature in the centre of the room (that and the bottles of appealing Limoncello), while the decor consists of brushed stone walls and murals of the Italian countryside. Small alcoves in the windows provide a sense of privacy and at night, the play of light and shadow on the walls make for an alluring space.
With newly appointed Head Chef Luca Paltrinieri leading the charge, we’re ready to discover Brunchiamo, Spaccanapoli’s new family style brunch in which all dishes are delivered to the table. It’s our preferred type of brunch with freshly prepared food, no buffets and absolutely no walking. Chef Luca eases us into the meal slowly with warm breads and olive tapenade, before presenting a Tuscan tomato soup that’s as rustic at the setting. Under usual circumstances we’re not fans of tomato soup (it’s either too sweet or too acidic) but Spaccanapoli’s version surprisingly hits the mark.
Next to arrive are the antipasti platters, featuring vegetables in various forms (peppers, mushrooms, olives), a light salad, cured meats and a selection of cheeses which includes buffalo mozzarella and burrata. With burrata currently being our dish of choice on any Italian menu (we will always order it), we gleefully devour two without much effort. The cool and creamy texture works perfectly with the meat selection and the crisp lettuce leaves.
Those expecting pizza will likely be disappointed, as this staple of the Italian table doesn’t appear in Spaccanapoli’s brunch. It’s not the end of the world (though who doesn’t love a good pizza?) as carbs are freely available elsewhere, in the form of three different pastas. Each home made and testament to Chef Luca’s skills in the kitchen. Our kids devoured the Passatelli Bolognesi Classici (parmesan infused pasta with a classic bolognese sauce) without giving us so much of a look in. We were therefore left with the Spaghetti Ai Frutti Di Mare (spaghetti with fruits of the sea, or shrimps mussels and squid, as we like to call them) which carefully blended the flavours of seafood with a rich tomato sauce. The Tagliatelle Fatte In Casa Con Pesto Alla Genovese was our favourite, mixed with a green pesto that was creamy and bursting with flavour.
In our previous review of Spaccanapoli we noted: “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.” This statement still rings true, despite a change in both the Chef and F&B director in recent months. Spaccanapoli continues to forgo the fancy plating of its competitors in a pursuit of authentic flavours.
We did find the service to be inconsistent at tines. No doubt the team at Spaccanapoli offer service with a smile, but drinks were left un-refilled and plates uncleared, despite just a handful of tables. There was also a lack of atmosphere, even with the assistance of a musician trying to engage with diners. Thankfully, we have Chef Luca, who is such a character, that he manages to inject some much needed life into proceedings.
We encountered a slight slump with the Secondi Piatti (main course) and felt that the course didn’t quite live up to the dishes that had proceeded it. Grilled chicken, beef, lamb, shrimp and fish all boast excellent textures (the calamari is of particular note) but we felt that the seasoning was slightly lacking and could’ve been ramped up a notch. With this being brunch, we’re able to re-order as much as we like and the intention is to fill diners up until they shout “basta” (the Italian word for enough).
A selection of Italian pastries rounds out the brunch and includes mini cakes, meringues and profiteroles stuffed full of sweet cream. Ask Chef Luca nicely and he may even let you sample the tiramisu. Trust us, it’s worth it.
We had originally intended to write our review of the Spaccanapoli brunch as a comparative piece to Circo, but ultimately it would be unfair to compare the two. They may have both launched similar family style brunches that look to replicate the Italian table, but one is high-end fine dining and the other more casual with rustic charm.
Following a glut of Italian openings (Roberto’s and Cafe Milano on Al Maryah Island) causing quite a buzz on Abu Dhabi’s fine dining scene, Spaccanapoli may feel somewhat forgotten. They shouldn’t, as Spaccanapoli offers something a little different and for us, it holds a fond place in our hearts as our first dining experience following our move to Abu Dhabi.
With so many brunches spread throughout this fine city of ours, is Brunchiamo likely to set the dining scene on fire? Probably not, but for an unlimited offering, in a causal setting at competitive prices. You can’t really go wrong.
On a separate note, we recently has the pleasure of trying Spaccanapoli’s signature one meter pizza (not included in the brunch) and were mightily impressed.
Brunchiamo is held on Friday and Saturday lunchtimes from 12pm – 4pm and costs AED 200 (soft beverages) and AED 200 (house beverages).
Location: Crowne Plaza, Hamdan Street, Al Markaziya, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook / Twitter
Hours: 12pm – 11pm
Phone: 02 616 6261
We were invited to dine at Spaccanapoli. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.