Abu Dhabi’s Venetian Village with its distinct European feel and prime waterfront views, is fast becoming one of our favorite spots to dine in the capital. There’s just something about the charming Venetian inspired architecture and wide leafy promenades that carries us to the cosmopolitan cities of Europe and away from the desert, if only for a few short hours.
It would seem that American celebrity chef Todd English agrees. Having launched his Mediterranean concept restaurant Todd English’s Olives at the village a number of years ago. The restaurant is significant in the fact that it’s one of the few celebrity chef owned restaurants in the UAE, where the chef is actively involved. Aside from Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen (which turned one last month) and Nathan Oulaw’s excessively priced Al Mahara at the Burj Al Arab. A whole host of celebrity chefs – including Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Sanjeev Kapoor and Jamie Oliver – have opened restaurants in the UAE, leaving nothing but their name and reputation at the door.
Therefore it was refreshing to be invited to Todd English’s Olives, not once but TWICE last week, to experience a multitude of surprises that the restaurant had to offer. Beginning on Monday evening with a media mingle involving plenty of bubbly, cocktails and canapés with the man himself.
An evening with Todd English is not something you’re likely to decline and the anticipation was building, as our small group of selected media and bloggers awaited an appearance from the man himself.
Todd English’s rise to fame has been a slow and steady one. Dating back to 1991 where he was named National Rising Star Chef by the James Beard foundation and marking the first of many international accolades.
Since opening his first restaurant ‘Olives’ in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston in April 1989 (it closed down in 2013), English has been a judge on television show Cooking Under Fire and even hosted his own cookery show Food Trip with Todd English. His successful passion for all things food has allowed him to open branches of Olives in New York, Mexico City and the the infamous Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Aside from Olives, English launched the restaurant concept ‘Figs’ said to be the first US pizzeria to bring flat bread pizzas to the mass market. ‘Restaurant Todd English’ aboard the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship, ‘Blue Zoo’ a seafood concept at Walt Disney World and ‘Beso.’ A Latino-inspired restaurant in partnership with actress Eva Longoria.
These are just the highlights, with numerous other restaurants, cookery books and merchandising. Todd English is a busy man, so we were very lucky to have him in the capital for a three day stint. The media mingle with English was an informal affair, full of casual conversation and delectable light bites from the kitchen. Featuring some of the restaurants highlights and also a number of dishes specifically created for the event, we dined on fried potato croquettes, chicken lollipops and the aforementioned pizza flatbreads. The standout items had to be the beautifully tender lamb chop, a divine short rib and truffle combination and some of the best red velvet cake we’ve had the pleasure of sampling.
Despite his limited time in Abu Dhabi. English made a concerted effort to spark up engaging conversation, while working the room and rushing back and forth to the kitchen.
The team at Todd English’s Olives really outdid themselves by hosting the general public for lunch and dinner on the Tuesday and Wednesday. Providing customers with the unique opportunity to have their food cooked for them by a celebrity chef and incorporating a meet and greet into proceedings. As one of the only media outlets in attendance, team Out and About were truly honored to participate and sample some of the English’s most regarded dishes.
Just as special as the food, was the opportunity to watch a master at work. English moves through the kitchen with such vigor and works so passionately to ensure consistently great plates of food are delivered to diners. His son Oliver (a spitting image of his father) was on hand to play waiter for the day, delivering immaculately plated dishes to the table time and again, during the course of the three hour lunch service. Beginning with an experimental dish (not yet on the menu), comprising garlic shrimp, zucchini and squash spaghetti. The intention is to provide a healthier alternative (less carbs) than pasta via the use of spiralized vegetables.
Next to arrive was the Beef Carpaccio, featuring a Gorgonzola rosti topped with balsamic glazed onions, mixed greens, parmesan and the thinly sliced beef. A dish that our fellow foodies have been singing the praises of for months on end and one that we wholeheartedly agree to be a ‘must order’ for anyone dining at Olives. Don’t let the raw nature of its dissuade you, this is a truly fantastic plate.
What followed were an abundance of flatbreads, pastas and meats. Each superior to the last and culminating in a selection of desserts that included pana cotta, carrot cake and our favorite red velvet cake from the previous evening.
But what of the man himself we hear you ask? All to often chefs are more comfortable in the kitchen and don’t necessarily want to be in front of diners. There is nothing worse than going out to eat and having an uncooperative chef wheeled out before you for the obligatory chit chat. Often a huge mistake that leaves everyone concerned feeling uncomfortable! This wasn’t the case with Todd English, a friendly gentleman who was charming, charismatic and affable. Someone who knows how to turn the charm on and can cook pretty well too!
Todd English’s Olives is a welcome addition to the capitals dining scene and is perfectly suited to its high-end location at the Venetian Village. The interiors are like a maze, with a colorful pasta room, bar area, two large dining rooms and a number of private dining spaces. It’s a classy affair of leather seating and modernist touches that at the same time, feels rather rustic and homely. With the capacity for 200 diners, Olives is a vast space that’s well looked after by the team of amazingly friendly (and attentive) staff.
There are also exciting times ahead at Todd’s with the launch of Todd’s Lazy brunch. Offering a table service brunch of signature dishes between 12:30pm – 4pm on weekends. All for the bargain price of 190 AED ++ (soft drinks) or 290 AED ++ (vino package)
Even more exciting! We’ve heard a rumor that one of the most impressive dishes from Todd English’s P.U.B. may be making it’s way onto the menu in Abu Dhabi. In the constant strive for the next Instagraamble image, we present to you the All About Bloody Mary. A savory version of the ‘freak shake’ craze, in which the spicy Bloody Mary beverage is topped with edible food items like shrimp and sliders! If this comes to the capital, then we’ll be first in line to try it and is something that is likely to encourage the foodies and social media savvy in droves!
We also hear that Not only that the Venetian Village itself has plans for expansion, with the inclusion of a waterfront boardwalk for al fresco dining and perhaps even gondolas. It may not quite be Venice but it’s a worthy substitution for those not wanting to travel thousands of kilometers.
Location: Venetian Village, Ritz Carlton Grand Canal, Al Maqtaa, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook
Hours: 12:30pm – 11pm (9:3oam – 11pm weekends)
Phone: 02 404 1941
We were invited to dine at Todd. English’s Olives All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Cover image used courtesy of Venetian Village