As we venture into a new year, talk of Celebrity Chef Marco Pierre White has moved away from the interview with the Irish Independent in which he said that women were too emotional to work in a kitchen and “not strong enough to carry heavy pans” and into the more positive news that Russell Crowe will portray him in a Hollywood film about his life.
The chef who mentored Gordon Ramsey and famously returned his Michelin stars upon his retirement in 1999, has now repositioned himself as a restaurateur and returns to the UAE with a new opening. The Abu Dhabi outpost of Marco’s New York Italian, a concept that revolves around classic Italian favourites is situated in the five-star Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel. A step up from the restaurant’s other global outlets that can be found in the likes of Milton Keynes, Brentwood and Birmingham Airport in the United Kingdom.
Marco Pierre White’s latest opening at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr replaces Frankie’s (a defunct partnership between Marco Pierre White and Frankie Dettori) and marks the second restaurant for the celebrity chef in the hotel, following the success of Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Grill, which sits just next door.
Now, while a media event/restaurant opening is not the best way to judge the food, it should work as a showcase for the venue and, if successful, should encourage guests to return to explore the full restaurant experience. In all honesty, our initial visit left us slightly underwhelmed and under the belief that the baked mac ‘n’ cheese was the best thing on the menu.
So, after positive feedback from fellow journalists and an invitation to return, we ventured back to Marco’s for lunch in the slump between Christmas and New Year. Providing us with the chance to explore the menu further and achieve better insight into the concept.
First and foremost it should be noted that the food at Marco’s is undeniably casual and should be compared more with a Carluccio’s than say Cafe Milano. Supported by a menu of authentic Italian cuisine that skews towards a more causal demographic than the upmarket interiors and strong service would suggest, Marco’s actually works fantastically as a beverage driven concept due to a promising selection of Italian wines and premium cocktails which are named after New York locations such as the Parisi bakery.
The back half of the restaurant is dedicated to the bar and has been set up in a way that encourages guests to linger. This is due to the Instagrammable design featuring a bold monochromatic floor, a living wall of lush green vegetation and gold accents. Restaurant bars that actually work as independent entities are few and far between in the capital, with the likes of Zuma, Mazi and 99 Sushi making for notable exceptions. Marco’s can be added to this list.
While Marco’s isn’t exactly representative of the fine-dining fare that Marco Pierre White built his career upon. The restaurant is certainly accessible in terms of both cuisine and price point. The one-page menu is a good all-rounder, broken down into appetisers, salads, steaks, burgers, al forno, risotto, pasta, sourdough pizza, sides and desserts. A fairly exhaustive selection that strives to appeal to everyone, meaning even the fussiest of diners will likely find something to suit their preferences.
Beginning with pillow-light focaccia dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar and with the help of our well-versed waiter, we traverse our way through many of Marco’s signature dishes such as the heirloom tomato and burrata salad (AED 95) served with basil and olive oil to complement the generous portion of creamy Italian cheese. We find the blackened jumbo shrimp (AED 75) to be well-prepared and boasting the smokey flavours expected from the grill. Pairing well with the accompanying Creole dip.
In contrast, the Boston chilli crab cake (AED 90) looks a little sorry for itself, sat upon the plate with nothing but a sprinkling of leaves for company. The construction of the cake is predominantly made up of crab meat (a rarity considering many iterations of the dish are bulked out with too much potato). Here, the delicate flavour of the crab is front and centre but unfortunately lack the expected punch from the chilli and comes across as too much of one thing with little contrast in terms of texture and flavour.
Sitting beside the open kitchen with its large pizza oven we are unable to resist ordering one of the eight sourdough pizzas offered. The vegetarian Al Funghi (AED 95) proves to be a worthy choice and features a crisp base piled high with Portobello mushroom, spinach, Mozzarella, fresh sage, porcini and a free-range egg that brings a velvety texture to the mix. The tomato sauce used for the base, however, was not as robust as we would’ve liked and lacked the depth in flavour that we would’ve expected.
Our other main course, the risotto funghi tartufo transpired to be a strong dish comprising of black truffle, wild mushroom and Parmesan that keeps the risotto rice slightly al dente. While risotto is a notoriously difficult dish in terms of presentation, we would’ve liked the portion to be a touch bigger considering the AED 125 price tag for the dish.
Desserts keep things simple with only seven options that include ice creams, cheeses and Affogato. Mr. White’s Tiramisu (AED 55) with espresso-soaked sponge, cocoa and lashings of mascarpone cream represents as good a take on the classic Italian dessert as you are likely to find in Abu Dhabi, while the warm chocolate brownie (AED 55) is adorned with a warm chocolate sauce and a large scoop of milk ice cream that will please chocolate aficionados.
In a city where service levels vary greatly and proficiency is so often lacking, the team on the floor at Marco’s New York Italian are like a breath of fresh air. Moving gracefully throughout a restaurant space that has been designed as more of a lounge than a dining room, preference has been given to neatly upholstered sofas and hightop bar-style seating over a more formal dining arrangement. Dressed in aprons and suspenders and accompanied by a Big Band soundtrack the staff are the thing we remember most fondly about dining at Marco’s when recounting the experience some days later.
The Abu Dhabi location of Marco’s New York Italian provides a striking bar, strong service levels and casual food that varies depending upon what you order. The restaurant could benefit from broadcasting how family-friendly they are and the introduction of a family-style weekend brunch down the line would work well but for now, Marco Pierre White’s second foray into the Abu Dhabi culinary scene is a talking point and interesting addition to the dining destinations at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.
Out & About UAE were guests of Marco’s New York Italian and all views are our own.