Italian dining is all the rage in Abu Dhabi with the majority of new openings seeming to revolve around this relatively simple cuisine (see Parmigiana and Filini Garden). With the food of Italy proving so popular in the capital and the additional fact that pizzas and pastas are relatively cheap to produce, an Italian restaurant seems like an easy win. Yet with so many Italian eateries popping up all over the capital, we decide to revisit Pappagallo at Le Meridien Abu Dhabi to see how it fares against the competition.
First things first, our relationship with the Le Meridien has always been a bit of a strange one. For a property with so many F&B outlets, the options have never really resonated with us as diners. Aside from the now defunct beachside shisha spot Wakatau and Acropolis, one of the few Greek options in town, we’ve never been too enamoured with the offerings from one of the oldest hotels in Abu Dhabi. It feels as though the hotel has such a high influx of leisure guests that there’s no need to impress the package holiday crowd who are only in town for a short period of time, and it feels as though attracting diners from outside the property is more of an additional bonus than a priority.
Going into our review of Pappagallo we have to be honest and say our expectations were not set particularly high based upon our previous experiences with the hotel. Situated in the outside courtyard known as the Le Meridien Village, Pappagallo presents a vibrant red facade in an attempt to replicate the architecture of Venice. The word “Pappagallo” translating as parrot in Italian also explains the two large birds perched over the entrance like something straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror masterpiece The Birds.
Despite an outside terrace shared with neighbouring pub The Captain’s Arms, it’s a little cold on the January evening we visit to dine outside and the beer-swigging clientele from next door doesn’t exactly set the tone for a relaxed dining experience. Instead we venture inside into what could be a contender for one of Abu Dhabi’s smallest hotel restaurants. The split level Pappagallo is sparsely furnished like a traditional Italian trattoriam with wooden shutters, exposed brickwork and a pizza oven being the only elements of significance. Like much of the Le Meridien it feels as though Pappagallo is in need of some TLC and an updating of the venue wouldn’t go amiss.
With a jarring soundtrack straight out of a 1980s gameshow there is clearly some work to be done when it comes to music selection and ambiance. Thankfully the staff do a stirling job in salvaging the situation and building an instant rapport with guests, making for what may not be the most proficient service in the capital but certainly some of the friendliest.
We begin with a selection of breads and dips, with the olive tapenade being particularly enjoyable, though we would suggest for the team to remove the grissini from their plastic packaging. Pappagallo may be a casual restaurant, but small details like this will be noted by diners and a few simple adjustments could really help to heighten the overall guest experience.
The menu at Pappagallo offers no surprises with its focus on pizza, pasta and the Italian classics and we begin with two of our favourites — burrata and carpaccio. Two obvious dishes that provide the ability to gage against other similar themed establishments. The Burrata (AED 60) is nicely plated with heirloom tomatoes, olive oil and a lone basil leaf. Though the cheese is a good size and offers the expected creaminess, too much liquid is released upon cutting and it’s mistakenly served ice cold (burrata is traditionally served at room temperature). The fact it’s drowned in olive oil doesn’t help matters either but the tomatoes offer a complementary texture and a hint of sweetness.
The simple plating of the Carpaccio (AED 60) offers thin slices of prime strip loin beef but the pleasing flavours derive not from the meat itself but a goats cheese foam and pickled baby carrots. The carpaccio is good but doesn’t come close to our favourite version of the dish found at Todd English’s Olives.
Though we didn’t try any of the pasta, we couldn’t resist ordering the signature pizza, especially given it shares the name of this specific restaurant. The hand made base of the Pappagallo (AED 75) is thin and crispy and thankfully doesn’t include parrot but a different bird altogether — duck. Unfortunately, the blue cheese overpowers all other ingredients to a point where the duck cannot be tasted. A real shame considering such a unique choice of topping. The pizza could also have done with more of the pine nuts which provide good texture despite being used sparingly.
The Seafood Platter (AED 170) is also a mixed bag and features excellent grilled lobster and large shrimps with a nice charred flavour, but the calamari rings are overly chewy and the king fish under-seasoned. The French fries are also a disappointment (clearly of the frozen variety) and an item that remains untouched on our table. Coming on the back of an almost identical dish at the Fairmont’s newly opened Maison Beirut there are improvements to be made but at least the price point is right.
When it comes to dessert we opt for the Chocolate Fondant (AED 50) and know we’re in trouble when the ice cream and berry garnish are better than the fondant itself. With the chocolate sponge offering none of the expected central ooze. Our dining companion assures us the Crespella (AED 40) are good and these apple stuffed crepes with orange caramel sauce make for a high point of this particular meal.
Dining at Pappagallo is a casual affair and the reasonable pricing is certainly reflective of the overall experience. It would be unfair to compare with the fine dining options across the water on Al Maryah Island (Cafe Milano and Roberto’s) but Pappagallo sits comfortably amongst the likes of Prego’s at neighbouring Beach Rotana and Bocca at the Hilton. All of which offer uncomplicated Italian food at reasonable prices.
Pappagallo may not have necessarily restored our faith in the Le Meridien in Abu Dhabi and the property as a whole needs to up its game when it comes to F&B. Sure it may be an old hotel in need of renovation but the Dubai property shares the same hurdles yet manages to offer strong F&B options despite these constraints.
Have you visited Pappagallo? What did you think? Where is your favourite place to eat Italian in Abu Dhabi? Let us know in the comments below…
Location: Le Méridien Village, Tourist Club Area, Abu Dhabi
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Hours: 12:30pm – 3pm / 7pm – 11pm (weekends 12:30pm – 11pm)
Phone: 02 644 6666
Out & About UAE were guests of Pappagallo. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.