In the year since Cafe Milano opened at the Four Season’s Abu Dhabi, the Italian eatery has made quite the impression on diners in the capital. For Cafe Milano isn’t afraid to be different, forging its own unique path when it comes to Italian cuisine.
Having dined at Cafe Milano a number of times in the twelve months since inception (though this actually marks the first time we’ve written about it), the dining room never fails to impress. Shunning the rustic trattoria style of decor that Abu Dhabi seems to love, we instead get an elegant and sophisticated space. A dining room of crisp white table linens, beautiful crockery and those unmissable waterside views taking full advantage of Cafe Milano’s island location. A seemingly ideal place to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon.
On this particular occasion, we’re at Cafe Milano to indulge in their Saturday brunch which proves to be a very popular affair (possibly due to a certain high profile football team in residence during our visit) and one with a very reasonable price point. Taking themselves away from the over-saturated Friday brunch market (Cafe Milano does also offer a seafood-themed Friday brunch) is a smart move one that appears to be paying dividends, for there is very little competition in the capital on the second day of the weekend.
It has taken us a while, but we’ve reached a point where the endless brunch buffet no longer cuts it (see our recent review of the Versailles Evolution Brunch) and we’d much rather turn our attention to the table brunch. A concept that not only allows restaurants to focus on quality and portion control but turns brunch into a more social affair by removing the need to leave the table. This requires a strong reliance on service and we’re pleased to note that service has always been one of Cafe Milano’s strengths, with a distinct knowledge and professionalism shown by staff and an uncanny knack for remembering guests names (and keeping drinks refilled). The team are the strongest assets here and it’s pleasing to see them front and centre in this specific brunch experience.
Each Saturday Cafe Milano’s Viaggio in Italia brunch takes diners on a tour of Italy, showcasing dishes from a particular region each week. For us, it was the cuisine of Trentino Alto Adige, a mountainous area in Italy’s far north, located close to the border with Austria and Switzerland.
We begin with mixed antipasti that included beef prosciutto with cheese, a simplistic watercress salad with walnuts and cheese sauce, and a number of delicate canapés re-interpreted under the guise of intricate patisserie items. A beetroot, goats cheese and pine nut tower resembles a millefoglie and presents beautiful earthy flavours, as does the deceptively light polenta, chive and salmon construction.
An afternoon tea stand of handmade sandwiches and glazed croissants are entirely unnecessary, considering the amount of food on offer, but are appreciated all the same. Again presentation proves key and this particular ‘course’ certainly makes for a visual showstopper unlike anything we’ve seen before.
These breakfast items are quickly followed by dishes from Trentino Alto Adige, utilising two of the most common ingredients from the region — polenta and sauerkraut. A traditional potato omelette with beef and onions is quickly superseded by a barley soup with mushrooms and a dish of steamed sauerkraut with veal sausages. Yet it’s the Candereli that resonates with us the most, a simple bread ball cooked in beef stock which may not look like much but presents a deep flavour to the broth and one of Trentino Alto Adige’s most recognisable dishes.
It’s the opportunity to sample these more obscure dishes which makes the brunch so pleasing, for we’d be unlikely to select these choices if left to our own devices in an a la carte setting. With Trentino Alto Adige also synonymous with pasta, we enjoy two distinct varieties, the Casunzei presents a red beet stuffed ravioli served in a butter and cheese sauce, while the Spinach Gnocchi is the dish we would rave about. Known as ‘priest stranglers’ in Italy the green flour-based gnocchi is served in a creamy white sauce alongside slices of tender beef that work in harmonious unison.
The preceding courses work as a precursor to the main (course) event, of which guests are asked to select from three choices. We bypass the stewed cod fillet in favour of the Duck Breast in black pepper and veal jus, offering a succulent piece of duck, unbelievably tender but strong in flavour with the peppercorns adding an element of heat against the sweet jus and accompanying seasonal vegetables.
The cuisine of Northern Italy is known for its hearty nature due to its derision from Germanic roots combined with Italian heritage. This was proven with the traditional carbonera polenta served with veal salamella that resembles a cornmeal porridge. It may have been slightly too much of one thing, but a dish that we appreciated nonetheless if only for the abundant flavours.
With tiramisu being our favourite dessert, we were admittedly a little disappointed to find it missing during this culinary tour of Italy. Instead, a worthy selection of house-made desserts are presented tableside with a strong reliance on apples (an integral part of the desserts from this specific region). Feeling relatively full, we share a slice of the dense apple cake known as apfelküchel and the wonderful krapfen, an apple jam-filled pastry, deep fried and similar to a doughnut.
Cafe Milano’s Saturday brunch offers a pleasing way to ease yourself out of the weekend and back into the working week. It’s a brunch in which the leisurely pace is really appreciated and the sheer amount of food provides exceptional value for money. We understand the perception of many people is to feel out priced at the mere mention of the Four Seasons brand, but the Viaggio in Italia brunch may just be one of the cheapest in the city. Priced at a very reasonable AED 195++ for the soft package or AED 250++ for house beverages.
With Al Maryah Island fast becoming the go-to destination for fine dining in the capital, Cafe Milano sits comfortably alongside the likes of high-end establishments Zuma, Nusr Et, Coya and 99 Sushi. While also adding to the excellent repertoire of dining options in the Four Seasons hotel that also includes Butcher & Still and Crust. Cafe Milano represents a modern and sophisticated interpretation of Italian dining and the only global outpost of the original Cafe Milano opened in 1992 in Washington DC. Cafe Milano Abu Dhabi continues to make its mark, replicating its siblings fashionable status and reputation for authentic cuisine and unrivalled hospitality.
Out & About UAE were guests of Cafe Milano. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE.