Last week Out and About UAE received a compelling invite from the team at BBC Good Food Middle East to attend a VIP Italian dining experience at The Address Montgomerie Hotel. An immaculate property tucked away in the middle of a perfectly manicured golf course in Dubai’s Emirates Hills district. Often referred to at the Beverley Hills of Dubai, it’s easy to see why, as luxurious suburban villas give way to the mansion like exterior of the Address Montgomerie Golf Resort and Spa.
Much like it’s Hollywood counterpart the feeling is one of luxurious exclusivity, though an attempt to find a valet to park the car was somewhat hopeless. Our destination for the evening was the newly re-launched Italian fine dining restaurant Nineteen. One that has a bit of a troubled reputation due to the recent comings and goings of numerous chefs and concepts.
It must be said that with the arrival of current Chef Alessio Pitzalis, things appear to have settled somewhat and this charismatic young man is attracting quite a following for both his food and charming good looks.
Our evening at Nineteen was pretty much faultless, with the execution of the event was timed to such precision that it showed the gathered media how events should be done. With zero downtime it both fun and snappy, just what was needed in the middle of a long working week.
Free-flowing champagne and an assortment of the finest Italian canapés set the tone. As enigmatic staff walked the room with Pecorino (hard cheese) croquettes with balsamic onions, veal tartare with mint, cherry tomatoes stuffed with goats cheese and deep fried olives ascolana – apparently some of the best olives that money can buy.
The restaurant was smaller than expected and in typical fine dining style, is simply furnished with little in the way of decor, other than white walls and wine fridges. Understated perhaps but the outside terrace, overlooking the golf course with it’s lakes and illuminated fountains, is by far the superior area to dine at Nineteen.
As the meal began guests were treated to a live-cookery demonstration by the aforementioned Chef Pitzalis. His showmanship was humorous and gave the assembled diners a great insight into not only the food preparation but the history of the dishes that they were about to eat. Listening to Pitzalis talk it soon became evident that he’s very proud of his Sardinian heritage and is here in Middle East to share this passion for his homeland and bring a little taste of the Mediterranean to Dubai.
Our three course Italian meal began with a trio of appetizers, with each being simple but impressive. Take the prawn sautéed with lemon and fresh kale or the beef carpaccio with rucola salad, parmesan and carasau bread. Both use fresh ingredients to a startling affect, without the confusion of sauces and marinades. A delicate scallop sautéed with asparagus and a light red pepper cream was (for us) the highlight.
As the main course was being prepared the manager of Nineteen informed us that with the re-launch, diners can expect Chef Pitzalis to become the face of the restaurant and the reason why people will visit. Selling him as a personality who customers want to connect with is an admirable move, so expect to find him serving food as well as taking orders.
The main course comprised grilled sea bass smoked with fresh thyme and served with a mixed vegetable scapece and tropea onion cream. It was a revelation and despite the fish being the focus of the dish, it was in fact the green vegetables (asparagus, artichoke and courgette) that were the standout and that delightfully sweet red onion cream. The fish though perfectly cooked and flaky, was a little under-seasoned for our liking.
Vegetarians were well catered for with an aubergine parmigiana (that our dining partner claimed to be the best she’d ever had) and an al dente mushroom pasta. Nineteen as a dining destination seems to understand the importance of vegetarianism and rather than seeing it as a hinderance, they view it more as a challenge. With nary a salad or stuffed pepper in sight, it was refreshing to see how well dietary requirements were catered fore especially considering the circumstances surrounding the live-cooking of our meal.
Tiramisu is the most famous of Italian desserts and perhaps our most favorite of ALL desserts. Based on the previous courses we were more than a little excited but with tiramisu being such a hit-and-miss dish in Dubai, we’re happy to report that this is a very good iteration. Relying less on cream and more on mascarpone cheese, Nineteen’s tiramisu isn’t too sweet and (to our surprise) contained no alcohol! Apparently the traditional construction of the dish doesn’t use alcohol, though you would be unable to tell as the flavors were exceptional. The addition of little chocolate chips provided texture and an extra sweet surprise.
With this new re-launch it appears that Nineteen are finally moving in the right direction. Thanks to a team of passionate individuals willing to share the credit and in doing so, strive to improve a reputation that is somewhat battered. It will be very interesting to see how they fare in the coming months.
With no other Italian eateries in the vicinity and a less formal dining concept that encourages families. Nineteen has the potential to be a foodie hub for residents of Emirates Hills. Judging by the three courses that we sampled, we do hope that this transpires to be the case.
We were invited to dine at Nineteen. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE and BBC Good Food Middle East