I get many invites to come review restaurants and to each place that invites me, they get the standard warning of, “Look, if I come to your restaurant:
a) I want to experience a regular dining service – no “special” dishes that I can’t order off the menu.
b) I will be honest in my critique – just because I’m invited, don’t expect my review to be gushing (like the majority of the cowboys who are out reviewing every night in exchange for free food and drink). Your restaurant will be reviewed on its merits alone”.
Al Grissino invited me several weeks ago to their brunch and after having several disappointing experiences recently and theirs not really capturing my imagination (I even said to them that it’s madness not selling an Italian beer at an Italian brunch), I politely declined and asked if I could come review a dinner instead. Luca (the new GM there) said it was fine, so when my friend Courtney had a last minute filming cancellation, I asked them if they could accommodate us and our significant others and fair play to Luca, he said yes.
The restaurant has been open for well over a year and despite me being pretty aware of the majority of the high-end restaurants in the Emirate, I’d never heard of the restaurant so I was going in completely blind. I had a quick peek online, the Zomato reviews weren’t particularly impressive but the Trip Advisor ones put it in the top 100 in Dubai, so was hoping for some top grub!
Al Grissino is located in Emirates Financial Towers, predominantly a business tower, but also home to the Mint Leaf of London restaurant. You might know it as “that twin tower that you drive past on Al Khail road that has that weird, neon blue tunnel connecting the towers”:
We entered the building where a private, manned (well, womanned) elevator takes you up to the 16th floor. We stepped out of the elevator, turned right, were greeted by the team and led to the bar for a welcome drink. Our jaws dropped in unison:
It is by far the most stunning bar I’ve ever stepped foot in. You have staggering views of the whole of the Downtown Dubai area and the architecture makes you feel almost like you’re in a massive clock. I was utterly astonished that I’d never been – or heard of this bar – their marketing team are not doing a stellar job as this place should be iconic and packed every evening!
After spending a few minutes taking in the bar, we decided to head into the dining room as it was midweek, we’d arrived late, and we didn’t particular want to be out all night with having work the next day. The dining room made our jaws drop again in unison, but this time not in a favourable way.
The place honestly looks like you’re either on a cruise ship or at your great-Auntie Margaret’s 65th birthday at the local Working Men’s Club. The seating – although comfortable – is an awful shade of off-white, made of pleather, complete with a plastic gold trim. The ceiling is decorated with monstrously-ugly, gold lighting structures and there are lamps knocking about that I think pre-date Dubai’s existence. On the positive, the views are even more stunning than in the bar; you’re smack-bang in front of the Burj Khalifa and you can also see the Burj al Arab to the right. It would be the ideal spot for New Years Eve fireworks watching. There’s loads of space as well on the tables and it’s laid out in a way that you’re not being disturbed by other diners which is always a plus.
Our hostess for the evening came over and politely introduced herself. She went through some highlights of the menu, gave us a quick overview of the restaurants specialties (seafood) and recommended a small platter of their fishy appetizers to start. The last time I had seafood it made me ridiculously ill, so it was with some trepidation that I agreed with everyone on the table to give it a shot.
It’s worth noting that it was highly refreshing to have a service-staff member with so much knowledge of the menu and the produce (she even knew which aspects of the seafood were locally caught) and she was able to build up rapport with us throughout the whole evening.
The first half of the seafood starters arrived ten minutes later and all looked pleasing to the eye.
From top to bottom we had Raw Red Prawns, Seabass Carpaccio and Large Scampi. The prawns were deliciously fresh as was the scampi and we all commented how flavoursome the delicate dressings were. The Seabass divided opinion somewhat, it didn’t taste like seabass at all and had a strong cure on it, but I loved it – tasted just like the sea!
The hot starters were arguably even better; the shrimp was so fresh and juicy inside and the octopus was expertly cooked and melted in the mouth. I’ve been to a couple of Peruvian-y/Latin-y places recently and I’m getting increasingly fed up of not being able to taste the protein as they’re overloaded with herbs and citrus, so it was a welcoming change to dine at a place that doesn’t over complicate the food and allows the produce to speak for itself.
I opted for the veal as a main course as everyone else continued with the seafood theme – in all honesty, I kinda regret “taking one for the team” as this was my least favourite dish of the night. It wasn’t a bad dish at all, the veal was cooked perfectly, the salad on top fresh and lightly dressed, but it was gigantic and after about halfway through, i was just a little bored of it.
My wife is a very fussy Italian eater as she makes extremely tasty pasta dishes at home, and we do struggle to find dishes that are exciting and flavoursome around the Italian restaurants in Dubai. She went with the Spaghetti All’astice (Lobster spaghetti with shellfish stock, fermented chili, fresh tomatoes) and adored it.
It wasn’t the most sophisticated of plating, but the taste was divine. The spaghetti was al dente, the shellfish stock was packed full of flavour and the lobster tasted fresh and was delicately cooked.
Courtney described her “Chitarrine Alla Granseola” (king crab, cream, and cognac) dish as her “new current favorite pasta dish in the city”, and coming from somebody who definitely knows about food, is a huge, huge compliment. Her husband went for the “Mixed Seafood Spaghetti” and “literally inhaled it” (her words, not mine!) – so again, another resounding success.
Despite being satiated from colossal main portions, we decided to give some desserts a go. After much deliberation, we chose the Chocolate Fondant, the Tiramisu and the Cannoli.
We all enjoyed the plating of the tiramisu; it was light and creamy and captured the essence of the traditional version, despite the avant-garde presentation – just make sure you give it a good mix up so you don’t get a big mouthful of cream like I did on the first bite!
The chocolate fondant was enjoyed around the table; I personally found it a little bit too bitter, but it was gooey in the middle and the vanilla ice-cream was executed well.
The cannoli was also received very well. It had the bubbly, light texture housing the ricotta and the deliciously sweet-yet-savoury pistachio ice cream was a tasty addition.
Just before we left, we had a chat with Luca. He’s only been there a few weeks, so it was useful to provide some honest feedback to him and he was very humble and grateful for our thoughts. Hopefully the interior issues will be addressed in the near future and he could well soon be managing one of the best, all-round restaurants in the country.
FOOD: 14/15 – There wasn’t a poor dish all evening. They use exceptional produce and the all the main portions are extremely generous in portion size. One minor criticism is that the plating could be slightly more refined.
SERVICE: 14/15 – Our server was absolutely perfect. She was attentive to our needs, knew the whole menu without having to refer to it or “go check with the chef” once, and we had a laugh with her all evening. It didn’t feel like we were “over-served” due to being invited either. It just loses a mark as we all thought our mains took a little too long to arrive.
DRINKS SELECTION: 3/5 – They have a decent variety of wines and spirits and I was shocked to see Monkey 47 on the gin menu (my favourite!), sadly, serving such fine gin with Evervess tonic is a big no-no.
AMBIANCE: 3/5 – It wasn’t particularly busy but was a nice to have the singer on the piano. It was spoiled somewhat though, by his horrendous backing music and his ridiculous “light-up” piano flashing all night. It would be much better if he just sang and played without the fuzz. The views alone give the venue a great ambiance though.
DESIGN: 2/5 – Hideously fitted-out, but gains some marks from at least having big windows that show off the amazing views. The layout of the restaurant allows you plenty of space to eat and the tables are large which is always helpful.
VALUE: 3/5 – It’s not cheap – our bill came in at around 2500 AED, but we did have quite a few drinks between us, 4 mains, 2 small starters each and 3 desserts. For fine-dining with one of the best views in Dubai, it’s the price point to be expected, and the produce is of the highest quality. It’s also in The Entertainer (thanks Josh & Cheryl!) – woo hoo!
TOTAL: 40/50 – An excellent restaurant completely let down by its dated interiors. Regardless, Al Grissino should simply be on top of everyone’s “where should I take people for dinner when they come to visit” list – the bar and the vistas will blow any guest’s mind. It’s a real hidden gem.