Simply irresistible: Al Forno’s legendary beef cut Beef cut – bistecca di manzo alla griglia Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: At last count – and this was a while back – there were something like 100 Italian eating joints in Dubai. And we are not talking about places where the menu doesn’t go beyond pasta, pizza, or let’s say, meatballs.

It may have slipped your notice, but lately an awful lot of top-notch Italian restaurants have come up in town, including a few real gems that make you feel you’re dining in Milan or Rome. One such relatively undiscovered gem is Al Forno.

Located in the Dubai Mall, the authentic trattoria offers home-style Italian cuisine in typical Tuscan settings complete with terracotta tiles, ceramic pottery, inverted basket lampshades and a large open kitchen.

The service is charming, food achingly good, prices reasonable and portions so big they necessitate more than one dining partner.

There is a cavalcade of items on the menu but placing an order is a challenge as it means getting your tongue around unpronounceable dishes like linguine con conzee gambereeti al cartoccio, fettuccine con funghi porcini and the ultimate tongue twister – suprema di salmon alla griglia con fregola e peperonata. Phew!

Mercifully, I didn’t drop a clanger in front of my partner as the restaurant’s affable manager Louis Alberts, perhaps realising my predicament, rushed to my rescue and guided me through the menu. At his insistence we decided to go for zuppa di verdure e fagioli (Dh24), a hearty rustic vegetable bean soup with a dash of fresh mint and basil pesto, served alongside toasted garlic bread. Next up was la casstenia del pane (Dh20) which consisted of focaccia and musica breads and comes with a marinara dip (a kind of tomato sauce) a puree of black olives, capers and, I guess, anchovies. Straight out of a wood-fired oven, the breads were unlike anything I have had before.

As we had reckoned, the appetisers were just a precursor of more good things to come. The Al Forno’s legendary beef cut – bistecca di manzo alla griglia (Dh98) for instance, simply took our breath away. Accompanied by thin fries and a zesty herb sauce, the 425gm prime beef was marinated to perfection and tasted divine. Another dish we absolutely relished was a pasta delicacy that goes by the name of monachelle al forno (Dh46). The shell-shaped pasta was baked with chicken rosemary and roasted pinenuts and had a distinct flavour which is seemingly impossible to recreate.

It was a pity we had no room for some of their more traditional dishes. In fact we had no room for even the desserts, yet we couldn’t stop ourselves from indulging in the delightfully decadent chocolate fondant, tortino al cioccolato (Dh27).

Open for both lunch and dinner, the restaurant overlooks the iconic Dubai Fountain and is a great choice for a business lunch or romantic evening. Me? I am going back there for the simple pleasures of good Italian food.


Meal for two: Dh200

Location: Level 1, near Waterfront, Dubai Mall

Contact: 04-388 2784
Al Forno has an outlet in Mirdif City Centre and Abu Dhabi’s Dalma Mall as well

We recommend: Bistecca di manzo alla griglia, Monachelle al forno