Dubai: How would you like to feast on sumptuous Italian fare in the shadow of the world's tallest building and be serenaded by classical music while watching a fascinating light-and-water spectacle as you munch on your mixed grilled seafood platter?
That's the kind of ambience diners can immerse themselves in at Bice Mare in Dubai, an offshoot of Milan's original Bice (pronounced "bee-che") founded in the 1920s as a family restaurant in Milan.
Perhaps it was its signature gourmet dishes that drew Italian acting greats like Sophia Loren and Claudia Cardinale in the '60s and '70s at a time when there was only one Bice in the world.
The restaurant's new Dubai branch, at the foot of Burj Khalifa within the posh Souk Al Bahar complex, promises the same warmth and gastronomic treats that once drew stars to its tables.
Steeped in history
There's a bit of interesting history of the chain, though. Its roots go back to 1926 in the Italian city [Milan] known for its haute couture catwalks. It actually got its name from its founder Beatrice Ruggeri, affectionately known as Bice to family and friends, who was known for her delectable Tuscany-inspired cuisine, hospitality and personal touch.
In 1978, her sons Remo and Roberto took the first steps to give Bice an international flavour by opening a second outlet in Porto Cervo followed by a restaurant in New York. With 36 outlets today, the chain is still growing.
And their food in Dubai?
Since Bice Mare is 70 per cent seafood, I tried a generous trio of starters suggested by Morris Marta, the outlet's suave Italian manager. It was a mouth-watering mix of a jumbo prawn, salmon and tuna sitting on avocado - with a bit of caviar tossed in. There's also the caramelised onions and marinated baby artichokes to whet one's appetite.
Despite its inclination towards seafood, Bice Mare's menu includes favourites from its parent's listing, including pizzas, pastas and tagliolinis.
I tried the Linguini ai frutti de Mare (seafood linguini), which came stacked with fresh mussels, prawns, clams and squid rings - it tasted quintessentially Mediterranean with the rosemary leaves tossed in. It needed a smattering of salt and pepper to get that extra oomph in my mouth, though.
But it was Branzino Cotto al Sale, or salt-crusted sea bass, served with grilled veggies with a sprinkling of San Lorenzo extra-virgin olive oil and barnaise sauce that defined my Bice night.
This signature dish is classic in presentation (the fish is coated in crackling salt-and-egg white mix served fresh from the oven), and leaves the mouth with a foodie equivalent of a Ferrari: unmistakably Italian, uncompromising, a bit pricey at Dh250 per person.
A regular meal for two could set you back anywhere from Dh600. But Bice Mare also serves Friday brunch till 4pm for Dh95 per person. This generous package includes a pre-set menu of three appetisers, two pastas, a risotto, a pizza and a mixed grill seafood platter.
And not to forget, in-house musician Jon Weiss was a joy as he sang Sinatra, among other folk and jazz tunes.
Bice has two more branches in the UAE - one at Jumeirah Hilton in Dubai and another at Abu Dhabi Hilton.