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There are few cuisines in the world that can evoke the same warmth and feeling of home and happiness as Italian fare.
Perhaps it’s down to a culture which prizes fresh ingredients, taste-texture balance and staple foods made from scratch that you just want to share in the company of loved ones.
While the idea of a large family dinner seems elusive during the Covid-19 pandemic, we were treated to some of Italy’s finest culinary concepts at the Oliveto restaurant and lounge in Adliya’s hip Block 338 last weekend.
The place takes one by surprise as you enter, with its large olive trees and relaxed poolside atmosphere. General manager Rosella Tafuno welcomed us, and we joined Valerio Accorinti from the Italian embassy by the shimmering pool.
The ambiance of the place is lounge-like, with electronic music wafting over from the DJ booth, but the food that appeared before us told a more traditional tale.
Executive chef Enrico Morselli prepared a brilliant blended menu that featured some of the dishes introduced to celebrate the recent ‘Week of Italian Cuisine in the World’, as well as elements from the regular menu.
As we waited for our food to arrive, my colleague was treated to a lavender-infused citrusy mock-tail with hints of pineapple, which satiated his thirst, while also setting his palate up for the dishes to come.
First up was a spread of antipasti. The Carpaccio Di Manzo, with its thinly-sliced lightly-seared Angus beef tenderloin served with dressed arugula & cherry tomatoes topped with béarnaise sauce and a parmesan-thyme infused balsamic dressing, instantly took us for a dip in Italia, enjoying every juicy bite while meditating on truly important things in life, like how to make the perfect mozzarella.
And, almost in answer to our unspoken query, the Pizza ai Funghi took us deeper into the land that perfected the tomato, cheese and dough combination. With its fresh tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella and rucola, my expectations of coming to an Italian dinner were met and easily surpassed.
While we nibbled on some Fritto di Calamari e Gamberi - Sicilian style fried prawns and calamari served with a homemade lemon-tartar sauce – Valerio gave me a crash course on Italian cuisine around the world as we bonded over our shared love of the perfect pizza, even if our visions vastly differed.
Just when I thought we were ready for the next course, we noticed the Tortino di Parmigiana, which had been waiting patiently at the side for its turn to please our palates.
The Molten eggplant parmigiana, stuffed with parmesan cheese fondue and served on tomato ragù, was truly mind-blowing. It was rich yet light with velvety soft texture about which one could wax poetic.
It was a short wait before the Tortelli all’Anatra and Paccheri All’Arrabbiata appeared.
Dear readers, while an Italian meal necessitates at least three courses, if you absolutely have room for only one dish, let it be the Tortelli all’Anatra.
Each bite of the braised duck stuffed ravioli, tossed in butter-sage and topped with parmesan cream duck glaze and truffle roasted pine nuts, was nothing short of a revelation.
Of course, the Paccheri All’Arrabbiata is nothing to be scoffed at either! The Paccheri pasta in a fresh tomato sauce with cured Italian black olives, garlic & fresh chili, drizzled with parmesan sauce, gave us the right amount of kick to send us wafting through a cloud of serendipitous satisfaction.
As we waited for the main course, Valerio educated me a bit about the intricacies of his cuisine and the etiquette at an Italian table.
“When you are served pasta, it is polite to only use your fork when eating it. This means that it is perfectly el dente,” Valerio explained.
“If a knife is necessary, it means that the pasta is not perfect.
“Much of Italian cuisine and the etiquette we follow at the table can trace itself back to Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well written in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusi.”
I was just adding the book to my long list of books I have yet to explore, when the Steak Tagliata announced its arrival.
Armed with a fork and a steak knife, we dove into the flash-grilled thinly-sliced ribeye topped with Sicilian red onions and freshly-ground mustard dressing served on a bed of fresh arugula.
The cut was tender and perfectly cooked, with the arugula providing a balancing herbal respite.
And this would have sent us into the much-desired state of food coma I was secretly craving, not having been able to indulge in any Eating Out reviews over the past eight months. But Rossella and Valerio had a final card up their sleeve to close out the night’s magic.
The Tortina di Ricotta, Timo e Arancia was their piece de resistance. And the ricotta cheesecake with orange zest and thyme served with berry compote was exactly what one would expect when thinking of a European dessert – smooth, velvety-texture combined with a sweet but subtle flavour.
It was just perfect to entice me into an expertly-crafted espresso, which brought me back from the lands of food coma. And, I was surprised at how quickly the place had filled up.
While respecting social distancing, of course, tables had filled up with beautiful folk from across the island, some there to reconnect with friends they hadn’t seen for months while others were there for a special night out with their special someone.
As Rossella moved amongst them, catching up with the regulars, I realised that Oliveto’s unique flavour goes beyond its exquisitely prepared meals – this is a sanctuary that adds a homely touch to a fancy night out.