Once you have passed through the gilded porticos of the Emirates Palace and been guided to the restaurant by throngs of helpful staff, the setting of the 60 cover signature eatery is a surprise. Managing to stay true to the theme of the hotel's grandiose interior décor replete with marble, Doric columns and gilt, the Italian theme superimposed on top of it thanks to custom drawn tromp d'oieils of Italian scenic spots reminds diners just how closely art and food reside in the hearts of Italians and Italian aficionados alike.
Mezzaluna has a feel of being well run from the moment you are ushered in and led to your table. With professional staff who clearly know the product on hand to serve you, a copious trolley is pulled next to the table where a wide selection of olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars to dip into your bread and warm 'grissini' are proffered. As if wine tasting were not sufficient, the different attributes of these aged condiments are discussed in exhaustive detail, with insights on the regions of Italy they hail from. We were recommended a lemon flavoured oil from the Umbrian town of 'Spoleto' - and vinegar called 'Il Pregiato' which was so smooth and mellow you could be forgiven for sipping on it like an aperitif. Small dishes are placed on the table as an accompaniment, olive paste and a salmon tartar topped by a warm scallop and some caviar. In keeping with good Italian tradition, butter is not served with bread, but generous crumblings of Parmigiano Grana Padana, the parmesan cheese staple that grated graces most pasta dishes and that in chunks tastes like heaven.
Like all things in life you only get one shot at making a good impression, and we were off to a good start. Another special touch is that Chef Luigi Piu' a culinary virtuoso who has lived and cooked in three continents, makes a point to come over to every table for a lively discussion about the menu. It is well worth taking up on his offer to select dishes and personally supervise the preparation. Don't overdo it on the bread though, it could ruin what is about to come.
With the Emirates Palace since it opened two years ago, this is the third time he has worked in Abu Dhabi. Originally from Sardinia, his style of cooking was shaped on the Costa Smeralda, the playground of Europe's multi millionaires who demand the best. Chef Luigi then added to his skills by working at many of the large hotel chains in the Far East, before joining Emirates Palace. Of the countries he has worked in, he rates Singapore's level of cuisine as the most advanced. "However with Abu Dhabi opening the floodgates to tourism, quality is improving rapidly as greater choice and discernment is at the core of core of the affluent traveller segment thatwe are attracting," he explains.
The toughest challenge for a chef is not to deliver superb dishes consistently, but also to develop a style of cooking with a strong Italian theme that appeals to all with a twist of the experimental to keep it lively and innovative for the novelty hungry too. Each dish we had was extremely tasty, and sinfully rich, with the secret lying within the sauces that went with each.
In all we had six courses. The second was white asparagus with chives in a savoury fondue of Fontina Cheese, followed by a ravioli stuffed with mushrooms, ricotta and spinach on a bed of melted cheese topped with a Parmesan cheese 'disk' topped with pan fried goose liver pate. The fourth course was sea bass on a bed of fresh green peas puree, and gravy of strained lobster, followed by lamb cutlets and polenta and a delicately crafted potato vol au vent stuffed with a porcini mushroom sauce.
The taste of each of the courses was absolutely exquisite; nouvelle cuisine all'italiana, with artistically crafted dishes that delivered an authentic flavour with a promise of yet more flavoursome surprises to come.
A selection of three delicious favourites: Tiramisu, panna cotta and a crème brulee was a fitting grand finale fit for anyone with a hearty appetite and absolutely tendencies towards guilt.
The meandering stroll through the hotel was a blessing after such a wonderful meal. It meant you did not feel so remorseful after having indulged like a prince after all.