Ronda Locatelli: authenticity amid artifice
Giorgio Locatelli's Dubai outpost may be located in one of the world's less natural surroundings – within the enormous and extraordinary Atlantis resort, itself part of the famously man-made Palm Jumeirah island development – but that only makes the restaurant's authentic food and feel even more welcome.
The menu is centred on rustic ingredient-driven Italian cooking, but with a level of refinement one would expect from one the world's leading Italian chefs. The restaurant itself is built around – and in party named after - a large central wood-fired brick pizza oven, reinforcing the pervading sense of tradition and homeliness.
Crucially, London-based Locatelli, who opened the restaurant in partnership with the Atlantis in 2008, has ensured his standards are maintained through head chef Alessandro Bottazzi and restaurant manager Diego Vazzola. Both the food and service succeed in striking the elusive balance between simplicity and attention to detail: pizza and pasta dishes are traditional but delivered with panache and flavour; the filet of poached beef in salsa verde and rosemary-infused roast potatoes elevated to mouth-watering heights; classic Italian desserts executed to sweet perfection.
The Italian staff also help transport diners on a journey back to their homeland with their family-welcoming warmth and unfussy informality, while retaining the professional attentiveness of a premium-grade operation.
Unlike many of its neighbours in the region, the restaurant feels uncontrived – and that's a testament to Locatelli's own philosophy of producing uncompromisingly fresh, grounded Italian food in a convivial setting. When the man himself is in residence, he is much in evidence; when he's elsewhere, his force of personality still pervades.
95 Keerom, Cape Town
The aesthetic at 95 Keerom may be modern, but the menu is traditional to the core. Chef Giorgio Nava deftly prepares ingredients that - in some cases at least - he has grown or raised on his own nearby farm. Expect unfussy but refined food that stays true to the chef’s Italian roots. Commendably, the extensive wine list is SA focused, but a few Italian classics are present along with a hefty selection of grappa.
800 Pizza, Dubai
Provenance and integrity are central to 800 Pizza - a traditional pizzeria within Dubai’s bustling Marina. Key ingredients are carefully sourced from the appropriate region of Italy to create pizzas that fully comply with European Union Protected Geographical Status rules. You might be in the UAE, but the pizza you’re eating is 100% Italian.