The only one
Solo, the almost-new arrival at Raffles Dubai, is an Italian cuisine trip you must take
We chose to go to Solo because it's already made a mark on Dubai's culinary scene after entering it only a few months ago - in late 2014 - bagging Best &Newcomer at the Time Out Dubai 2015 Restaurant Awards, and beating out the (no doubt) hundreds of other names that must've opened up last year.
It's positioned as an Italian bistronomia, and we had this idea of a small, cosy dining area tucked away in some corner of the Raffles Dubai hotel. So imagine our surprise when we walk into this large, significantly spacious restaurant space - yes, even by Dubai standards. The vast, high ceilinged &interiors are quite imposing when you enter, and the brick inlaid walls give off that cool, hipster New York or London hangout feel, with a few quirky accents to cut through the brown brick mono-tony. It's multi-level as well, with a &deli, various food counters and terraced &areas making Solo a very functional space. As if on cue, there's a baby shower party going on in one section when we arrive for lunch. It's exactly the kind of place that you see doing boisterously well in Dubai.
The menu's been recently given a revamp, and the selection straddles fancy Italian with offbeat additions like a foie gras and chicken starter, and even a Solo Burger - a homemade beef burger with foie gras and truffles, no less.
After a hard time resisting over-&eating the olive and rosemary focaccia and some cracking "music bread" (a baked flat bread which is paper thin, hence compared to a music sheet) that arrives at our table, we go in for the Pollo e Foie Gras, an unusual plating of homemade chicken pâté and confit foie gras, with additions of watermelon campari and popcorn, of all things! It's an unusual one, and looks exactly so. The confit is melt-in-the-mouth, as expected, but the chicken pâté leaves a bit to be desired.
Our other starter looks deceptively vegetarian: it's Vitello Tonnato, traditional veal slow cooked and served finely sliced with tuna sauce, capers and a mixed cress salad, topped with some interesting crackers made of potato and rendered a dark colour using black squid ink. So after you dig through all these veg-looking toppings, the fine veal slices are a delight to savour along with the tuna sauce, which is not overwhelmingly fishy at all. A perfect salad, if we may say so.
Our side dish is, unexpectedly, the pick of the evening. A Portobello mushroom cooked delicately and dunked in liquid pecorino sardo cheese (basically, sheep's milk cheese), topped with herbs and crumbles. It's an amazing blend of flavours that you can't stop savouring with every subsequent mouthful, the herb and crumbles offsetting the milky cheese with the right amount of tang. We literally didn't want to stop having it!
But on to the mains it is, and another revelation arrives in the form of the Branzino al Martini. One of chef's signature dishes, it's a beautifully baked Chilean sea bass with a delicately sweet glazing, the latter a perfect foil for the soft fish meat. We prod Chef Corrado Pani for the glazing recipe at least, but of course he's not telling! Might we add that all through our meal, a mix of &Italian '80s pop music and Italo disco hits are playing in the background - as my friend wryly points out, on loop.
From among the traditional pasta menu, we overlook the spaghetti and lasagna for the Cappellacci di Pollo, chicken ravioli cooked in sage, saffron butter sauce and parmesan. Quite an interesting combination, but maybe it needed to be warmer and softer enough; the ravioli felt a bit doughy and tough. My companion tries the Fusilli al Pista-cchio e Calamari Spillo, pasta cooked in pistachio pesto sauce and baby calamari. It's nice but we both agree that it's like something we could toss up &at home, not five-starry enough, but maybe it's meant to taste homemade.
Who isn't looking forward to dessert, and after much heated deliberation befitting a discussion on climate change at a Geneva summit, we decide on the Torta al Formaggio e Cassata Ghiacciata, a rustic ricotta cheesecake with frozen cassata and strawberry. It's the perfect dessert, but only go for it if you have a solid sweet tooth. Our other pick, the Tiramisu, is a revelation, as it's a steamed variety that comes sunk in a bed of chocolate sorbet. We're willing to bet you've never had Tiramisu that looked like this. Ever.
Solo is highly recommended if you're a fan of Italian fine dining, which still manages to hold its own among its peers in Dubai by giving an individualistic twist to the cuisine. Key point: we saw Italians dining at Solo. Need we say more? - email@example.com
What we liked: The Portobello mushroom and Branzino al Martini (glazed &sea bass - absolute must-try!)
What we didn't like: Our choice of desserts. Instead, go for the Vanilla Croquette with Caramelised Mango and Coco Sorbet (see facing page) and the Solo Limone
Cost for two: Dh300-400 (not including beverages)
Contact: Solo, Raffles Hotel, Sheikh Rashid Road, Dubai.Ph: 04 370 8999