Picture a Christmas in the alps with no snow. Fortunately you are in the postcard village of Cortina, which is bursting at the seams with gingerbread, hugos and Christmas spirit. But as you indulge over a dining table in leisure time that is supposed to be crammed with sub-zero exercises, your ski pants are seemingly becoming smaller and your skiing chances are likewise looking slim.
But one morning, you are persuaded by your son to venture to Alta Badia, a village thrust so deep into a pocket of the Südtirol that its residents don’t quite know whether they should be speaking Italian or German, an area still blanketed in November’s snows (Well, those, and the snow-making efforts that have not melted yet). Alta Badia didn’t save our holiday (to be honest, it didn’t really need saving), but it did remind us why we came to the Dolomites, and provide us with another reason to come back again.
You may think I’m insane, but Jumeirah’s Alta Badia restaurant in Dubai shares similarities with its namesake. It’s very high altitude (50th floor), in an isolated pocket away from the bling of the rest of the DIFC (Emirates towers), and, with its white linen tablecloths, plush carpet and black leather chairs, is still quietly dishing it up oldschool in the face of progress. I’ve been meaning to go for ages, but only made it the other night when I was offered a try-out of the Dubai Restaurant Week menu (running until Mar 6).
On that tangent, Dubai Restaurant Week is a Dubai Food Festival initiative, one that finally involves our restaurants on the ground a little more chance of input, even if they don’t have the time or funds to become involved in something like Taste of Dubai. I’m not sure if the festival is getting better or not – that remains to be seen, but with this involvement, the food truck party this weekend, and some really high quality and fun chefs here as well as the usual suspects (I am an Aussie, so am very impressed with the solid Antipodean top 5), It’s looking promising.
Alta Badia are involved with Restaurant Week, but this is one restaurant where I would encourage you to ditch that menu and head for the a la carte selection. It’s not that the offering was bad – there was a perfectly dressed smoked duck salad with pear, and a superb mushroom risotto that I would have Buckley’s chance at replicating. The torta di mele (apple pie) was good, very heavy on the pastry (delectable as it was, I couldn’t get through half of it), and partnered with a super-sour lemon sorbet that had me sitting up straight in my chair in no time.
The reason to go for the standard menu is three-fold. One, there is more choice, and if you are a bit of a carnivore, abhor mushrooms or don’t eat anything green, then this will be necessary. Second, it’s a better choice – most set menus are designed to fill the middle ground, with milder flavours, nothing too shocking, rich, bitter, syrupy, feral or spicy. Thirdly, it’s not actually any more expensive. With risottos hovering around 90AED and deserts and entrees at 50-75, it would be pretty easy to keep a three-course meal hovering around 200 (The restaurant week menu is 195). Or, you could ditch the risotto and the entrée and head for a piece of their remarkable slow cooked lamb, finish with tiramisu and still not break the bank.
But, Alta Badia Dubai is unlike the original in one important aspect. I’ve been to the Dolomites three times in the last few years, and none of my favourite dishes were on the menu here. I can understand the lack of beet casunziei – poppy seeds are a vital garnish and they are illegal here. I can also forgive them for a weak pork presence in Dubai. But where was the venison with blueberries, frittelle di mele, canederli, the world’s creamiest creamy polenta, and root vegetables treated with some kind of Tyrolean magic that makes them as delicious as candy? Not on this menu. But maybe there is a reason for that – perhaps Dubai is not ready for more specialized regional cuisine, and again, the middle ground has beaten individuality.
Saying that, the quality of the food is excellent, and I will definitely return. There’s a veal shank with bone marrow that has my name written all over it, a guinea fowl stuffed with chestnuts and I definitely have to have another crack at their desserts. Service was quiet and efficient, and despite mishearing my wine choice, pretty seamless. The childrens menu is perfect – a lovely mix between real food and kid-friendly junk (you’ll totally steal their mozzarella sticks).
The view is remarkable, possibly as good as the one from a summit in the real Alta Badia, albeit of a totally different genre. I was reminded that Emirates Towers remains one of the better places in Dubai to watch the contemporary flow of Sheikh Zayed road, despite the temptation so many newer shiny erections. I won’t give the venue a rating at this stage, as I was there on invitation, but I will say it appears to be one of the top Italian restaurants in Dubai. It comes Hedonista recommended.