It wins the style stakes but is the Italian food up to par?
If we were a design magazine, we’d nominate Basta! – the new Italian at Renaissance Hotel Downtown – for best restaurant design of the year.
Its most striking feature is a stunning portrait of Sophia Loren on the back brick wall. The legendary Italian superstar towers over the rest of the dining room, home to herringbone hardwood flooring and stylish brass-meets-leather chairs. It is the epitome of design goals.
Can the food match up to the impressive interior? Famed American chef David Myers has his name on the door, which is a very good start. The chef has a Michelin-star restaurant back in his native LA, but spends much of his time darting between his international restaurants in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and now, Dubai, where he’s promising to serve a winning trifecta of Italian food: real Roman cuisine, Florentine-style steak and Neapolitan pizza and pasta.
Among the antipasti is pumpkin toast (Dhs38), which has been slicked in aged balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with salted ricotta – every bite sweeter or saltier depending on the ratio of cheese and pumpkin with each mouthful. Simple and delicious.
The beef carpaccio (Dhs68) is a generous plate of sirloin sliced wafer thin and dressed with raw mushrooms, rocket, lemon and parmesan. If you order the grilled calamari (Dhs48), be prepared for a big old squid, tentacles and all, and eat it quick. Fresh from the oven, it’s a warm, tender dish – leave it to cool for too long and it ends up tasting a little too rubbery.
There’s a long list of pastas – a sweet corn agnolotti (Dhs78) here, tiny ear-like shells filled with ricotta and spinach (Dhs79) there. The famous Roman cacio e pepe (Dhs73) dish, silky with a perfectly balanced parmesan, black pepper and butter sauce, was intensely addictive.
Skip the chocolate truffle cannoli (Dhs44), which is not actively bad – it’s just not terrific – and order instead the old cliche, tiramisu (Dhs43). Too often tiramisu is something akin to an Italian trifle; a creamy mess, with a lick of coffee and very little structure. Myers’ version is a multilayered affair of dense, coffee-soaked sponge, cream and crushed biscotti. An excellent ending to a great meal.
Renaissance Downtown Hotel, Marasi Drive, Downtown Dubai, Dubai, daily noon to midnight. Tel: (04) 512 5522. basta-dubai.com