Playful Italian cooking with a side order of cheek inside The Oberoi, Dubai’s new Italian restaurant, Matto.

When a restaurant’s name literally means “crazy” in Italian, you know you’re not getting stiff, traditional fare. Matto, inside The Oberoi, is run by the same owners as the popular rooftop bar Iris, also located in the hotel, and attempts to  adopts the same casual but cool vibe that its sister venue is well known for. But while Iris is more focused on cocktail creations, can the owners learn how to make Matto’s food matter most?

If a new restaurant is lucky, it’ll have one destination dish that piques interest and draws Dubai’s increasingly judicious eaters across manmade canals and into dusty ‘business bays’ for a taste. Matto has a host of destination dishes; the biggest problem you’ll have here is picking a favourite.

Maybe it’s the salmone (Dhs68), delicate slivers of 24-hour marinated salmon carpaccio, with a fresh asparagus salad, chives and yogurt. Or is it a deceptively simple copper pan of miniature fried polpettine (Dhs60), meatballs so tender and kissed with oil that they melt in the mouth? The Matto Rock (Dhs60) dessert, which looks like an Christmas bauble and tastes like the offspring of a Ferrero Rocher and Magnum ice cream, is also a top contender for best dish.

The food throughout is assured and consistent. The chefs hold court at a counter performing quality control on the freshness of a yellow fin once it’s lightly crusted in sesame (Dhs135), and the spice level of the broccoli florets in the vongole (Dhs95 or Dhs265 for group portion) is just right. That attention to detail renders even the most basic preparations – like the fried zucchini sticks (Dhs25) – delightful in their simplicity.

Matto works because, while the food is good, the atmosphere is even better. Working well as a party spot, last-minute dinner venue or romantic night, it’s casual without being dingy, and smart without being too stuffy. Edison bulbs shine over the large group tables, while a DJ pumps tunes between hanging copper kitchenware and a message board decorated with postcards. There’s even an enormous mural of a man kissing a fish. Not exactly your standard red tablecloths, statues and Pisa paintings, and we’re more than OK with that.

ATMOSPHERE: Playful, lively and not a touch stuffy 

PRICE: From Dhs250 to Dhs749 for dinner for two

Lobby level, The Oberoi Dubai, Business Bay, Dubai, Sat to Wed noon to midnight, Thur and Fri noon to 1am. Tel: (04) 4441335. Taxi: The Oberoi.

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