A little pizza something special…

The promenade at Mamsha Al Saadiyat cuts a border between the calming yin of bone-white beach and the gluttonous yang of a restaurant strip. It feels very much like a stretch of European Rivera, with frayed knot surf and the alluring perfumes of assorted open-fronted restaurants sparring in the air.

Sitting on the bright terrace spaces of this gastronomic meridian, as we are now, it’s practically impossible to avoid the enchantment of the uniquely beautiful coastline. We’re camped out, at Antonia — an uncontrived licensed Roman restaurant, with the chief menu proposition of pizza al taglio (pizzas ‘by the slice’).

We’ve already mentally suggested, discussed and signed off on this being a cheat day, and on the menu there are sultry looking starters catching our eye, including crispy calamari (Dhs85), suppli (risotto balls, from Dhs12) and burrata (Dhs85). We gaze lusyfully at traditional, bonefide-Italiano pasta and risotto options too, dishes such as bucatini all’amatriciana (Dhs80) — tomato sauce, pancetta, and pecorino cheese; gnocchi alla Sorrentina (Dhs85) with homemade ricotta gnocchi, tomato sauce, parmesan, mozzarella and basil; and risotto ai porcini e scamorza which comes with carnaroli risotto (Dhs95), porcini mushrooms, parmesan and scamorza.

Today is about the pizza though, and we’re stubbornly committed to saving zero digestive real estate for anything else. At Antonia you can choose between full or half trays of their square-baked pizzas (half is good for one person). There’s also the option to get a selection of them ‘by the slice’ (from around Dhs25), and after studying the cuts behind the glass-fronted kitchen counter, we’ve already fallen in love.

We order one slice of diavola (the traditional Italian version of a salami pizza) and one of tartufo e funghi (a classic mushroom and truffle option).

Much like the dilemma faced by Akon in one of his early noughties bangers, we’re struggling to describe Antonia without being disrespectful. Not because it’s bad, because it’s precisely the opposite, it’s more that words feel like a cumbersome way of trying to capture the essence of the Antonia taste experience.

First, the 72-hour fermented Italian-provenance sourdough base is a masterpiece. It’s light and airy, puffed up with self-appreciation of its layered earthy flavour. There’s crunch, there’s bite, there’s profundity in that dough. There is a more objective measure of just how good a pizza base is — keep an eye on the servers returning plates to the kitchen, how many of them have the discarded, uneaten crusts on? At Antonia, it’s a clean sweep — only immaculate, crustless plates head back to the potwashers.

We tear through the diavola, each foray into the mouth echoes with the aroma of authentic European beef salami, tomato sauce that is unmistakenly the result of genuine Italian culinary craft, and warming tones of chili oil.

The tartufo e funghi is a fitting bedfellow, part-balancing-act-part-spin-off-show, it’s an artful montage of individual rustic chords pulled straight outta the Roman ‘campagnaside’.

Verdict: Is this the best pizza in Abu Dhabi? Miei amici, it very probably is. Rating: A+

Mamsha Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island, midday to 11pm. Tel: (02) 667 2554, @antonia.uae

Images: Provided