Bonjourno Talea…

There is no shortage of extravagance or glamour in Abu Dhabi, but Emirates Palace is an order of magnitude more, well… Palacial, than pretty much anywhere else in the city.

It’s impossible not to meditate on that thought as we glide across the sea of marble in the ornate atrium. It’s 1pm and somewhere over our shoulder, a lobby pianist clad in full ballgown regalia is teasing a matinee concerto out of the rather grand set of ivories. We’re on our way to Talea, a culinary engine driven by multiple Michelin Star-honoured Chef Antonio Guida.

Inside the modern space, there are faux frescos on the wall depicting scenes from various Italian cities and highlighted detailing on the ceiling coves. The styling splits a decision in our party on where exactly the interiors sit on the kitsch-cool continuum. No consensus can be made.

We’re starting this particular Italian job with calamari alla griglia (Dhs115) — a southern-Italian dish with grilled squid, squid ink, pureed pea and lime. The plate we see before us is a Rorschach test worthy of gallery exhibition, arching dawbs of green and black provide the background to a playful arrangement of tentacle and ring.

The art bleeds into the flavour too, this is a surf-n-earth paring — cleverly standing the nutty botanical freshness of pea, alongside the rich globular umami of the ink and expertly seared squid.

We chase the last few strokes of colour off the plate with tranches torn from the basket of freshly made bread. Then the pizza arrives. We have a philosophy when it comes to benchmarking Italian restaurants for their pizza skills, and that is you should seek to judge them by their margheritas. There’s no razzle-dazzle to hide behind, the execution must be clean and precise, and the components will immediately reveal the quality of the source.

Talea’s margherita (Dhs85) passes the test with flying carbs. It’s all about the details, the authentic rustic tones of the base, the smoky char of the woodfire bake, the deep European tang of the tomato sauce, bold garden-fresh basil and characterful mozzarella.

Instead of dessert, we’ve selected a second main course, because — quite frankly, convention (and the sweet trolley) be damned. We’ve ordered ricciola (Dhs235), a fish dish built from a fillet of amberjack, courgettes, vinegar and mint. It’s humbling stuff, a little of something Abu Dhabi has been missing up until now. These are the sorts of flavour combinations that tug at Michelin calibre tripwires.

Verdict: Talea is an Italian job extremely well done, blowing the doors of our expectations clean off. Best Italian fine dining in the city? It just might be.

Rating: A

Emirates Palace, W Corniche Road, Tue to Sun 12.30pm to 10.30pm, closed Monday. Tel: (02) 2 690 7999,

Images: Provided