July 11, 2016 / Leave a Comment
When a name like Versace arrives in town, people sit up and take notice – especially in the luxury-loving locale that is Dubai. A palatial property designed under the guidance of one of Italy’s finest design houses, Palazzo Versace’s dining establishments have rather large shoes (or should that be stilettos?) to fill. Enigma seems to be growing into it’s role as Dubai’s premium fine dining showcase nicely, but does Vanitas meet lofty Versace standards?
From the get-go, as soon as you step foot inside the ballroom-like dining room, Vanitas impresses. You feel whisked away to another era, another country…it transported me back to regal canal side properties I’ve holidayed in in Venice. Hand painted ceilings and walls provide a sophisticated backdrop to the dramatic table settings and chairs, resplendent in ruby red and sapphire blue. These are stunning custom made Versace creations you’ll only see in this restaurant – no matter how hard you beg Versace Home at Dubai Mall to deliver replicas to your villa, it ain’t happening (#dubaiproblems).
Candlelight is used to beautiful effect here, creating the perfect mood lighting for this Italian sojourn. Watching the sun go down over the Dubai creek past the restaurant’s patio, I felt myself slowly unwinding, happy to be in a sanctuary that seems far from the Dubai hustle and bustle.
We are welcomed warmly by the Vanitas staff and begin our Italian journey with some rather delicious breads and dips. These are really of a very high standard – and by my ‘bread rule’, this bodes well for what will soon be hitting our table. The delicate puff filled with sundried tomato took me right back to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, and they know their bread. Our amuse bouche, a two part affair served in both a spoon and in a bowl hidden underneath, was also an excellent introduction to the cuisine we were about to feast on.
Now let me preface the dishes we dined on saying that Vanitas is Versace’s signature Italian seafood restaurant. Unfortunately, seafood is a no-go for me – so we explored the non-seafood side of their menu. We weren’t disappointed.
Burrata “Caseificio Artigiana” – 85
Grilled focaccia bread | garden’s heirloom tomato
To start we shared a beautiful burrata, served not too cold thankfully, with a little dish holding the most divine house-made caper powder. We were warned to sprinkle the powder lightly as it’s full of salty goodness, but being a salt lover, I happily applied lashings of it! Delish. Wish I could buy this and take it home.
For our Primi course, we sampled
Risotto “Alfredo” – 105
Creamed mushroom risotto | crispy chicken wings | white jus | parsley chiffonade
Tortelli di Ricotta – 85
Homemade tortelli | ricotta | buffalo mozzarella “garofalo”|
Both the risotto and tortelli were perfectly al dente to the bite, just the way Italian cooking should be served. The tortelli was subtle, creamy and beautiful in it’s own right, but the winner of this course goes to the chicken wing risotto. It’s not a dish you expect to see on the menu – chicken wings! However unexpected, these tiny morsels of meat extracted from the wing were caramelised beautifully and oh so tender. You can tell by the depth of the flavour in the risotto that the stock used has been laboured over carefully to reach the richness it imparted.
Our first pick for this course had been a dish featuring truffle, but we were told truffle is currently out of season. I did enquire as to why they aren’t currently sourcing truffles from Tasmania as North American dining establishments are doing at this time of year, and was informed that they prefer to only source their truffles from Italy and France – apologies Australia! Though it’s more than fair for the Chef to have his preferences, I’d recommend taking truffle options off the menu if they are not available on the day.
“Pollo alla Diavola” – 175
Roasted whole baby chicken | confit tomato | herbs and chili margination
| “Giudea” artichoke
Slow-cooked Lamb – 190
Pumpkin gnocchi | seasonal mushrooms | lamb leg confit
For our mains, we were spoilt for choice with three delicious sounding meat dishes on offer. The baby chicken is prepared to order, butterflied and served still juicy and succulent. Accompanied by artichokes and sundried tomatoes, this felt like a take on antipasto flavours elevated to the highest level. I don’t normally order chicken at a restaurant, but chicken (whole especially) is undergoing a renaissance of sorts, with the best of the best restaurants around the world offering up stunning rustic dishes that are far from foul (or should it be fowl?).
The lamb was an absolute knockout. I can confidently say it’s the best lamb dish I’ve eaten in Dubai, and certainly up there on a global level. New Zealand lamb (but of course) slow cooked for 48 hours…this is a dish that is harder than it sounds to execute to a high level. The mouthfeel this dish delivers is simply sublime. Tender, juicy meat that delicately coats your palate in just the right amount of lamb fat in the best way imaginable. No unpleasant mutton flavours here, this was smooth, sweet lamb flavour all the way. I would have liked the pumpkin gnocchi to have been larger so I could enjoy some pillowy softness with a little bit of pan fried crunch, but these and the mushrooms were a great accompaniment to the lamb.
Affogato – 55
Vanilla ice cream | single origin coffee espresso
Tiramisu – 55
This dessert hardly needs an introduction
Now, you must save room for dessert at Vanitas. The desserts seriously deliver on taste – fantastic to see as so often they are either an afterthought or overdone. Coffee lovers are in for a treat here – both the affogato and tiramisu delivered strong hits of espresso. The affogato was absolutely delicious, and definitely elevated above the traditional rendition of what is essentially an espresso shot over ice cream. For the sake of authenticity, I have to disclose that I’m a chocolate sphere hater. Yes, I know this is a piece of table side theatre much loved in this city, but for me it’s an overused device. It did give the chocolate a wonderful melted consistency that took me back to eating Magic Ice in my childhood (yum!) but I’d like to see them put an original twist on the sphere, perhaps crafting the shape into something more unique – I’d even take a chocolate Burj Khalifa or medusa head.
The tiramisu, topped with golden coffee beans (we are in Dubai after all!) was luscious – layers of insane creaminess paired with coffee drenched sponge layers beyond any I’ve tasted before. A serious winner. Petit four followed to put paid to any last nook and cranny of space we had remaining in our stomachs, artfully displayed in a glass stand with some even featuring the Versace logo. I loved the cheesecake truffle!
I was honestly blown away at the exceptionally high standards Chef Andrea Gaia and the Vanitas team managed to consistently uphold the entire evening. Service, wine, food, all exemplary. I loved that they deliver the full fine dining experience, with breads, amuse bouche and petit four. This kind of attention to detail really elevates them in the Dubai market. But the meal wasn’t just great by Dubai standards, it was great by international standards, and to me that’s impressive. Whether you’re a seafood lover or not, you’ll be extremely well sated at Vanitas. With the ever approaching arrival of Michelin in Dubai, I think this is one establishment that is ready for the infamous guide to make it’s judgement. Vanitas, you’ve done the Versace name proud.