Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dubai Restaurant Review: Cucina, Courtyard Marriott

In a nutshell: Fantastic food and varied menu

Simon and I live within walking distance of the Courtyard Marriot and have eaten there countless times. Cucina, as the name suggests, is an Italian restaurant (another one!) designed to resemble a family kitchen. The tables are wooden, the chairs are wrought iron & wicker and huge wine barrels are used as serving stations. The kitchen opens out onto the restaurant and there is outside seating looking out onto the Green Community lake. It succeeds in creating a family-friendly, unstuffy atmosphere - children are given colouring books and crayons when they come. Up a spiral staircase is the popular bar area with an outside seating area as well. When the hotel first opened 5 years or so ago they offered free tapas in the bar, but that was quickly stopped and now all bar snacks have to be paid for!

In the past Cucina has been plagued by incredibly slow and disorganised service as well as mediocre food. You may wonder why we keep going back but the fact that it's on our doorstep means that we have been willing to put up with its shortcomings for the convenience of being able to walk there, have a few drinks with dinner and walk home again. The Marriott hosts a comedy night every month and we decided to have dinner before The Laughter Factory. We gave ourselves 2 hours for dinner, expecting the usual painfully drawn out and frustrating service. How things have changed!! Not only was the service slick but the food was fabulous. We could not believe it and Cucina is now on our list of places we will look forward to eating at, as opposed to eating at out of necessity.

My starter of melon and parma ham with a balsamic sauce was well-presented and flavoursome, although you can't really go wrong with something so simple. Simon's caprese salad looked exactly how it should - unlike my Biella disaster! It was served with an avocado mousse, lending it that little difference to raise it above what you could make yourself at home. Simon had a ham & mushroom pizza for his main course; they have a real pizza oven so it came out lovely and fresh. My red snapper was absolutely amazing. It was served with potatoes and scallops with a saffron sauce - saffron sauces seem very popular in Italian restaurants! The entire dish was cooked to perfection with the scallops melting in my mouth and the fish not tasting 'fishy' at all. I ordered grilled vegetables on the side as well which were very thinly sliced Meditarranean veg, slightly crispy on the outside but tender inside. We were stunned.

The dessert menu was presented in a very original fashion: an old hotel registration card box had been filled with laminated cards describing each dessert. Unfortunately the raspberry & strawberry delight (cheesecake by any other name) we ordered to share didn't match up to the rest of the meal and I only had 1 mouthful and left the rest to Simon. The base was very dry and the top part quite sour. It didn't detract from the whole experience though - I'll just try something else next time.

The only real negative point at Cucina is the lack of recognition from the staff. After having been there so many times, greeting us with a 'Welcome back' or 'Nice to see you again' would really create that wow factor that is lacking in the service. It's fair enough if they can't remember our names, but I could tell that the staff recognised us and yet they didn't voice that in any way. We ate once at Dante's at the Grand Millennium and when we went back we were recognised as repeat guests - it just makes you feel that little bit special and lifts a restaurant up from 4/5 to 5/5.


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