Home to the largest wine cellar in the Middle East, here’s how the Italian restaurant compares to its upscale DIFC neighbours.
In Dubai, ‘chic’ is often used interchangeably to describe something nice, especially when it comes to clothing or interiors. So when a new Dubai restaurant opened, using the term to describe an Italian grandma, team FACT had to go and check it out.
Located in the Bank Street Building at the far end of DIFC’s Gate Avenue, the arrival experience at Chic Nonna Restaurant & Lounge is disarming. Wiry olive trees in giant planters flank a marvellous jade-coloured wooden door that is at least two storeys tall and decorated with large brass handles. The stature of the space is a little overwhelming, but once inside Dubai’s newest restaurant, it’s all smiles and warm Italian hospitality as we’re escorted past a lively bar and into the charming restaurant space.
Here, enviably high ceilings, gigantic windows, twinkling chandeliers, wooden panelling and plush couches provide the feeling of dining in a stately living room rather than a restaurant. Chic Nonna Restaurant & Lounge has only been open for a few weeks but is buzzing on the Tuesday evening we visit for dinner. A large open kitchen with an impressive pizza oven is a hub of activity, whilst waiters in green jackets roam the restaurant floor bringing an Italian pizzaz to proceedings.
The new Italian concept comes to Dubai from Mine & Yours Group, whilst the kitchen is headed up by Vito Mollica of the MICHELIN-Starred Il Palagio in Four Seasons Florence. Add in the Middle East’s largest wine cellar (home to 4000 bottles), and you have a match made in culinary heaven.
Chic Nonna draws on homemade nonna-style cooking and gourmet techniques to create a timeless dining experience. We appreciate the straightforward approach to the menu that spans just two pages as we sip on a truffle-infused chic martini, one of the restaurant’s signature aperitivos.
Conveniently divided into three sections – starters and salads, pizza and rosticceria, pasta and rissoti, and main courses – Chic Nonna may not offer many culinary surprises. Still, the classic Italian dishes are definitely worth your time.
We begin with Mazzancolla Prawns (AED 125), a delightful dish of plump prawns served with small cubes of Sicilian vegetables. The subtle flavour of the prawns are accentuated by the medley of vegetables that are robust without overpowering. Elsewhere, the delightfully creamy Burrata and Tomato Carpaccio (AED 165) sees a bulbous piece of Italian cheese strategically placed atop fanned-out slices of chunky organic tomatoes. Trust us when we say that Dubai’s burrata aficionados will not be disappointed.
All of Chic Nonna’s pasta is prepared in-house, and the doughy al dente mixtures are impressive. In particular, the Cavatelli dello Chef (AED 220) is divine. The exciting combination of cheese, pepper, red prawns and baby squid should be reason enough to visit Chic Nonna. Whilst we found the fusilli al ferretto (AED 185) to be a little bland, the John Dory with fresh peas, caviar and sea urchin sauce offered a decadent end to the savoury courses, leaving us well and truly enamoured.
We finish the meal, squeezing in a portion of the restaurant’s chic tiramisu, which is very Dubai. Layers of beautifully whipped cream are topped with gold leaf, covering an intense coffee-soaked sponge that isn’t afraid to be bold.
After dinner, diners are encouraged to visit the upscale lounge. Located on the upper floor overlooking the Dubai skyline and Burj Khalifa, there’s a cigar lounge, small terrace and long bar with a stage that will soon hold nightly shows.
The restaurant’s calls itself an “Osteria”, an Italian term used to describe a simple or inexpensive Italian eatery. Situated in the heart of upmarket DIFC, Chic Nonna is neither of these things but does offer an experience that smoothly combines Italian tradition with an international twist. Although the food is undeniably strong, we will remember the service and hospitality fondly. From the beaming hostesses to Thomas Marongiu, Chic Nonna’s charming Assistant Wine Director, the experience is unsurprisingly chic. And there’s no nonna in sight.
GO: Visit www.chicnonna.com for more information.