In the northwest of Italy lies an idyllic coastal region with mountains and steep cliffs rising up around quaint towns nestled along picturesque beaches.
It may be a tourist hot spot for its rich history and stunning scenery, but Liguria is equally as well known for its cuisine. The birthplace of pesto, the region is synonymous with traditional foods, well known for its homegrown olives, fresh seafood like sardines and focaccia.
It’s such a well-regarded cuisine, it’s the inspiration behind Oregano, a chain of Italian restaurants in the UAE that has now opened its first branch in Abu Dhabi.
The coastal element is clearly represented in the rustic décor, with oil lanterns, thick ropes and boat steering wheels adorning the walls and shelves dotted among the wrought iron chairs and wooden benches.
The menu is a whopping 34 pages with everything from starters, salads and soups to pasta, pizza, gnocchi, risotto, calzone, meat dishes and desserts – so don’t say you don’t have choices. There’s even gluten free pasta and pizza available.
The cheesy jalapeño balls are a good place to start: rounds of chopped up peppers and creamy, melted cheese are coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried, served with a tangy tomato sauce to cut through the spice.
The pizza verdure has a generous topping of bite-sized vegetables like broccoli, olives, bell peppers, onion and cherry tomatoes with slices of garlic, but the ratio of cheese to tomato sauce leaves me with chunks of stringy mozzarella picked off and set to the side. But the gluten free base is better than many I’ve had.
The gnocchi polpettine comes with perfectly cooked chunky potato dumplings mixed with slightly over-cooked meatballs in a spicy and tangy tomato sauce, though we’d prefer it to be a coating of sauce rather than a pool of it.
Dessert, however, is spot on. Although a Sicilian speciality and not a Ligurian one, the cannoli packs a sweet punch without being too over indulgent. Two tubes of crispy pastry encase a sweet, cinnamon-spiced ricotta mixed with chocolate chips, topped with candied orange peel. Coupled with an espresso, it’s a real Italian treat.
I’d visit Oregano again for its friendly service and relaxed atmosphere, though a few recipe adjustments – and perhaps a smaller menu – could make the food more authentic.
Need to know
Location: Oregano, Al Forsan Village, Khalifa City
We say: Good food, friendly service
Cost: AED 148 for two
Opening times: Daily 11am-midnight
Contact: 02 554 0144, oreganorestaurants.com