When it comes to Italian cuisine, there are two sides.
There’s the rustic plates of pasta inspired by nonna’s recipes and served in neighbourhood trattorias across the country, and then there’s the Riviera-influences where Mediterranean vibes and freshly-prepared seafood reign supreme. At Azzurro, you get the best of both worlds.
While it’s by no means an Italian coastline location, Azzurro’s spot on the waterfront at Souk Qaryat Al Beri does guarantee an al fresco vibe paired with none too shabby views of one of the city’s most prominent landmarks: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Inside, the restaurant is a breezy mix of sea-coloured fabrics, bright whites, natural wood finishings and potted plants. When we visit, the sun is just beginning to set, so we opt for a table on the terrace, and are immediately greeted by our waiter, who hands us a menu and takes our drinks order.
In Italy, meals are a big deal. Typically, dinners start with antipasti, soup or perhaps salad followed by a first course – usually pasta or risotto – and then taking in a second course –typically meat or fish. Azzurro’s menu has all of the above, plus a great pizza selection and an ample spread of classic Italian desserts.
As we peruse the menu, our waiter whizzes over with a breadbasket and some salty olive tapenade that helps keeps our hunger at bay. The pillowy milk and cheese bread is definitely worth the pre-dinner carb guilt.
We decide to start with the insalate di mare – a melody of fresh shrimp, juicy prawns, tender octopus and tasty squid nestled among crisp green leaves and vegetables. Served with a citrusy dressing, it reminds us of mealtimes on the Mediterranean. Alongside the salad, we try the focaccia napoletana. Freshly baked bread topped with creamy mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and tangy capers, it’s decidedly fragrant although we can’t help but think the flavours could do with a little more punch.
You can’t properly rate an Italian restaurant without sampling the pizza and head chef Andrea has been working on transforming Azzurro’s pizza offering from a cookie-like consistency to the delightfully crisp pepperoni-topped pie that arrives on our table. Simple and not overloaded with ingredients, the pizza has the perfect cheese-to-dough ratio and is bursting with flavour. The mark of a good pizza is when you can get through more than a few slices without feeling like you’ve overdone it and we can honestly say this held true for Azzurro’s offering. Making light work of it, we were ready for the next dish.
Sticking with the classics, we go for penne alfredo, requesting that our pasta is cooked al dente. Since much of Italian life typically revolves around the family dinner table, chef Andrea and his team are more than happy to modify dishes to your liking, or to suit the fussier palettes of little ones. Piping hot, our penne alfredo is perfectly cooked, firm to the bite and servedin a shockingly tasty sauce where the cheese flavour shines through amidst a creamy consistency.
We opt for the trancio de salmone alla piastra as our secondi and are suitably impressed with the tender salmon fillet that comes served in a deliciously light sage and butter sauce.
By this point, dessert seems ambitious, but the classic Venetian tiramisu is such a perfect combination of coffee, cream and chocolate, that we manage to clear the plate. Lingering on the terrace, we round things off with an Italian espresso.
Majoring in Italian classics and boasting waterfront views, Azzurro is a good pick for the whole family.
Need to know
Location: Souk Qaryat Al Beri
We say: Authentic Italian eats served with a smile
Cost: AED 395 for two
Opening times: Daily noon–midnight
Contact: 02 575 9993, facebook.com/azzurrouae
WORDS Hayley Skirka