Il Borro – a restaurant that has proven to be my nemesis for quite some time now, finally gave me a reservation the other day. After several failed attempts at visiting, multiple fully booked responses, lots of friends and colleagues boasting of their time there and even the chefs messaging me on Facebook, Il Borro was becoming the bane of my life, and I felt I needed to break the curse so I could move on.
Il Borro is at the new Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel on Beach Road. It operates from a new licensed restaurant development that overlooks a quaint turtle sanctuary, where injured turtles are given a safe lagoon to recover in. As a centerpiece, not as dramatic as a dancing fountain or laser and fire show, and you’re certainly not going to see these particular turtles somersaulting out of the water to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean wearing a single sparkling glove over their flippers. Mainly because Jumeriah would never do that – they have far too much class and sophistication for dancing Michael Jackson turtles.
Finally, after promising to leave before anyone important arrived, we were granted a reservation early doors.
I suffer from terrible table envy, so when we were seated in the furthest corner of the restaurant, away from anything exciting, like the kitchen, or the bar, or the toilets, or people, I was a little disappointed. Mainly for the Serb, as there was nothing exciting for her to look at, except me. If our standing in the guest hierarchy was ever in doubt, it was cemented by two things. They sat a man dressed in a three-piece Adidas tracksuit front and center as window dressing, and they sat a single diner with her Kindle next to us on “outsiders row.” And our table was slightly wobbly.
However, table choice aside, the restaurant design is certainly a point to talk about. They have chosen very subtle colours and natural materials with light, beige/gray woods and brass accents. There are architectural, clean lines, with a great open dining room that the kitchen overlooks through black framed windows. There is a residential feel to the restaurant, a certain homely charm that exudes character and ambiance. Furthermore, crisp white tablecloths and warm ambient lighting provide accessible sophistication, and overall, Il Borro resonates exceptionally well with its guests in this regard.
I think it is one of my favourite restaurant spaces at the moment. Studio63 from Italy did a great job with the design.
I’ve followed Chef Bosetti’s cooking for close to a decade now. It was back in Frankie’s Italian Grill where he first showed his talent – his cooking lacked a little discipline, but the raw talent was certainly there. His gnocchi was exceptional, even back then. He resurfaced briefly at the now closed Amika, but that was the wrong fit for someone like Maurizio – he needs a structured and classical environment to work in, not a nightclub with a pasta boiler in the back. After a couple of decent stints in La Serre and Atelier M, it seems under Chef Andrea Campani and Il Borro, Maurizio Bosetti might have found a kitchen he can flex his muscles in.
The Dubai menu is quite different from the original in Il Borro, Florence – it is a much more westernized interpretation of Tuscan cooking, with more commercially acceptable offerings, like pizza, for example. The original Tuscan menu comes with a significant focus on the provenance of ingredients – something restaurants of Dubai naturally struggle with. Whenever an Italian menu claims to have been “adapted” for the local market, it usually means they have added pizza or spaghetti carbonara.
For starters, we ordered the insalata di rape rosse – beetroot salad and the bresaola di Chianina – dried beef with rocket. Mains were the costolette d’agnello – grilled rack of lamb, and the bufala mozzarella pizza.
The service was good – food arrived on time, and the staff were attentive and polite – however, they didn’t have the energy of the Zuma team or the knowledge of LPM or the personalities of the Matto team. Dining out has to be about more than just the food on the plate, especially at the prices restaurants charge these days. There has to be an experience, a story, something to elevate and differentiate.
This lack of engagement meant the staff missed an opportunity to help create a legacy with Il Borro. Italian cuisine is one of the world’s very best, and Tuscany is a part of the country that grows and produces some of the planet’s greatest ingredients. The staff needs to find opportunities to talk about the terroir, the climate, the Il Borro estate or even the menu inspiration. Talk about something – anything.
The beetroot salad and bresaola were served, and overall, they were excellent starters. Carpaccio style beetroot with figs slices, whipped young goats cheese, crushed pistachios, and baby cress. It was light and fragrant, the goat’s cheese and figs balancing against the sweetness of the beetroot.
The bresaola was also carpaccio sliced and served with generous shavings of hard, sharp cheese, a wonderfully light horseradish cream and a drizzle of sweet sticky balsamic. The beef used is from the Italian Chianina cow, one of the world’s oldest breeds of cattle, prized for the quality of their meat. It was a good dish, well-constructed with quality ingredients.
The manager wandered close to our table a couple of times, but a combination of being on “outsiders row” and next to single Kindle lady deterred him from coming any closer. Secretly, all I wanted was for him to come and say, “no-one puts Foodsheikh in the corner,” and we get up and dance through the restaurant like Patrick Swayze and that girl whose name everyone forgets.
Our mains arrived without delay – the rack of lamb and the bufala pizza. The pizza arrived on an elevated stand, making bird’s eye view instagram pictures a nightmare. Doesn’t Il Borro know that the iPhone has a terrible depth of view?
The lamb was delicious, fatty, flavourful and cooked pink. It had been marinated in light herbs that added a touch of char to the cooking process. The jus was full of umami and combined well with the parsnip puree and dried olives. Well flavoured, well marinated, well cooked and well presented. Well done.
Pizza is an extremely difficult dish to critic – in my opinion, there is no such thing as bad pizza, and certainly no single version of the perfect pizza. Il Borro’s version was pretty good. However, I have a feeling it had to wait for the lamb to be ready as it was quite tepid in temperature by the time it got to the table. It could have also been because our table was the furthest from the kitchen. I’m surprised Deliveroo didn’t drive it over.
Good pizza starts with the dough – you get the dough wrong, and everything else falls apart. Bufala mozzarella and tomatoes are a tricky topping for pizza – ideally, you want to stay away from too many wet toppings, as it causes the crust to become soggy and fall apart. However, they did a good job, the crust held up well and was pulled off the stone at the right time.
As we paid the bill, it was like saying goodbye to an old adversary – despite their best efforts; I felt endeared to Il Borro. They have a certain charm about them – the restaurant itself is beautiful, and the atmosphere is lively and eclectic. In regards to the food, I have heard from others that it can be somewhat inconsistent on occasion with whispers of poor seasoning, grumblings of small portions on the pasta and an alleged heavy reliance on syrups over fresh fruits in the cocktails. However, our food on the evening was without fault, and I would recommend it based on our dinner alone.
The staff needs to engage a little more – especially in the absence of Michael Jackson somersaulting turtles.
On the way home, the Serb commented that it would be a great place to come with friends. I’m glad she enjoyed our intimate dinner so much that she wished her friends had been there too.
Il Borro Tuscan Bistro
Jumeirah Al Naseem Hotel
04 275 2555
Dinner for two – 552 AED.