When was the last time you were truly speechless? This rarely happens to me, but trust me when I say I left Al Mare – the all-day flagship Italian restaurant at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge in shock.
Look, I haven’t been to Knightsbridge in years, okay? I wasn’t sure if Harrods was still there and I didn’t particularly care. The area is, I thought, an empty haven for real estate investors and their empty second homes. So why did I bother to go there in the first place? Al Mare (literally “at the sea” in Italian) promised a culinary theater that would change the way I think about Italian cuisine. And Al Mare did not disappoint.
Here, your initials are stamped on the ice served in your cocktail (a classic Campari Americano to start). Skilled waiters arrive at your table with cart and quick hands as they carve your branzino al sale (a whole wild sea bass crusted in sea salt served with mashed potatoes and salmoriglio). Head mixologist Enrico arrives, tells you to close your eyes, and sprays your final cocktail (a refreshing blend of gin, yuzu, and grapefruit) with a basil infusion “made with herbs from his home garden in Italy.”
My boyfriend and I ate and drank almost everything on the menu. It was the tastiest classic Italian dish with the lightest touch possible – punchy but never heavy and hearty but never sickening.
My brain felt cheated, it felt horny and it wanted more
Our sommelier, the very knowledgeable Melody, recommended some top notch suggestions which were a journey through Italy from the south (a Sicilian solea chardonnay) to the north (an Alto Adige). Many flavor combinations were less expected – zingy ricciola al limone (yellow streak and thinly sliced lemon vinaigrette), tartare di tonno (Mediterranean bluefin tuna, oscietra caviar and orange ponzu) and arancini di tono with jalapeños. Then there were the off menu pan fried plums, tomato water and scallop risotto. It tasted and smelled like tomatoes fresh off the vine, but it was cream in color. My brain felt cheated, it felt turned on and it wanted more.
But, they shouldn’t have been a surprise. Al Mare’s head chef, Marco Calenzo (former executive chef of Zuma), who brought the risotto to our table, explained his enthusiasm and the opportunity to experiment and bring together his Italian heritage and his recent professional background.
French toast creme brulee made with brioche accompanied by Italian dessert wine (Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont) completed us and we remained convinced that the high-end cuisine on offer at Al Mare is not reserved for international plutocrats (although the prices convince you otherwise. This is a destination for the financially secure). Many restaurants will claim to give you a fine dining experience. This one actually does. I would even go back to Knightsbridge for that.
The atmosphere It’s an ABC type place. Reserved for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.
The food Fine Italian seafood full of spiciness and luxury.
The beverage Closing your eyes and inhaling the specially crafted essences is, I imagine, exactly the same as the experience of sitting in the herb garden of your nonna’s country house in Puglia at the summer solstice .
Tip Time Out? Did I mention the plum and scallop risotto? Plum and scallop risotto.