An Italian Odyssey

Ailsa Whyatt visits the long-awaited pop-up restaurant Bottega Di Carna at Mondrian Doha, where she is treated to a truly modern Italian experience.

Italian food is more than just a source of nourishment, it’s an expression of culture. For centuries, people have gathered around huge family tables to share food, feed each other and feed their souls. Ingredients are fresh and full of heart, just like the people creating the dishes. A truly modern take on Italian cuisine is the dining concept at Dario Cecchini’s magnificent pop-up, Bottega Di Carna at Mondrian Doha. Originally from Panzano, Dario trained as a butcher as his father was the village butcher and he is the eighth generation of the Cecchini butchers with a legacy of more than 250 years of excellence. Now known as ‘The Greatest Butcher in The World’, it was in Panzano that he opened his first restaurant; a single long table where he ‘hosted’ meals for family and friends far and wide.

Tonight’s setting is different, nestled amongst the grandeur of Mondrian Doha, but the welcome is no less friendly and the food just as hearty and fresh. Inspiration and ingredients come straight from Italy and our server, Antonella, proudly walks us through the dishes, drinks, ingredients and flavours on the menu, and with gusto (or should I say gusti?!). Water is dispensed, drinks recommended. And so, to eat.

Warm bread appears, served with balsamic oil and Dario’s own olive oil, straight from Italy. The focaccia and bread rolls are doughy and delicious, the grissini (bread sticks) are baked with flecks of charred cheese, but my goodness that olive oil. Peppery and reminiscent of the green olives from whence it came, where can we get some?!

We try some Cicchetti (snacks) and starters and, whilst all are delicious, I must spotlight the Amalfi Orange Salad. Slices of orange (Amalfi and blood), scattered with thinly sliced, crunchy red onion, fennel, olives, lemon and mint, and dressed in a lemon vinaigrette. The onion and fennel draw out the sweet oranges, whilst the mint lifts the dish into heavenly perfection. It is so fresh that we return to it throughout our starters. Clam Crostini also stands out – clams, razor clams, mussels and cherry tomatoes, set on four toasted crostini and drizzled with a mussel vinaigrette and parsley oil. It tastes of the sea: wild, salty and powerful. We love it.

I could mention the meaty steak astride toasted sourdough oozing with olive oil in Dario’s Steak Tartare, the softness of the veal and its rich gravy sprinkled over tonnato sauce of Vitello Tonnato, or the glorious autumnal colours and nuttiness of toasted squash seeds and hazelnut in the Squash Carpaccio, but I fear I would run out of space…

As is etiquette, we are served pasta and risotto next. We try Green Lasagna – oyster mushrooms, salted kale, scarmoza (smoked mozzarella) and black truffle lasagne, served in a pool of green (spinach) béchamel sauce. Comfort food at its best; wafting with black truffles and oozing with cheese. Risotto comes in the form of al dente rice cooked in fish stock with prawns, clams and razor clams folded through it, then topped with a fillet of red mullet (wonderfully crunchy skin on). Flavours of the deep to warm our cockles.

Next up we have King Prawns, Ribeye and, my absolute star of the show, Polpo Luciana. The prawns are grilled and drizzled in a chilli butter that adds a glowing heat, served with arugula and herbs in a delicious lemony dressing and the ribeye is perfectly seasoned and served with a carrot purée and smoky aubergine confit. I rarely pass up an opportunity for octopus, but it is a dangerous undertaking; beware the cardinal sin of a rubbery octopus! Luckily this is not something we have to worry about here – this one comes straight from the heart of Italy, using the finest ingredients and incredible culinary skills. The octopus is beautifully soft yet crunchy on the outside; full of flame and flavour. Slow roasted tomatoes, dappled with olives and capers are the bed on which it rests. What is this magic and how do they do it? I cannot explain but I can appreciate.

We have some creamed spinach to accompany our mains. A delicious combination of rosemary, thyme, garlic, pepper and gruyère, and a whole lot of spinachy goodness, then (as if that wasn’t enough) topped with crispy shallots that bring a caramelised onion flavour to round the dish off. It’s so good! We also drink a Toro Toro with our mains, which is just divine. It’s American corn beverage which has been washed in tallow (beef fats) and then mixed with Italian distilled botanicals, lemon, egg white and red grapes. I know, I know, it sounds awful. It. Is. Delicious. A stupendous accompaniment to our meal and a real talking point.

What Italian meal is complete without a little something sweet? Naturally, we indulge in some Amalfi Lemon Givré, and also a Tiramisu. The magnificent givré (little frosted chunks of lemon ice) is presented inside half a lemon, topped with piped, blowtorched Italian meringue, and comes floating towards us on a spectacular bed of dry ice. Not only is it a beauty to behold but it is utterly delicious. A pure palate cleanser; tart, zingy and zesty – such a treat. The Tiramisu for two is a (very generous) bowl of thick and creamy extravagance. The coffee is the right balance of strength so as not to overpower the flavours, and the rich dusting of cacao across the top of the dish is like a velvet cloak that found its resting place.

Food is not just a necessity but a way of life in Italian cooking. A plethora of traditions, ingredients and a history of shared feasting ensure that food is prepared, served and enjoyed across the land. At Bottega Di Carna, whether you are vegetarian, pescatarian or carnivore, you will not be disappointed. An elegant and mouth-watering feast awaits you, and with Dario and his team, you could not be in better hands.

GO: Call 4045 5999 for more information or to make a reservation.