Can The Artisan, Waldorf Astoria DIFC make it to the top?

Published: 18 September 2020 - 3 a.m.
By: Simon Ritchie
When The World’s 50 Best revealed its inaugural ‘Discovery’ directory of top restaurants around the world (ones that hadn’t quite made it on to its famous annual list, but were knocking on the door), Dubai had 10 entries. Ten restaurants that represented the crème de la crème of the city’s dining experience.

The only problem with the latest list was that one of the venues was closed. The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri closed its doors at the end of 2018, but has now reopened, dropping the name of the three Michelin-starred restaurant it was associated with and going out on its own.

But as much as things have changed, they’ve also stayed the same. While The Artisan has moved, it’s stayed in the same Burj Daman building, but can now be found on the ground floor of the Waldorf Astoria DIFC.

And while the Enoteca Pinchiorri association is gone, you probably won’t notice it in the food, as executive chef Luca Tresoldi reveals that The Artisan team always had creative control.

He says: “Our collaboration with Enoteca Pinchiorri definitely helped The Artisan position itself high up in the market as a casual-chic Italian restaurant in the region and with that status came a number of awards to prove it.

“We were always able to meet our diners’ expectations. What people don’t know though is that we were always in charge of the menu engineering. I have worked with the Enoteca team for years and they trusted me with the creation of the menu for their outpost in Dubai.”

Although it might be a second run for the Italian eatery, managing partner Firas Fawaz tells us that this is The Artisan returning to where it was always meant to be. He says: “Originally, The Artisan was supposed to open at the same time as the hotel, with a proper outdoor space. However, the hotel opening got delayed and we were given the opportunity to open it in Burj Daman; that helped the brand establish its positioning in the market and grow its following.

“Once the Waldorf Astoria DIFC opened, we naturally relocated giving our guests easier access, and the association to the hotel evidently gives the restaurant great exposure.”

Fawaz is under no illusion about the size of task facing The Artisan. Not only did it open in the midst of a global pandemic – operating at first as a delivery-only pizza joint – but it’s located in one of the world’s most competitive F&B cities. With this in mind, Fawaz is relying on the concept to speak for itself.

“Today’s consumer is smarter with their restaurant choices and it is now harder for restaurants to retain them due to the saturated market. However, we let our authentic food, the friendly service and our ambiance speak for the brand. I believe the new concept is one of the smallest restaurants in Dubai and the idea was to create a homey venue with a personalised experience, where guests would feel at home and in their own dining room.”

The 70-seat restaurant has a cosy feel, with Fawaz saying “the idea was to have a warm and familiar interior, yet elegant with nice bold textures and colours.”

He adds: “We’ve learned this the hard way but today’s consumer is no longer interested in pretentious interiors. They seek comfort and a space they can relate to that can enhance their experience and creates some sort of positive feel.”

Word of mouth has been a main driving force for customers both returning to The Artisan they once knew, or trying it out for the first time, says Fawaz.

“People are talking about The Artisan passionately I think this is the best marketing support someone can ask for.

“Most guests who visit us following a friend’s reference come with a list of recommended dishes to order.

“A lot of our guests praise the energy of the restaurant as well as the offering, which to them feels different than other Italian restaurants in Dubai.

“We were confident that our new location and refreshed concept will have a good reception but we did not expect such a great follow through especially during such uncertain times.”

To differentiate itself from Dubai’s wealth of Italian restaurants, and retain its place on The 50 Best Discovery list, the quality of The Artisan’s food will be of vital importance. It’s something Tresoldi is taking very seriously.

He says: “With the same passion and enthusiasm I had for the ‘old Artisan’, I have created the new menu offering. My aim is to have the best of everything on this menu in the region and to create an explosive dining experience for our guests in a less pretentious space.”

He tells us he’s working closely with Italian suppliers to import 90 percent of the ingredients that help him interpret a twist into the traditional Italian dishes offered.

“Ingredients are the most important elements in menu development,” he says. “We are faced with many challenges (especially now during COVID-19) in sourcing the right ingredients so I import almost everything.

“If I don’t find what I need, it simply won’t go on the menu. Due to increased demand over the past few years, the number of suppliers witnessed a surge but not all of them have quality products.

“At the moment, I work with 16 suppliers that I’ve built good long-standing relations with throughout the years; it would be easier if I could work with less but because I search for excellence, it is not possible; I get to cherry pick what the best options are from each.”

Tresoldi says he keeps his menu short, preferring to guarantee excellence with each dish rather than “confusing guests” with many options. “I make sure that I give each section justice. For example, I make sure to include raw, slow-cooked, deep-fried, and pan-fried in the starter section and a good mix for vegetarian, meat lovers and cheese lovers. The key is to create something that caters to all palates and preferences.

“The menu changes based on seasonality but not significantly as you want to keep something that the guests are already familiar with and that they’ve enjoyed during their regular visits.”

Some of those already well-known dishes include the agnolotti with pumpkin and sage and 30-months aged parmesan fondue, while the slow-cooked octopus with lemon-favoured potato cream has proven to be a favourite with social media users – not that Tresoldi is one to follow social media trends in his cooking.

He explains: “Everything in our kitchen is made from scratch. I always believe that to be considered a good chef means to start from a simple base and add a unique signature touch to traditional dishes. “Everything on the menu is unique this way. I don’t follow trends; I follow my heart and my creativity to make every dish a signature one.”

It remains to be seen if The Artisan’s latest iteration can take it from the Discovery list to The World’s 50 Best proper this year but Tresoldi and Fawaz are showcasing the passion needed to do so.

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