Carbone brings MICHELIN magic to the Kingdom.
Few restaurants in the world have been name-checked by rappers. Italian American hotspot Carbone has made its way into Drake’s Spin Bout U, where he rhymes, “You know how it goes when they can’t get a reservation up in Carbone”. This is how we feel when we venture into the restaurant’s latest outpost in Saudi Arabia.
Carbone pays homage to the timeless charm of Italian-American restaurants. Created by Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick, the New York outpost is popular with A-list diners. Guests have included Adele, Barack Obama, Jennifer Lopez, the Kardashians and Travis Scott. In Riyadh, we receive the same red carpet welcome as we pull up at Mansard Riyadh, a Radisson Collection Hotel. A velvet rope, red carpet and blacked-out windows that wouldn’t be amiss in an exclusive nightclub mark the arrival of Riyadh’s hottest new reservation.
Inside, enviably high ceilings, navy blue walls and distressed mirrors in gold frames set the scene for a night of sophisticated dining. We meander across parquet flooring towards a table topped with a perfectly pressed tablecloth and glittering glassware. Palm trees punctuate the restaurant space, while crystal light fittings dazzle from above. A mezzanine floor is home to live music nights and offers an enviable space to match the hubbub below. The beautifully lit gold-accented bar adds a touch of New York glamour.
Carbone’s big bulky menu is a love letter to Italian American cuisine. It is broken down into distinct sections covering antipasti (appetisers), insalate e zuppa (salads and soups), macaroni (pasta), pesci (fish), carni (meat) and cartoni (sides). Signatures include the ever-popular Veal Parmesan (SAR 350).
We begin with the Caesar Salad (SAR 160), prepared tableside amidst exaggerated theatrics. The classic combination of crunchy baby romaine, garlic croutons and anchovies is a masterclass in simplicity and boasts a beautiful pepperiness. The Caprese Burrata (SAR 170) puts a modern spin on the traditional tri-colour salad, presenting chunky heirloom tomatoes, a bulbous burrata ball, and lashings of olive oil and salsa verde across a spectrum of colours. The tomatoes contributed a tanginess that awakened the palate, their acidity providing the ideal balance to the luscious, creamy burrata.
The signature Spicy Rigatoni deserves all of the acclaim bestowed upon it. The seductive sauce is creamy but belies its spicy nature, with the heat coming to the fore with each mouthful. It’s comfort food executed to perfection and a dish that has spawned a thousand copycat recipes.
While classics such as Calamari Marco, Carpaccio Piemontese, Chicken Massimo, Double Lamb Chops and Whole Branzino feature prominently on the Carbone menu, we opt for the New York Strip (SAR 370) for our main. Cooked to a pretty pink medium rare, the superb steak is served with roasted garlic, salsa verde and duck fat roast potatoes.
When it comes to a grand finale, Carbone Riyadh delivers. Guests are escorted to the dessert bar, which boasts a stunning display of sweet treats ranging from Nutella Tiramisu to Carbone’s Signature Carrot Cake. We opt for a thick slice of lemon cheesecake. A crumbly biscuit supporting a silky smooth cheesecake that’s sweet rather than tart uses the lemon as a subtle undertone instead of the most pronounced flavour.
The dining experience at Carbone Riyadh is supported by slick service that has to be some of the strongest in the capital. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, reading tables with ease and pre-empting diners’ needs with a discreet charm that is rare in Riyadh.
Born in Italy before moving to the United States, where it gained MICHELIN notoriety, Carbone feels very New York, New York. The restaurant may have expanded across the world to Dallas, Doha, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Miami. Yet, diners in Riyadh can expect the same expertly crafted Italian dishes served in an elegant yet unpretentious atmosphere.
Back to Drake. His infatuation with Carbone returned on the 2017 track Do Not Disturb where he rapped: “Maybe it never gets old and that’s just how it goes. Last table left in Carbone” – based on the packed restaurant on the Saturday evening we dine, we’re inclined to agree.
GO: Visit www.sevenrooms.com for reservations and more information.