Mercato Mall's newest Italian restaurant has jumped through flaming hoops to import its artisan pizza oven to the UAE. Combining freshly kneaded pizza dough with carefully chosen ingredients, its menu features classic Italian favorites – scrumptiously executed.
Table reservations aren't necessary with the Mercato branch as there's always a spare table lying around. If you're a Type-A personality, and being organized is in your blood, you can easily book a table over the phone. If you're a Type-B personality, and being a couch potato is in your blood, you can conveniently order a home delivery off the website and pay online too!
Parking's rarely an issue at Mercato Mall. It offers ample parking in front of the main entrance. Simply station your wheels in the free parking lot, and saunter into the mall.
Greeting and seating
The number of times I've aimlessly wandered around a mall looking for a restaurant is just plain embarrassing. A quirk that Mercato has mastered is having highlighted paths on the ground that leads you to the outlet you're looking for. I felt like Dora the Explorer following a breadcrumb trail to Rosso Vivo. This little quirk is what set my experience off to a positive start.
We were greeted by a chirpy waitress and instantly seated. We inhaled the eatery's vibe and perused our menu as artisan Italian water was gently poured into our glasses. Upon closer inspection, we learned the water was sourced straight from the Italian Alps.
Knowledge and service of the waiter
Our waitress was happy to address whatever questions we threw at her. She walked us through the elements that make Rosso Vivo's pizzas special. Unlike a concerning number of mall restaurants, this waitress embodied the Rosso Vivo brand with her knowledge and enthusiasm. Throughout our meal, she was alert and always just the wave of the hand away.
Our lunch was a delicious spread of suppli, fiore di zucca, mozzarelline fritte, crochetta di patate, argumi and vegetable pizza, and a scoop of pistachio gelato.
We sparked our appetites with everything off the antipasti menu. Economically priced, you could blaze through the menu with the spare change in your pocket. Traditionally, antipasti comprises an assortment of cured meats, freshly picked vegetables, cheese, and fish from local lakes or rivers. An Italian meal isn't officially in session without commencing with the antipasti course.
Our antipasti spread featured suppli, fiore di zucca, and mozzarelline fritte. Let's start with a little lesson in the anatomy of these dishes. As fancy as it may sound, suppli is basically an Italianization of the French “surprise”. A common Roman street food, the bite-sized dish comprises risotto drenched in tomato sauce and cooked in a case of egg and breadcrumbs with mozzarella. Rosso Vivo's suppli tasted like arancini's tastier cousin. Crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
Next up: Mozzarelline fritte. Translated, these are mozzarella fritters. This classic cheese made its official cookbook debut in 1570. Mozzarella is every Italian's first love, and it was offered on a slice of bread to pilgrims in the 12th century. Extremely difficult to get right and extremely easy to get wrong, the quality of mozzarella is one of the ways you can judge the integrity of an Italian restaurant. Rosso Vivo's mozzarelline frittes were undeniably indulgent, but could have benefited from a tangy jalapeno core. Although, the very mention of mixing Italian tradition with American trends is enough to make any Italian chef reading this review go on strike. Sorry, folks!
Finally: Fiore di zucca. Identical to the Indian pakora, the Italian fiore di zucca is a fried fritter stuffed with molten cheese, zucchini, and anchovy. An interesting texture experience, the flavors didn't win my heart. The anchovies sliced through the mellow flavors and overwhelmed my palate. The batter was light, leaving me with just enough room for my pizza main course.
The waitress recommended opting for a half-and-half pizza to ensure our tastebuds weren't saturated. Three minutes later, a pizza embellished with juicy slices of lemon and luscious baked vegetables landed on our table. Fresh bubbles of cheese deflated as the it flaunted haphazard burn marks, indicative of an authentic pizza. Light and crispy, the crust didn't steal the spotlight letting the ingredients that dressed it do all the talking. The agrumi pizza (citrus pizza) was sharper than a razor with its tartness. After a couple challenging bites, we stumbled upon a hack. Sprinkle some balsamic vinegar on your pizza slice to dilute the citric flavor. The vegetarian pizza was perfectly pleasant, but I wouldn't give it a medal for flavor. I'd recommend doing a Beyonce and carrying hot sauce in your bag for occasions like this. Apologies to all the non-millennial readers who didn't get that reference. Tabletop hack: Splash some chili oil to revive the pizza's flavor.
Always leave room for dessert, that's just common sense. The pistachio gelato revived my love for all things pistachio-flavored. Growing up in the Middle East, my childhood was made up of four major food groups: pistachio, saffron, rose, and the controversial Arabic mastic. I'd usually give the award to the Middle East for mastering the pistachio, but Rosso Vivo wins this round.
We couldn't leave Rosso Vivo without a classic Italian espresso. One cup of Caffitaly espresso later, I was satiated. I didn't have to waddle like a penguin from an overwhelmingly filling lunch. The portions were elegantly sized. Just energizing enough to banish that notorious midday slump.
Courtesy extended during the meal
The chef invited me into the kitchen to marvel at Rosso Vivo's internationally renowned pizza oven. All pizza pies at any Rosso Vivo outlet are baked in a traditional Neapolitan oven. They start off as mere artisanal clay bricks sourced from an authentic small producer in Campania. They're then handed to a globally recognized builder – Giuseppe from Naples. The oven is then masterfully played like a harp by Rosso Vivo's award-winning pizza chef from Naples. To the trained eye, each pizza that comes out of that oven is a mini masterpiece. The crust's always flaky, the edges delicately powdered with flour, and the dough lovingly crafted for each table. There's never a chance to get hangry (hungry meets angry) here as all pizzas literally take three minutes to bake.
Rosso Vivo's interior designer deserves a pat on the back for accomplishing an impressive feat. Before the pizzeria made its way into Mercato Mall, the venue was a vacant courtyard. Surrounded by salons, a children's play zone, a currency exchange house, and a furniture boutique; you wouldn't think twice while strolling through the courtyard. Using a simple metal frame, glowing bulbs on a string, tasteful dining furniture, and statement plants; the designer has transformed that once deserted space into a vision of beauty. What would take the ambiance to the next level would be instrumental Italian music or soft opera, playing in the background. At the moment, you can expect to be serenaded by the sound of screaming children and blaring hair dryers.
Our three-course lunch was pleasantly priced at 142 dirhams.
Overall, would you return?
Yes, but only if I was struck by a sudden case of the munchies while shopping at Mercato Mall. With lightening fast service and a play zone around the corner, I'd highly recommend it to parents on the hunt for a relaxing cup of coffee and entertainment for their kids.
Anything off Rosso Vivo's customized pizza menu. And, of course, the tiramisu. While not from the chef's mouth, The National highly recommends the Margherita pizza.