We are finally breaking our self-imposed restaurant exile after taking a few weeks off to recover from all the holiday dining. Last night was one of those evenings where neither one of us felt like cooking and we procrastinated about it for so long that we were left with no choice but to go out for dinner. We decided to drop into a restaurant that we haven’t visited for some time. Our choice for the evening was Certo at the Radisson Blu Media City as it’s close to home, the food is considered “authentically Italian” (or as authentic as it can be outside of Italy) and the prices are reasonable.
The evening started off really well when we were pleasantly greeted at the entrance with a warm Buona Sera by the Italian restaurant manager. After being promptly and efficiently seated, we were provided with water and warm bread (accompanied by roasted garlic cloves and dip) for munching while we perused the menu. We also noticed an Italian couple seated a few tables away from us which we took as a good sign.
The space – Uninteresting with one exception which is a 2-storey glass enclosed wine cellar located in the middle of what would otherwise be a very cavernous room. This centre point effectively serves to create two separate and more intimate dining spaces while also providing some much-needed character to what would otherwise have been bland decor. Also, the ceilings are slightly too high and because of the overly bright lighting this detracts from the mood – but this could be easily corrected if they brought down the lighting. The music was also all wrong on this visit as it sounded like Italian pop though it was difficult to make out for sure.
The Food – The menu has numerous options in all categories; pizza, pasta, carne e pesce to whet your appetite. Everything sounded really good so we felt mildly overwhelmed by the selection. To start, we settled on the Incontro di Calamaro (Ricotta cheese and mint stuffed calamari served with caperberries, olives, tomatoes and arugula salad) and the Asparagi Grigliata (Grilled asparagus salad served with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction).
The ricotta-stuffed calamari was tender yet lacked all flavour. It was only when it was combined with one of the astringent items on the plate (arugula salad, olives, caperberries) that some of the flavour started to come through slightly. Overall, we were underwhelmed and left with the feeling that they somehow missed on the execution.
The asparagus is not for the faint of heart. This is a serious goat cheese salad and unless you love the stuff you should probably pass on it. But if you do love it, we recommend that you take a little bite of everything on the plate and then take a deep breath through your mouth to truly appreciate its character.
Mains were the Cernia (Grilled hammour fillet with green beans olives and potatoes) and the Branzino (slow cooked sea bass, porcini mushrooms, spinach and baby potatoes). When the dishes arrived they were bursting with vibrant colours and the smell was delicious. However, the first bite of the sea bass revealed that it was not fresh. This was extremely disappointing given that the accompaniments were beautifully prepared and rich in flavour. To their credit, when the manager was called over he promptly removed the plate, apologized and offered to bring us another dish. The hammour was also average which is unfortunate given that it’s a local fish.
Sidenote: while we were waiting for our food we saw the staff bring out a cart with the world’s largest t-bone on it for the Italian couple. This dish is so important that the manager came out to cut the meat for the diners. It was also accompanied by a mountain of roast potatoes and other vegetables which looked and smelled amazing. Left us wishing we had ordered that meal instead.
The Verdict – We were left frustrated as all the elements for a great meal were there. Where it fell apart was essentially in the quality of the fish they were serving – both for the appetizer and mains. Perhaps we picked the wrong night for fish or it’s possible that we got the “B” crew in the kitchen. A great chef will not allow sub-standard food to leave their kitchen. Despite this experience, we aren’t ready to walk away from Certo completely as we’ve had excellent pasta dishes there on previous visits, but perhaps pesce is not their thing.
Asparagi – 62 dhs
Calamaro ricotta – 68 dhs
Cernia – 95 dhs
Branzino – not charged