When Serafina was still being built along Makkah Al Mukarramah Highway, we thought the restaurant was a seafood restaurant. (Raise your hand if you did too!) We don’t know what we were thinking but Serafina came to us like a siren (mermaid) or something, especially with its blue and yellow colors. Was that weird or what? Haha! Must be how the S in their logo swerves and curves like the fin of a mermaid. Do you get what we mean? Haha! Anyway, pardon our ignorance. Serafina is a restaurant that serves authentic Italian cuisine. It was founded by Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato when, get this, they were traumatically lost at sea in a small sailboat! (Maybe that’s why we’re getting some sea vibes.) The two stranded friends fantasized about creating the perfect pizza. They swore to open a restaurant serving the best pizzas and pastas in the world if they were to survive the ordeal. And yes, they did! Thus, Serafina was born and it has over twenty branches worldwide now. What a way to spend your days at the sea eh?
Vittorio and Fabio wanted Serafina to be an extension of their diner’s homes with their excellent food and welcoming ambiance. Their home-styled meals are meant to be shared as dinners are meant to be family affairs after all! Serafina uses the highest quality ingredients in their dishes whose recipes are handed down from generations of cooks. They serve original Northern Italian food, some of them with creative twists in presentations and flavors. Dinners at Serafina are guaranteed to be pleasant and pleasurable. We ate at Serafina Restaurant a few times already and you’ll find the photos below to be taken both in daytime and nighttime. The ambiance of Serafina is surreal. It’s perfect for a business lunch and great for a comfortable or a fancy dinner. We love how versatile it is.
The restaurant is divided into a gourmet store where diners can re-create the dishes with the ingredients for sale and the dining place that’s cozy and comfy evoking a sense of warmth and generosity. In the family section, a couch is readily available for those who just want to converse over coffee. It has also a gelateria on one side. On the second floor is a room dedicated for special occasions and events. With glass walls overlooking the street, this is the perfect venue for intimate and formal social gatherings. Serafina is located in an area away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. They wisely chose to do away with the busy streets of Tahlia and Olaya and the now popular exits 5 and 8 because they want a place where people can get a piece of quiet, a sense of comfort, and good parking (yup, a very important thing to consider).
We started one of our Serafina meals with their Basket of Fried Calamari (SR 60). Truly, they had mastered the art of elevating something simple to a more grandiose form; their calamari is a testament to it. It’s exterior crunchy and its insides so soft and warm. It’s almost like a welcome hug from a dear old friend. With the homemade spicy San Marzano tomato dip that provides a light tang, this is an appetizer you shouldn’t miss. (We even asked how they cooked it to which the manager happily discussed. I might have the recipe somewhere in the depths of my memories.)
Ever since I discovered the burrata in a small restaurant in Olaya, I have always been ordering it in Italian restaurants as soon as I see it in the menu. Serafina’s Burrata with Smoked Salmon (SR 89) and Burrata Smoked Duck (SR 89) didn’t disappoint. The ball of fresh Italian cheese made up of mozzarella and cream is so simple, so soft that it’s almost forbidden to cut into it. But alas! Eating it is a must. The balsamic vinegar with a hint of sweetness is a sauce that complements the slivers of thin meats. Ahhh, get pieces of everything in one bite and it’s heaven!
Emptying our appetizer plates, we are always ready for the next dish. Pasta it is at Serafina! I balk at the green of the pasta dish that came in our table. It’s too green and too soupy; the pesto pasta we usually have doesn’t come out from the kitchen like this. Well that’s because those commercial ones don’t herald the real Fettuccine Di Portofino (SR 65) that Serafina offers. Its delicate basil pesto sauce is swirled with the pasta, pieces of string beans, pine nuts and potatoes. It’s al dente and has a depth that comes only from fine, perfected flavors. The Ravioli Poletto (SR 75), on the other hand, has a marinara sauce that’s tasty; it has a tang that’s not overwhelming at all.
The pasta masterpiece of Serafina is their homemade fettuccine cooked with a light alfredo sauce and mixed in a huge parmigiano reggiano wheel. We believe it’s the Paglia & Fieno (SR 65) in their menu. We saw it with our own eyes and we were delighted to see how it’s made. We were particularly wishing for a few more seconds of swirling into the cheese wheel! Alas, when it comes to tasting it, we were disappointed. The dish is bland and honestly, this didn’t make it to our favorite. It’s a classic but the joy comes from watching it made before us and not with the taste.
We couldn’t resist a pizza. I mean what’s an Italian restaurant without it? And we found the best pizza in our books to date! You have to try the Tartufo Nero. At SR 125, this pizza is also the most expensive we’ve tried in Riyadh but if pizza dreams are made of this, it’s totally worth it. The pizza is topped with a bouquet of Italian cheeses and imported Italian black truffles. That’s it? Yes, that’s it! The description is so underrated, so humble… and such an extreme understatement. The product is a melt-in-your-mouth goodness that has been making us salivate just by the thought of it. The crust is perfectly thin and crisp while the thin layer of cheese and truffles is amazing in its form and flavor. Of course, you have to have an appreciation for truffles before you can enjoy this. After all, it is an acquired taste. But this is seriously delicious! I’m pretty sure I saw Reina wept just by taking a bite into this pizza. Haha! If love has a name, it’s Tartufo Nero.
Beyond the pasta and pizza, Italian restaurants usually lose us at the main courses. We always think that restaurants who specialize on some thing don’t need to offer dishes that are out of the cuisine because they might fail at it. They risk offering a sub-par dish that overshadows the greatness of the food they’re truly good at making. Therefore, we didn’t have high expectations of Serafina’s Filet Mignon Alla Grilia (SR 135). However, it looked impressive on the plate with a side of grilled seasonal vegetables. A dash of pepper and we were on our way digging into our medium-cooked steak. It didn’t give too much of a resistance but a slight tug was there; our knife taking a pause here and there. Otherwise, the meat was cooked to our liking. We have to ask for more of the mushroom gravy though to lent more flavor to the dish.
We also tried their Tagliata Toscana (SR 110) on a separate dinner at another time. This New York steak on a bed of arugula and rosemary was almost the same with the filet mignon. It was good but not a table silencer. It was a table eyecandy though with the shaved parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic on top.
The Italian piece de resistance when it comes to sweets, the tiramisu, is truly a great dessert in this restaurant. It’s said that they even import it. It’s soft, sweet and silky. The Date Cake, an ode to Saudi Arabia, is adequate. It was not too sweet and not cloying. What truly took our breath away, literally and not, is actually their gelato. Particularly their Spicy Hazelnut flavor.
As Filipinos, we have this love for anything spicy and ice cream doused with a spicy kick from chili is not new to us. However, this version of Serafina amazed us endlessly. It was spicy alright but how it managed to make us spoon for more left us clueless. The spiciness kicks in once we swallowed the gelato and it goes on and on every time we do so. However, the level of spice in our tastebuds and throats didn’t increase to the point of us giving up on finishing the gelato in our cup. It was just waves of sweetness and spiciness that’s a delight to eat.
Other flavors are available and if you’re feeling fancy, you can even buy a small bottle of gold flakes (priced at over SR 600, guys!) to put on top. When this was served to us, we were adamant to fish all the gold flakes in this cup (never mind the berry gelato) because hello, no one should waste a gold flake! That tiny, tiny piece might have been priced at SR 100 already! Haha! (Dislaimer: the gold flakes taste like nothing!)
We know Serafina’s food is priced above other Italian restaurants in Riyadh but it delivers dishes that are accomplished, tried and tested, and sincere. When dining in this restaurant, it’s also not only the food that we’re looking forward to. It’s also the ambiance that’s sophisticated yet inviting. It’s the various things they offer like the selections of their best cheeses, natural virgin olive oils, balsamic vinegars, truffles, fresh dry pasta, and other gourmet products. It’s the cafe and gelateria that they have. It’s the venue they rent out. It’s the catering they have making it easy to entertain guests at the comfort of our homes. It’s the attentive service like no other. It’s love at first bite, and even on the second and third and so on and so forth. It’s always amore.
Serafina Italian Restaurant
Makkah Al Mukarramah Branch Road,
Al Mather – Umalhammam,
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
T: +966 11 222 4492
Operating Hours: 12:30 PM to 12:00 AM