The big interview: Cafe Milano founder Franco Nuschese

The Italian has charmed two of the world’s most powerful capital cities.

The big interview: Cafe Milano founder Franco Nuschese
Tony Powell

Here in the capital, the name Cafe Milano is associated with utterly irresistible pizzas, authentic Italian dises, friendly staff and brilliant views over Al Maryah Island.

It’s a bit of an Abu Dhabi star, but the first branch of the Italian restaurant was actually opened in Washington DC.

Launched in 1992 by founder Franco Nuschese, the flagship venue has hosted a number of huge names over the years, including US presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. So no big deal, really.

But although the two capitals are so very far apart geographically, Nuschese explains that they actually have a lot in common. Abu Dhabi was also a natural choice for the eatery’s first international outlet.

“I love Abu Dhabi, and the UAE,” he tells Time Out Abu Dhabi. “I deeply respect the culture and the traditions of this magnificent land and I have a lot of very close friends here.

“Both Abu Dhabi and Washington DC are strategic capitals, which welcome people from all over the world.

“In our restaurants we want to create an informal, authentic Italian alfresco experience. The perfect setting for an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”

Born on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, Nuschese has built the warmth and hospitality of his hometown into the brand.

He tells us: “My hometown of Minori is a small and charming place, embraced by the sea and inhabited by hardworking people.

“It’s also a port, so we know how to offer a warm and hospitable reception. We understand how to embrace people and make them feel at home. It’s in our DNA.”

Nuschese’s biggest aim is for his guests to feel like they can totally relax when they visit Cafe Milano.

“I want people to feel welcomed,” he says.  “My greatest aspiration is to create a little oasis of relaxation and pleasure, an escape from the challenging life of living in a financial and political capital. I try to create the experience of a ‘home away from home’.”

But, of course, the food is equally as important as the hospitality, and again Nuschese has drawn on his heritage to bring the flavours of south-west Italy to Abu Dhabi.

“Cafe Milano has a very strong culinary tradition and we are very proud of our corporate chef, Franco Sangiacomo,” he says.

“I would define Cafe Milano cuisine as ‘authentic Italian’, and we use innovative techniques that allow us to still stay true to the Italian classics.”

His upbringing has led him to develop an appreciation for high-quality ingredients, and he makes sure he incoporates this into every plate that hits his guests’ tables.

“I love dishes that smell of my land, it’s a place of great gastronomic history. So I have a built-in fondness for simple flavours,” he explains.

“For dinner, I sometimes like to have a simple vegetable dish topped with olive oil or our Capellini SemSem (angel hair pasta) with Corbarino tomatoes and fresh basil.”

Judging by the fresh and modern eatery’s popularity, prioritising providing warm hospitality and fresh ingredients definitely seems to be working. Its pizza certainly remains the key reason why most in the capital would never consider going on a carb-free diet. Franco, you’ve done good.

Open daily, noon-4pm; Sat-Wed 7pm-midnight; Thu-Fri 7pm-1am. Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island (02 333 2222).

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