THE NEW WAY TO EAT OUT
How Akmal and his fellow culinary creatives are changing Dubai’s dining scene
FROM HIGH-END TO THE HARBOUR
Akmal Anuar headed up Singapore’s revered Iggy’s for seven years, claiming Asia’s highest ranking in San Pellegrino’s 50 best restaurants list, before heading to Dubai to open Zengo. He’s now created his own eatery with two Emirati business partners, 3 Fils in Dubai Fishing Harbour, serving Michelin-level cuisine at casual dining prices.
Your kitchen in Singapore reached number 26 in the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants, which is a huge achievement. Why have you decided to take a more casual approach in your first venture as a chef patron?
As a young chef, it’s all about being motivated by fire, ambition and enthusiasm. And I’m not saying don’t go down the Michelin path, young chefs should experience it all. But then we all need to find our own path. For me, heading up the ‘best’ kitchen in Asia will probably be seen by many as the pinnacle of my career. But that kitchen wasn’t mine. This is mine. This is my baby and this is my path.
So tell us about 3 Fils…
It’s all about good music, a relaxed setting and a friendly atmosphere. I want you to relax. I’ll still serve you the best tuna and the best foie gras, it’s still fine dining levels of food. But I don’t have the overheads, the tablecloths, china and silver cutlery to inflate the prices, so the majority of our dishes cost less than Dhs40. Come, I’ll feed you well and you’ll have a great experience – the difference is that now you can wear your flip flops and you won’t spend a fortune.
You mention overheads. What does a restaurant bill actually cover?
Truthfully, if you look at a restaurant that has maybe a quarter of a million dirham payroll bill each month, your bill as a customer isn’t just for the food on your plate. You’re paying for the DJs, the model hostesses on the door, the various managers on the bar, front of house, reservations, the expensive décor and lights. But when you eliminate all that you can make it all about the food. I think in many big restaurants, the management sees a group of ten rich kids and sets out to get them to spend as much as possible in a short window of time and it’s so, so wrong. At the end of the day, you’re taking advantage or your customer. Yes, it’s business and they’ll pay the five or six thousand. But they’ll pay it once. They’re not coming back.
Do you think people realise that?
I think things are changing. People still have money here but the situation is different. Oil prices are down, there’s regional unrest, people are losing their jobs, living costs are rising and, as a restaurant, you have more competitors. How do you expect to still be able to take advantage like that? I’m running a business and I need to pay my staff, but the only way to do that is to have happy customers who keep coming back and that means offering them value for
So how do you see the city’s dining scene adapting?
I think Dubai will soon be like any other city. Tough. Stressful. Busy. Because it’s growing. When it was very new, people were able to start up and monopolise the market. Now those restaurants are having to drop their prices. People still want to have a great experience, but they want to spend Dhs150 a head instead of Dhs500, so businesses who have a lot of staff are feeling the pressure. We’ve got a head start!
What do you think is still missing from the local scene?
Camaraderie. In Dubai, there’s no group of chefs, like you’d get elsewhere in the world, all coming together regularly to sit in one person’s restaurant and eat their food. It’s competitive and that’s wrong. It would be really nice for people to realise that if businesses help each other then we all can thrive.