On the culi­nary cal­en­dar

From stel­lar chefs and var­ied cuisines to new res­tau­rants and menus, Panna Mun­yal charts the evo­lu­tion of the UAE’s food scene

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

When it comes to the UAE’s culi­nary land­scape, 2017 could well be called the year of the Michelin-starred chef. While no such ti­tle tech­ni­cally ex­ists, we saw hordes of high-pro­file chefs, who head up Michelin Guide res­tau­rants, de­scend­ing upon Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Some of them al­ready own res­tau­rants here, such as Gor­don Ram­say, whose Bread Street Kitchen turned two last month; oth­ers launched new ven­tures or opened branches of their stel­lar eater­ies: case in point, De­moi­selle and Galvin Dubai by the Galvin brothers, and Amalfi Coast’s Qu­at­tro Passi by An­to­nio Mellino. A few chefs col­lab­o­rated with ho­tels to craft menus for a lim­ited pe­riod of time, such as Ser­gio Her­man’s twonight, eight-course menu for At.Mo­sphere in No­vem­ber; and Paco Pérez’s Span­ish tapas menu at the Ritz-Carl­ton DIFC that’s avail­able at Cen­ter Cut restau­rant un­til Jan­uary 22.

In line with a coun­try that takes pride in its melt­ing-pot sta­tus, the UAE also ben­e­fited from new out­lets serv­ing up an in­creas­ingly broad spec­trum of cuisines, prov­ing that the re­gion’s food­ies rel­ish, if not out­right de­mand, va­ri­ety. Abu Dhabi, in par­tic­u­lar, wel­comed a num­ber of firsts: from Latin Amer­i­can chains Coya and Toro Toro, and pop­u­lar Filipino joint Lit­tle Manila to 99 Sushi, Eat Greek, Loca for Mex­i­can, French fare from Le Petit Mai­son and even the British chain Greggs, muchloved items from which are avail­able from Souq Planet.

Dubai Opera wel­comed its first and only in-house eatery by Aus­tralia-based chef Sean Con­nolly, who says he spe­cialises in “clean, sim­ple and easy” dishes of beef and seafood, es­pe­cially oys­ters. The Down­town area also be­came home to Ko­hantei, which in­tro­duced the Kaiseki culi­nary con­cept. Here, a tra­di­tional multi-course Ja­panese meal is served to bare­foot diners in in­di­vid­ual trays by ki­mono-clad staff. In DIFC, Ravi­oli & Co was es­tab­lished to of­fer food­ies an Ital­ian home vibe, with the pasta be­ing made fresh each day by an in-house sfoglina.

Else­where in the emi­rate, Lima Dubai marked the first in­ter­na­tional foray of the award-win­ning United King­dom-based Peru­vian restau­rant; while Mum­bai’s Mugh­lai food favourite Khy­ber also opened its sec­ond-ever branch here. The Galvin brothers weren’t the only chefs to launch mul­ti­ple venues in the same year: Joe Isi­dori from New York City’s pop­u­lar burger joint Black Tap gave us two out­lets within 10 months, while celebrity chef David My­ers brought three of his sig­na­ture con­cepts – Bleu Blanc, Basta and Poppy.

Stand-alone res­tau­rants aside, the UAE wit­nessed a num­ber of food hubs sprout­ing along beaches and high­ways alike. La Mer in Jumeirah 1 and the Abu Dhabi-bound Last Exit MadX of­fer open-air cafes and food trucks re­spec­tively, while a num­ber of new eater­ies have sprouted at Club Vista Mare and along the Dubai Canal. Dishes by the dozen were the high­light of var­i­ous food fes­ti­vals and restau­rant weeks, such as the Dubai Food Fes­ti­val and Eat The World DXB in Fe­bru­ary; Taste of Dubai in March; Restau­rant Week at Yas Viceroy and The Gal­le­ria in April; Jumeirah Restau­rant Week in Oc­to­ber; Taste of Abu Dhabi last month; and Abu Dhabi Food Fes­ti­val this month.

While food fests are best en­joyed dur­ing the cooler months, sum­mer brought with it its own set of treats. Ra­madan saw a host of new if­tars at venues such as Palazzo Versace and Ruya in Dubai, and Jan­nah Burj Al Sarab and Bab Al Qasr in Abu Dhabi, while Eid Al Adha and Eid Al Fitr brunches and buf­fets re­de­fined in­dul­gence. In ad­di­tion to the res­tau­rants that opened over the sum­mer – Kat­suya by Starck, Talise Fuel, Sushina and Abu Dhabi’s sec­ond Cho Gao branch – many eater­ies put to­gether sea­sonal and dis­counted menus for July, Au­gust and Septem­ber. Café Ba­teel launched its much-awaited Sun­dae menu; Miss Lily’s in­tro­duced a Blazin’ Brunch; and Ma­rina So­cial added 18 dishes in­spired by sea­sonal pro­duce. The sum­mer also marked Truck­ers DXB’s first in­door event at Dubai World Trade Cen­tre, while in May, the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Cul­ture Au­thor­ity launched a pro­gramme to pro­mote Emi­rati cui­sine in ho­tels with all-day din­ing res­tau­rants.

In­dian food took top honours as the most searched cui­sine in 2017, ac­cord­ing to re­search put to­gether by Zo­mato, while chicken shawarma was the most or­dered dish of the

year, fol­lowed by chicken biryani, Margherita pizza, hum­mus and but­ter chicken. Zo­mato also part­nered with Abu Dhabi Food Fes­ti­val, of­fer­ing users of its app ac­cess to menus from some of the cap­i­tal’s premier res­tau­rants for a re­duced price, plus spe­cial rates on its two lat­est prod­ucts: Zo­mato Gold, a dine-out club mem­ber­ship that of­fers com­pli­men­tary drinks at 300 spots across the UAE; and Zo­mato Treats, a sub­scrip­tion that re­wards users with free dessert each time they or­der on­line.

Home de­liv­ery dom­i­nates a huge chunk of the UAE’s food scene, with Zo­mato record­ing an 18 per cent month-on-month in­crease in or­ders this year. In a bid to ex­pand de­liv­ery op­tions, De­liv­eroo launched six pur­pose-built kitchens in Dubai, based on search data that iden­ti­fied ar­eas where the culi­nary tastes of res­i­dents and em­ploy­ees were not be­ing sat­is­fied. As a re­sult, food­ies in JLT, Ma­rina, JBR, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Me­dia City, Dubai In­ter­net City, Knowl­edge Vil­lage, Bar­sha Heights, Emi­rates Hills, The Greens, The Mead­ows, Jumeirah Is­lands and JVT can now or­der food from all the way across town, from such var­ied eater­ies as Burger and Lob­ster, Clin­ton St Bak­ing Com­pany, Joga, Pineap­ple Ex­press and Pinza. In the cap­i­tal, Uber Eats ex­panded its ser­vices to in­clude Reem Is­land, Al Maryah Is­land, Al Khubeirah and Al Eti­had, as well as re­duc­ing its de­liv­ery fees from Dh10 to Dh5.

As the cooler months set in, a num­ber of out­door ter­races and lounges opened their doors, most no­tably Filini Gar­den on Yas Is­land and Pure Sky lounge at Hil­ton JBR. Food also plays a big part in Christ­mas and New Year’s Eve fes­tiv­i­ties, with meal deals to suit ev­ery mood and bud­get. If you haven’t made plans yet, tonight is as good a time as any to start ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the UAE’s in­creas­ingly di­verse and ever-ex­pand­ing culi­nary land­scape.

Vic­tor Besa for The Na­tional; Mer­aas; Jor­dan Bickerstaffe/Liquorice Pro­duc­tions; Galvin Dubai; Lima Dubai

Clock­wise from above, Gor­don Ram­say at Bread Street Kitchen; a food truck at Last Exit MadX; chef Sean Con­nolly; lamb tagine at Galvin Dubai; and Lima Dubai

Satish Ku­mar / The Na­tional

Siz­zling Sisig at Lit­tle Manila restau­rant

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