DIFC’s F&B scene is on the boil with new and es­tab­lished venues

Dubai In­ter­na­tional Fi­nan­cial Cen­tre’s food scene is on the boil with a raft of new con­cepts – but few can ri­val its es­tab­lished haunts

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents - WORDS DO­MINIC EL­LIS

I t's 11pm in Gau­cho Dubai and af­ter drinks on the ter­race, trio of mas­ter­classes (ce­viche, drinks, beef ) and three cour­ses to mark the Ar­gen­tinian steak­house's sev­enth an­niver­sary, the evening is not quite over. We're taken through to the kitchen where Man­ag­ing Part­ner Daniel Thomas shows us the en­gine room of the restau­rant and shares his cook­ing and busi­ness in­sights.

In a city where F&B con­cepts change with the ris­ing sun, Gau­cho might qual­ify for mu­seum sta­tus, a cor­ner of sta­bil­ity amid capri­cious culi­nary tastes. So what's been its se­cret?

“We're not the bot­tles, cham­pagne sprays and bright lights, we serve qual­ity steak with good wine and ser­vice – it's ba­sic re­ally,” says Thomas. “When the steak is ready, we will have it off the grill and at your ta­ble in 30 sec­onds. Most peo­ple think you should rest a steak – that's true with cer­tain steaks, but it's not nec­es­sary with our wet-aged cuts.”

We ate braised beef back ribs to start and the main course steaks which fol­lowed (fil­let, sir­loin, rib­eye) were so ten­der they could be cut eas­ily with an or­di­nary knife. I've eaten sev­eral busi­ness lunches here but not din­ner and it was in­ter­est­ing to see the whole oper­a­tion, and re­lax with­out one eye on the work­ing clock. I dis­cov­ered there is far more to Ar­gen­tinian wine than red Mal­bec – as il­lus­trated by the white Lu­janita Mal­bec Men­doza 2016 – al­though a ‘su­per Mal­bec' list is avail­able, where the top bot­tle costs a cool AED5,500.

With its ter­race, brunch and ladies' nights, Gau­cho has more free­dom here than in the UK, but it knows where to draw the line. “Some restau­rants are mak­ing gua­camole at the ta­ble – I un­der­stand the show and en­ter­tain­ment el­e­ment, it's ‘in­sta­grammable', but sim­plic­ity and good prod­uct and ser­vice works for us.”

It's a sim­i­lar story at neigh­bour­ing Zuma and La Pe­tite Mai­son, both cor­po­rate mag­nets and syn­ony­mous with con­sis­tent qual­ity.

But there have been a num­ber of con­cepts which seemed strong on pa­per – Span­ish fine din­ing La Luz (Chef Alain De­vahive worked be­side Fer­ran Adrià at 3-star Miche­lin el­Bulli for a decade), To­tora Ce­bicheria Peru­ana, the up­scale Mex­i­can Pey­ote and Ce­viche in Emi­rates Fi­nan­cial Tow­ers – that didn't suc­ceed. Pre­vi­ously Wheeler's of St. James from Marco Pierre White was an­other high-pro­file ca­su­alty.

The names keep com­ing. Im­mi­nent launches in­clude New York's Marea restau­rant (two Miche­lin stars), Gaia ( high-end Greek/Mediter­ranean) and South African restau­ran­teur Natasha Sideris will en­ter the space va­cated by La Luz.

“When you are in Dubai you have a very lim­ited time to pro­duce reg­u­lar guests, it's very im­por­tant to make a pos­i­tive first im­pres­sion, and you have to be con­scious of Ra­madan and tim­ings,” said Thomas, who added that af­ter a strong first two-and-a-half years, Gau­cho “took a bit of a dip”.

Sharply off the cor­ner and tucked away above the car park, you wouldn’t say it’s the most op­por­tune set­ting, and even af­ter all these years, the taxi driver didn’t know where it was. But longevity proves that the proof re­ally is in the pud­ding.

In re­cent few years, the ubiq­ui­tous drive to­wards ca­sual has cer­tainly im­pacted the top end, though Gau­cho treads the line well, a classy set­ting which man­ages, through the ter­race, bar and cel­lar, to blend smart­ca­sual in­for­mal­ity.

Though you could ar­gue as the mar­ket be­comes more ca­sual dom­i­nated, venues which can re­tain a premium of­fer­ing, with­out over­pric­ing, will main­tain their com­pet­i­tive edge.

Sa­man­tha Wood, founder of im­par­tial restau­rant re­view web­site Food­iva.net, said the DIFC restau­rant dis­trict is sat­u­rated with new restau­rants of­fer­ing the same cui­sine within steps of each other.

“Land­lords should for­bid same cui­sine restau­rants open­ing in the same build­ing,” she be­lieves. “The orig­i­nal, long-es­tab­lished venues may be per­form­ing rea­son­ably well given the sat­u­ra­tion, as are li­censed con­cepts and cafés that have en­tered at an af­ford­able price point.”

With the cost of liv­ing ris­ing, the num­ber one cri­te­ria for din­ing out now is price point, pro­vided restau­rants still pro­vide ex­cel­lent food, ser­vice and at­mos­phere. “Other­wise, with the rise of the De­liv­eroo cul­ture, din­ers are choos­ing to stay in and en­joy restau­rant qual­ity food at home,” she adds.

“This still ben­e­fits those restau­rants to an ex­tent, but at a high com­mis­sion cost. Ex­pense bud­gets for com­pa­nies and busi­ness trav­ellers have also been slashed, mak­ing the right price point cru­cial to the de­ci­sion on where to dine.”

ABOVE: La Pe­tite Mai­son re­cently marked its eighth an­niver­sary; Gaia is set to open in DIFC Vil­lage Gate Build­ing 4.

LEFT: Braised beef back ribs at Gau­cho Dubai.

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