DUBAI: The Michelin Guide, the restaurant industry’s most respected guide, will launch its Dubai edition this month in partnership with Dubai Tourism. This has led some skeptics to speculate that the list will be filled with international headliners in tourist locations. But it’s not uncommon for Michelin to partner with tourist offices for its guides, and the company has pointed out that “one star in Dubai equals one star in Paris”.
Michelin inspectors visit the sites several times, anonymously. This is something of a rarity in a region where critics (often non-specialist journalists like this writer) are usually invited for a free meal booked well in advance, ensuring they receive the best possible experience. None of Dubai’s thousands of restaurants will know when a Michelin inspector will rate their dishes. And that can only be a good thing.
Arab News spoke to three respected Dubai foodies to get their thoughts on the city’s culinary scene, compared to the world’s major culinary cities, and what they hoped would be improved by the arrival of Michelin. All agree that, culinary-wise, Dubai is in good shape, but also that it still has a long way to go to compete with the big international names.
“I think the sign of a matured – and unmatured – dining scene is when you have more local concepts than imported ones,” said Samantha Wood, founder of unbiased restaurant review website FooDiva.net. “This is where Dubai is now. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s on par with Paris, London, New York or Tokyo – there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to modern Emirati and Middle Eastern concepts – but Dubai is definitely going in the good direction.
Her sentiments were echoed by chef and cookbook author Dalia Dogmoch Soubra. “When I arrived in Dubai in 2007, I was impressed with the diversity; there were a lot of really good and really authentic cuisines. I know there is this image of restaurants in Dubai as just being expensive with not so good food, but I disagree. I think it’s gotten a lot better,” she said, adding that in the foodie category, Dubai remains priced exorbitantly. “I’m not surprised that the Michelin Guide is coming; I think it’s time for Dubai to get noticed. But I don’t necessarily think the usual suspects are the best restaurants here.
Wood also highlighted the range of quality options in Dubai. “Name a kitchen and you’ll find a great example,” she said. “The only city that could compare is Singapore, where you can get really good food from just about any kitchen under the sun. You don’t necessarily get that in Paris, Tokyo, New York or London.
While there are undeniable benefits to basing your restaurant in Dubai – the opportunity for a stunning beachfront setting or an awe-inspiring view of the city’s famous skyline, for example – Emirates chefs Arab Emirates have significant challenges when it comes to adjusting to their international counterparts. One challenge in particular.
“Dubai is one of the most competitive markets in the world,” said Courtney Brandt, food writer and content creator. “I really believe in the chefs of this city, but I don’t know if we currently have three-star restaurants (the highest Michelin rating) in the United Arab Emirates. There are reasons for this that are not related to the chefs: We do not have access to the products. If I’m in a three star in France, the products can all come from a radius of five kilometers around this restaurant. Unfortunately, due to growing conditions in the UAE, we do not have this.
“Ingredients have to be flown in, which affects quality, flavor, menu seasonality and price. So it’s definitely a challenge here,” Wood said.
While the three women believe that the situation is improving, particularly with regard to fruit and vegetables, with the opening of hydroponic farms and locally sourced concepts, they agree that there is still a long way to go. TO DO.
“I find challenges even in the ‘top’ restaurants in Dubai when it comes to good red meat,” Soubra said. “It’s holding Dubai back.”
For many diners, the lack of fresh produce can be alleviated by great service, a fantastic view, or an entertaining experience. But Michelin bases its recognition solely on food. “Service, atmosphere, location, price – none of those come into play,” Wood explained. “It all depends on the quality of the food and how the chef interprets it. It’s very concentrated.
For Brandt, another thing holding Dubai back is the city’s “Big is best” approach, which can lead to costly mistakes for would-be restaurateurs. “The transience breaks my heart. For me, it boils down to market research. There is an ideal place that is not really approached, it is this restaurant of 30 to 40 places. We always go big here, and I don’t really know why. I would like to see a trend towards smaller restaurants.
The three interviewees hope that the arrival of Michelin will see restaurants in Dubai up their game. by chefs,” Wood said.
But they expect a handful of big names in the city, who may be anticipating recognition, to be disappointed.
“There are a lot of very trendy concepts – somewhere like Nusr-Et or Roberto’s – where you go and have the experience and it’s not really about the food, as long as the food is ‘good enough'”, Soubra said. , adding that she hadn’t been to Roberto since before the COVID-19 pandemic. “And there should be these places; they’re perfect for a Friday night, when you want to celebrate a promotion or something, and you’re 28 and hanging out with friends. But there are also those places that don’t necessarily fit the vibe and the crowds, but you’re there for the food, so you don’t care. She cited long-established seafood restaurant Bu Qtair as an example of the latter.
Soubra continued, “Hopefully those places that are (just) super trendy and have been making a lot of noise on social media don’t – on a culinary integrity level.” She stressed, however, that just because a concept is imported doesn’t mean it should be ignored. “Credit is due where it is due. I’m not necessarily a Zuma fan per se, but if you compare Zuma Dubai with Zuma London, Dubai beats it for sure.
The three foodies all expressed hope, however, that the guide will steer away from big international chains (unless their food really deserves recognition) and focus on local concepts.
“I’m always more interested in local history,” Brandt said. “I’m not so interested in chain restaurants that (are) in other places. I’m not taking anything away from these chefs, but I want something that I can only experience in this place and at this time.
“I hope the majority of the restaurants (featured) are independent, local and chef-led, because only then will the guide be interesting and compelling. If we go the route of imported concepts attached to celebrity chefs, it’s mind-blowing and very boring,” Wood said. “You want this guide to attract culinary tourism, so you want (people) to say, ‘This looks really interesting. I want to go to Dubai.’ And the only way they can do that is if there’s a name in there that they’ve never heard of.
“If there are 10 Michelin stars in Dubai, or 100, then that’s wonderful,” Soubra said. “But maybe there isn’t, is there?” And maybe we should just say that. What I want is for places to be judged on merit. Dubai lacks consistency of judgment (yet). I’m really curious to see what makes the list.