Fun is the new fine dining!
Unique dining concepts offering something unexpected every time – this has been the recent dining trend in Dubai in recent times. This season, I have been lucky to have experienced a variety of them, alibi exclusive dinner invites at different venues or booking into pop-ups and other dining experiences through social dining platforms like Lime&Tonic. ‘Fun is the new fine dining’ – another concept that I experienced recently, was dining (and driven) around town with a food expert as our personal guide. A food tour that lasted five hours with handpicked dishes paired with wine (courtesy MMI) from five different cuisines across five different top-end venues, each with a different view – 5 absolutely different experiences, all packed all in one night. Our host for the evening had been Samantha Wood aka Foodiva. That Samantha is a great host, was already known to me from an earlier experience – an exclusive dinner organised by Club Uno di Peroni for a culinary journey through the Mediterranean, specially curated by Samantha and catered by Ghaf Kitchen, the gourmet catering service out of a food truck, on the lawns of Le Meridien Mina Seyahi. Sea breeze, full moon, flowers, candlelights, palm trees, amazing food, live performance by Juliana Down and a great company… these just helped in increasing my appetite for more such experiential dining events.
So where all did we stop while Dining Around Dubai With Foodiva?
In a nutshell… our first stop was at the Chef’s table at La Serre in Vida Downtown Hotel for French Mediterranean; second stop was Rivington Grill at Souk Al Bahar for British – posh fish and chips served on a mini picnic table with the Dubai Fountains at the background; third stop was Cut by Wolfgang Puck for some classic steak (a brief walk from Souk Al Bahar to the Address Downtown located adjacently); fourth stop was Tomo by Chef Takahasi at the Raffles Terrace for Japanese; and finally Qbara for some classic desserts with a modern twist like the ‘rahat al-hulqum’ or the Sidr honey and saffron pashmak. Talking about unique dining experiences, it was only in the Autumn issue of Food e Mag dxb, the food and travel e-magazine that I now edit, I had written about another such experience – seated at the Chef’s Table and tasting a special menu created by Chef Izu Ani at La Serre in Vida Downtown… this had been the first of a series of *secret Badoit dinners* designed in collaboration with Restronaut, another social dining platform. The above experience came into the discussion because this is exactly the same place where my food tour with Samantha starts – a bit of a delightful déja vu!
First Stop: The Chef’s Table at La Serre in Vida Downtown
Striking up a conversation with strangers (I mean you could end up with companions you know when you book into such tours – but that’s a sheer coincidence), you realise food is a subject that immediately bonds people, specially when one meets for the first time. Seated at the Chef’s Table in La Serre (above), the evening started off with Chef Izu Ani taking us through each of the dishes that Foodiva had chosen form La Serre’s new menu. Direct interaction with the chefs and a gaze into the theatrics of a kitchen (in an earlier experience of a Chef’s Table, my dining companion had been Foodiva – a sheer coincidence!)… this is the charm of seating at a Chef’s table. Our menu consisted of Onion Tart, Warm green bean salad with fois gras, Beef tartare, Mackerel with green chilli and rosemary. An elaborate menu for a first stop, I did suggest at the end of the tour that there could be less dishes here – but probably the first stop sets the tone for the evening and must impress the guests the most – after all, as the saying goes, the first impression is indeed the last impression! (La Serre) Wine pairing: White – Tolpuddio Chardonnay; Red – Mas de Daumas Gassac 2012.
Second Stop: Rivington Grill in Souk Al Bahar
Whisked away in a luxurious Mercedes mini coach, we halt at the The Palace Downtown entrance. ‘Thiptara’ – I scream in delight – definitely one of my favourite high-end restaurants. Well, no we walk towards the Souk Al Bahar entrance and again the guessing game starts… until we arrive at the British import – Rivington Grill. A table for us awaits at the terrace and we are greeted by the Dubai Fountains dancing to the tune from a Bollywood blockbuster. Canapés set on cute little mock picnic tables arrives, with the chef explaining all the dishes – Chicken liver pate; Devonshire crab; Prawn cocktail, Welsh rarebit and their signature Fish and chips served in the popular paper cones. The Dubai Fountains erupting into a performance every half an hour and the dramatic backdrop of Burj Khalifa – the location is absolutely touristy, but you know what? I am thrilled and excited every time I am around here. Full marks for the choice of venue and the simple but delicious choice of menu – drastically different form the previous one. (Rivington Grill) Wine Pairing: White – Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc; Red – Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon
Third Stop: Cut by Wolfgang Puck
A mini walk through a secret garden (well that’s what I felt) to the Address Downtown and we reach the Cut. Claimed to be one of the finest modern steak restaurants in America, Singapore and London, the Cut has recently opened doors in our Dubai shores. Housed in one of the Emaar’s flagship properties, the very elegant (and naturally dark) decor gives the clue to what we can expect – a refined dining experience. An introduction to the different cuts was followed by a tasting of New York grain-fed sirloin, both Australian and a Japanese Wagyu along and… well, any guess here? A creamy and delicious Mac and Cheese – yes, the good old American comfort food served along with some home made bread and butter (and an edit here after Foodiva leaves a comment on this post later…’By the way mac and cheese dates back to 14th century England – you must have been snapping away when I explained that ‘ oops… faux pas there, and I am caught red-handed!). (Cut by Wolfgang Puck) Wine Pairing: White – Chenin Blanc Stellenrust; Red – Primitivo di Manduria Feudi di San Gregorio
Fourth Stop: Tomo by Chef Takahashi
Now a long drive to the other side of the town – from Downtown Dubai to Wafi. An abrupt sweep of fresh chill in the air on the Raffles Terrace changed the mood of the evening completely. A stunning skyline of Dubai from the Tatami Terrace with low table setups on a tatami floor complemented one of the best sushi and sashimi experiences I have had in my life so far. Chef Takahashi is one of the most experienced Japanese chefs in Dubai and a Master, he personally came out to explain what had been served in our platter – the Sashimi comprised of medium fatty tuna belly, salmon, greater amberjack fish; the Sushi included salmon belly, fatty tuna belly, prawn, unagi eel and crispy California roll. This was authentic Japanese at it’s very best and kept at how it must taste the best – very basic and very simple, unlike the other high end Japanese restaurants in town – Zuma or Nobu. (Tomo by Takahashi) Drinks Pairing: Sake – Rihaku Junmai
Fifth and Final Stop: Qbara
Dining around with Foodiva without entering Qbara is a sacrilege (the lady has left no stone unturned to profess her love for Dubai’s most contemporary foray into the Middle Eastern dining scene)… so when our coach halted at Wafi and we walked into the Raffles building to go to Tomo, rather than walk across the street into Qbara – I was slightly confused. Honestly, no Qbara in Foodiva’s itinerary? While I felt ‘relieved’ and thrilled to be heading back to Qbara on our fifth and the final stop, but choosing Qbara only for its dessert tasting menu did seem like an odd choice – till we actually tasted an assorted platter Qbara’s signature desserts. Each dessert was traditional, yet an element of fusion lend it a contemporary look and an unique taste. Chef Colin, the creator of Qbara, is known to for his approach to Middle Eastern food from a British point of view (as described aptly by Greg Malouf in an earlier interview in my blog), hence the eclectic result. The final stop couldn’t have been more dramatic. A live performance by Adam Long on the saxophone and the dancing shadows on the wall – this was Indiana Jones finds himself in a Middle Eastern fine dining restaurant in a modern cityscape! A Baklawa ‘smash’, Milk & Honey crowned with candy floss (or was it something else?), Turkish delight chocolate bar with rose ice cream… what lingers on is the taste of the ‘rahat al-hulqum’ or the Sidr honey and saffron pashmak. And an tempting invite from Gustavo de Hostos (who had been till now another companion in our group) to the Cigar Bar upstairs for tasting one of the finest cigars that his dad supplies… of course, kind compliments from the fine man! (Qbara) Wine Pairing: Sweet Wine – Planeta Passito di Noto
Can’t I replicate the experience myself?
It is definitely not impossible. But would you actually cab it to 5 different venues (assuming you would want to pair your food with wine); Or go through each menu and order only the signature dishes (assuming you already know what these are from each menu) or try to customise a bespoke platter containing all the signature ones; Or be sure that you will get the best seating with the best view (assuming you have already made reservations, but still my guess would be that you might not be getting the Chef’s table at La Serre or you may have overstayed in one restaurant and end up arriving late for your next destination… here Foodiva sweet talks you into leaving on time. The only restaurant where I steered out of her sight and managed to overstay so that I could click pictures – was at our 4th stop – not too bad considering my history of lagging behind when I am in a group of foodies); and finally be personally attended to by the Chefs themselves (assuming Chef Izu Ani of La Serre and the Japanese Master Chef Takahashi – both are on your speed dials, still they may be busy in their kitchens, considering how hands on they are or they might pretend to ignore you as they would rather attend to other guests that night than those who have them on their speed dials)… these are only a few of the odds that come to my mind right now, while trying to replicate a similar tour on your own!
Who does the food tour target at – Dubai residents? or Tourists? I would say – both. I have been a Dubai resident for a very long time now and yet it felt wonderful to be hand-held and led to each dining destination, with a tailor-made platter containing the choicest dishes from the menu awaiting us. Also, each venue held a surprise element for me. For a venue that I was revisiting, the surprise came either in the form of choice of food from the menu or the fact that I hadn’t known it to exist in the menu before. I loved the element of guessing through out the tour (made me feel like an excited child) – where were we off to next? At AED 1050/person (inclusive of wine, transport from one venue to another in a luxury vehicle – no, not a stretch limousine at this moment but this is a suggestion… it befits this high-end restaurant hopping perfectly!), the food tour doesn’t come cheap. But if you were to calculate the amount it would cost you at each restaurant and the choice of venue, eat what we were offered to eat that evening – I am sanguine that it would cost you way more (yes, I did my calculations). The choice of venue were all very different from each other, so was the choice of dishes selected from each menu. Also, not to mention the tiny doses of food wisdom from Foodiva that came along with each dish. Pardon me for assuming here that like me, many of you aren’t aware of the commandments in the art of eating sushi. Here goes an example – after dipping your sashimi in the soy sauce, the fish side that doesn’t have the sauce should touch your tongue first – and many more. And if you find this really hard to understand, Foodiva would be too happy to demonstrate that for you – again and again – as she did for us. A snippet of this dining concept is featured in the Festive Special issue of Food e Mag dxb (above). Would you ever consider booking into unusual dining events or food tours and share your evening chatting and away to strangers and dining with them? Or have you done a similar food tour else where – do let me know. But for now, ‘Dining around Dubai’ with Foodiva couldn’t have been more fun!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
PS1: If you fancy a similar food tour with Foodiva, the next tours are scheduled for January 26th, 2015 and February 23rd, 2015… you can book into them by clicking here.
PS2: For a food tour in Dubai with a diametrically opposite character and showcasing a different genre of restaurants – the eating holes in Dubai, read my experience of Arabian Pilgrimage Food Tour with Frying Pan Adventures.
Disclaimer: The Dining around Dubai with Foodiva cost me Dhs 900 (with a special discount of Dhs 150, courtesy Foodiva). Bookings can be made via Lime & Tonic. Excepting Chef Izu Ani’s picture, all of the pictures above have been taken by me. Please note that this post is not a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. You can catch my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.