Each person is an enigma. You’re a puzzle not only to yourself but also to everyone else, and the great mystery of our time is how we penetrate this puzzle. ∼ Theodore Zeldin

Smoke, rose petals and mystery – that was the beginning of our evening at Enigma

noun: enigma; plural noun: enigmas
  1. a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.

Fois Gras – a classic Quique Dacosta dish that is now celebrating 15 years

Difficult to understand, yet beautiful and stimulating to the senses… mysterious yet slowly revealing like a poetry… that is how I will describe my experience at Enigma. Did I comprehend it? Will I go back to it? Will I recommend it? For now, one thing is certain, this is a first of a kind of a dining concept that Dubai (and the world for that matter) has ever witnessed. Set rightly in the opulence and grandeur of the newly opened Palazzo Versace Dubai, Enigma is introducing a concept of rotating menus along with its chefs four times a year, each chef being renowned internationally. The menu is confidential the secret menu is revealed as the evening unfolds amidst drama (and theatrical performance of food, if I may add) and each dish tells an untold story. A seating has to be pre-booked and reserved online against payment (www.enigmadxb.com) – definitely something that the Dubai diner isn’t used to.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Quique Dacosta’s quirky palate cleanser in the midst of drama

A day after the first season was launched, a select few of us had the opportunity to witness what can be regarded as Dubai’s first avant-garde dining experience. Opening the first season was the untold story named ‘Vanguard from Qique Dacosta, whose avant-garde eponymous restaurant in Dénia in Spain has three Michelin stars and is currently listed at number 39 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Interestingly, the restaurant in Dénia will remain shut as his entire team will now be based in Dubai until April.Conceptualised by Patrick Robineau, the hotel manager of Palazzo Versace Dubai, each pop up at Enigma is intended to be “an exceptional dining experience that people crave and yearn to keep up with, just like other highly desired commodities.”


Didier, the restaurant manager with Quique for the last decade, serving a guest with passion and as he partakes in narrating the story behind each dish

As we walked into the restaurant, the first thing that struck us was that the tables weren’t set up. This was interesting as I had just been told of the million dirhams Versace crockery that graced the other restaurant in the hotel – Vanitas. As Didier, the French restaurant manager and confidante who has been working with Quique for the last decade explained later, the entire experience at Vanguard was supposed be like an art revealing in front of the diner – starting with a blank canvas. Once the diner walked in and was seated, that’s when the colours would start splashing on the canvas and the culinary performance begin. The menu is shrouded in secrecy and I will let that be, instead I will take you through my interview with Quique that followed a day after the dinner. This will probably reveal a part of how Quique creates sheer art and story though his food – while keeping the enigma intact. Since the menu is a secret and there are many complexities to the dishes, it is advisable to let the team know about any food allergy and preferences so that an alternative is already thought of. What did I think of the menu? As I told on air the next day… I want to keep it a mystery as Quique would probably want it to be that way. But textures, fruity flavours, interesting play of colours, dramatic presentation mark the dishes. Yes food plucked from inside a rose, a sudden switching off of the lights or trying to figure out the real edible charcoal amongst a plate full of real charcoal – there are too many twists and surprises that need to be experienced by your self!


Quique Dacosta is instagram savvy and maintains his own social media accounts


Quique Dacosta adds his final touch to the dessert. The pine branches are leftovers from Christmas following his ‘no wastage’ principle

My interview with Quique Dacosta therefore starts on a different note from fellow blogger and friend Foodiva‘s interview, having already experienced Quique’s food. Interestingly, we were both seated at the same table during our dinner at Enigma, and I think that her interview gives a different perspective to Quique while my write up delves more into Quique’s food. (My questions are in bold).

∼ Our dining experience the other day was more like a theater which probably holds an excitement for a first timer. Will it still hold an enigma for a repeat diner if the menu doesn’t change much? It’s like seeing a good movie twice – the first time when you watch it, you are surprised. The next time when you watch it, you can focus more on the details and you will always discover a new element that you wouldn’t have probably noticed in the first time. Obviously, it’s a movie that we have just started so the next time onward you will probably understand and appreciate a little bit of the ‘behind the scene’ effort and the concept. The menu may change a little bit and you might find a completely new menu or there might be a surprising twist to the dish same dish. The second time since the ‘setting’ is familiar, the diner will actually appreciate the food more and we promise that there will always be some twist and surprises.

∼ Your instagram feeds suggest that you have been sight seeing a bit and have also visited the spice market here. Are you planning to incorporate local spices in your menu? We went to the spice market and came across such amazing variety of new ingredients that we will certainly incorporate in our menu here. Just like we brought a few herbs and spices in our suitcases here, we are also going to take back a few ideas along with spices and introduce in the menu in Dénia.

∼ The Quique Restaurant in Dénia is focussed on sourcing things locally. Although the local farm movement is evolving here, how do you transplant an idea from a place which is organic to its origin to the artificial environment of Dubai? It really depends upon the quality of the produce and where we are. We try to deal with this in the most pragmatic way. We try to obtain the best produce depending upon where we are. It really doesn’t matter whether a tomato comes from Abu Dhabi or Italy or our farm in Dénia. What really matters is the taste and the flavour and the quality of the tomato.

∼ We tasted almost 10 dishes – are these dishes already there in Dénia or they are new to Dubai? (after a bit of discussion between Quique and Didier, the final verdict for the number of courses turned out to be 14!) If there are two complex elements in a dish, we consider it as two dishes instead of one because of the effort that goes into making them. The menu that we are serving here comprises of three historic ones – ‘The Living Forest’, the Gazpacho and the Fois Gras (the latter celebrating 15 years of conception!); four dishes from the last season in Dénia – the Rose, the Leaves, Charcoal and the Rice and the rest is specially created for Dubai. I want to add here, that although we have kept the classical dishes pretty much the same as we would serve in Dénia, we have tweaked here a bit in some dishes, for example, in the fois gras – while in Dénia we add rum and coke, here we have added some lychee components as we didn’t want to create any dish with alcohol.

∼ Each dish seems to have a beautiful story, but is there a sequence as to how the story is being told? Not really. But we have been trained to look for balance in the dishes in terms of flavours and quantity and our main intention was to have a progression of flavours. Although there wasn’t any sequence to a story but I would describe it as a music album where all the songs have its own little stories and all the twelve songs together make a concert album which is complete in its own.

∼ Do you fear that many restaurants are now replicating you – the avant garde concept, molecular gastronomy or complex presentations in their dishes? What is the future of this? I mean, this was the futuristic cooking… now what… what is the future? There are many chefs who are using avant garde technique as a way of seeing their own style of gastronomy. They don’t have to make copies as there is so much to do in the world of gastronomy. What is the future? I don’t have the crystal ball! What does YOUR crystal ball say? We have customers travelling from all over the world to see what I am doing, understand my emotions. All their waits and travels are worth the unique experience that we provide and that can be the only future – constant creative innovation that creates a diner’s curiosity.

∼ Did you actually come to Dubai before or try the local food? Did you work out in your mind what will work and what will not? No, I haven’t been but not because I didn’t want to. And in a way it was good because the Dubai diners would actually get to experience the original Quique Dacosta food rather than a menu that has been influenced by a prior visit or experiencing the local food. Specially after having visited the Spice market, I doubt whether it would be possible not to let them influence the menu I may create henceforth! So, it wouldn’t be exactly be a Qique Dacosta menu but an adopted Dubai version of a Quique Dacosta menu. Having said that, what I can tell is that if the diners want a my restaurant here in Dubai, then I will still have to get everything from outside. The only possibility right now to get Quique Dacosta food is to visit my restaurant in Dénia. But an easier way would be to try out my food during the time I am here!

∼ What inspires Quique Dacosta? For example, painters have inspirations and having experienced your food, I can say that you are no less than a painter (interestingly, last year Quique Dacosta was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miguel Hernández University for his exceptional culinary artistry). What inspires you to paint the way you do, in a plate? Products send you messages. Yesterday, for example, we tried different kinds of peppers and some lemons that I had never seen before and they were interesting that I was excited. When I set my hand on some produce which seem perfect, an idea is immediately formed and inspiration begins.

∼ What inspires Quique Dacosta? For example, painters have inspirations and having experienced your food, I can say that you are no less than a painter (interestingly, last year Quique Dacosta was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miguel Hernández University for his exceptional culinary artistry). What inspires you to paint the way you do, in a plate? Products send you messages. Yesterday, for example, we tried different kinds of peppers and some lemons that I had never seen before and they were interesting that I was excited. When I set my hand on some produce which seem perfect, an idea is immediately formed and inspiration begins.

∼ What does Quique Dacosta cook at home? Or does he cook at all? I am not at home too often and mostly working in the restaurants or travelling. However, I have got two kids and I try to keep everything simple, basic and traditional, of course with a bit of a professional touch! I use lot of vegetables and make soups – specially the very popular Spanish fish soup with vegetables.

∼ Is there any childhood comfort food that haunts you often? I am not like someone who is in need of comfort food and have been busy working since a very young age in reinventing the art of gastronomy.

∼ In the age of social media, how do you maintain the mystery element, the enigma of your food? I know how secretive you are about your menu and didn’t give me the printed copy of the menu, lest it’s revealed. Or do you want people to actually share? It’s obvious that I want the diners to be surprised when they come to the restaurant. Everybody has got his/her own thoughts, words and experiences. For example, when a music album comes out, you still want to go to a concert to watch your favourite singer or a band. Why is that? It’s because the experience is very different and touches some additional senses. Everybody needs to experience a beautiful sensation in person. Even though you may google different places and countries, you still make travel plans and visit those places. Why do you go to a museum when every image is available today in the internet? If you go to a museum it stimulates your sight, if you listen to music, it stimulates your ears, but food touches all your senses. So even if one has an idea of how a dish might look, it is still a different experience to actually smell it, touch it and finally taste it. And the emotions are bound to be different for every person as not everybody perceives everything in the same way!

∼ Curious, is Enigma a romantic venue at all when all the focus is in the ambiance and the beauty of the food rather than in the partner? It is definitely the most romantic venue. There is so much magic happening all the time – for example, it was only last night that a couple fell in love while they were relaxing in the terrace after a magical dinner, waiting for their coffee to come and today they are together! It’s a place for romance to bloom as each dish is created with a lot of passion, beauty and has an element of seduction. (and yes, I remembered now Quique Dacosta describing the dessert that we had tasted earlier as erotic!)


Watching ‘The Living Forest’ come to life at our table amidst emanating smoke – this is one of the classic Quique Dacosta dishes that is going to be in the Dubai menu

While my partner and I loved the evening that had so much of poetic nuances, mystery and mastery, attention to detail – starting with the movie that was being projected on the wall behind me (Fritz Lang’s 1972 silent movie Metropolis set in a futuristic urban dystopia and other such appropriate movies)… I did feel that the staff probably didn’t have a taste of much of what was being served – everyone seemed to be in awe of the huge name that was attached to the chef at the helm of the kitchen. My favourite dish was the rice dish that I thought I heard that there was duck in it, while clearly it was the pegion who was having its last say here! Do read another friend and fellow blogger The Hedonista’s tryst with Enigma.

What is your take on a dinner where the menu is shrouded in secrecy? Are you comfortable and excited to be led by the course of the evening and let your senses guide you or would you rather be at the helm of your own choices and like to wait in the table knowing what is in the plate that is being brought to you?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

A lot of beautiful visuals, forms and textures playing in my mind that night... starting with the dramatic dining experience at Enigma... Quique's mastery in mesmerizing the diner... to this incredible chandelier in the lobby which was created in acrylic and not crystal, I was told!

A lot of beautiful visuals, forms and textures playing in my mind that night… starting with the dramatic dining experience at Enigma… Quique’s mastery in mesmerizing the diner… to this incredible chandelier in the lobby which was created in acrylic and not crystal, I was told!

You can book into Quique Dacosta’s Vanguard >>  www.enigmadxb.com.
Until 12th April, 2016; Dinner only and closed on Sundays
Price/Guest: AED750/person on weekdays and AED850/person on weekends

Disclaimer: I had been an invited guest at Enigma and I had the opportuntiy to interview Quique Dacosta as I will be writing a special feature on him for FoodeMag dxb. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


11 Comments on “Quique Dacosta | When Food Becomes An Enigma

  1. Enigma is Dubai’s first avant garde restaurant? I think you’re forgetting the one at the Meridien Mina Seyahi that closed some years back. Forgetting the name for the moment, but it was well ahead of the rest of the Dubai dining scene – deconstructed dishes and the rest…

    • Dave.. I am seriously not aware of this one. Could you please throw some more light on this while I do some more studying? I will definitely rectify this.

    • Tang. Claimed to have molecular gastronomy, but I found it to be more of a fusion style. Wasn’t as polished as Vanguard, and lacked the storytelling. Closed back in about 2009 I think. Nice post Ishita 🙂

  2. Interesting to hear the chef’s view especially about reinventing gastronomy rather than hankering after comfort food! Usually in pursuit of the latter I was bowled over by the former.

    • I can imagine. Quique was very interesting to talk to – via translations of course from an equally passionate restaurant manager. Really interested in sitting down with you one day to hear your vegetarian take on the menu.

  3. Yep Tang. Molecular techniques but a purely leisure hotel was not the right venue for it, plus Dubai wasn’t ready for that type of concept then. Not sure it is now either! Stephane Buchholzer was the chef (now VP Culinary at the Al Habtoor trio – St Regis, Westin and W).

    • Thanks Foodiva… that’s interesting that you think that Dubai isn’t ready yet… coz I also feel the same. It’s more of what’s globally trendy rather than serious food. It is changing though.

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