Inside the Middle East

Will Dubai get the first Michelin Guide in the Middle East?

Kate Springer, CNNUpdated 7th March 2017
(CNN) — Could Dubai be the first place in the Middle East to get a Michelin guide?
That's the rumor going around -- and it was started by none other than Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guide.
At the last Global Restaurant Investment Forum he told attendees it was "only a matter of time" before an army of anonymous food inspectors would descend on the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, reports Time Out Dubai.
Ellis coyly told CNN: "Michelin is always evaluating exciting new destinations for the Guide."
But while Dubai has recently seen an influx of famous international chefs, such as Heinz Beck, Jason Atherton and Gordon Ramsay, and has a thriving street food scene, does it really deserve one of the world's most prestigious culinary rating systems?

CNN put that question to three Dubai-based food critics, and asked what restaurants they thought should feature in a Dubai Michelin Guide.

How has Dubai's dining scene evolved recently?

Samantha Wood: It's slowly moving away from a reliance on celebrity chef imports and international restaurant chains, with the opening of locally developed independent concepts -- but we still need more of the latter and less of the former.
Shaika Al Ali: Dubai has seen an increase in homegrown businesses, emerging in a very organic way. People are embracing the concept of being loyal to a certain food experience or business -- supporting it and encouraging it to grow.
Angela Boshoff Hundal: The city is expanding at a crazy rate, launching new developments all the time. Residents here are genuinely excited about food, and most are willing to try new things. You can find cuisines from around the globe, from Peruvian to Ethiopian, Cuban and even one of the only government-approved North Korean restaurants -- Okryugwan, in Deira, one of the older parts of the city.

What's the big food trend in Dubai right now?

SW: We've seen many big-name restaurants and small cafes close down. The market is challenging and saturated, so I expect we'll see many more shut shop over the next few years.
SAA: Lots of simple, well made, rustic restaurants. A big focus on speciality coffee, as well as restaurants that have a better connection with farmers and suppliers.
ABH: Food trucks have come to the forefront of the dining scene over the past two to three years, taking up residence in parks, festivals and even a dedicated food truck park, Last Exit, which has seen mixed reviews. More recently, I've noticed a lot of "authentic and traditional" restaurants representing real food from the home countries -- for example, from Ethiopia and Peru.

Samantha Wood's Dubai Michelin Guide picks

"Singaporean chef Reif has taken the traditional chef's table to another level by creating a private 'apartment' one floor above his restaurant Play in the H Hotel, where he personally cooks and serves up to 12 guests, any day and night of the week," says Wood.

What's unique about dining out in Dubai?

SW: Dubai is multi-cultural both in its population and its dining scene. Every cuisine under the sun is represented here across different price points.
SAA: The diversity, for sure. You can get everything from a proper Indian meal to a perfect cup of single-origin coffee, a good burger, and bean-to-bar chocolate.
ABH: The emirate isn't enormous, so it would be easy to start the night off tucking in to authentic Nepali dumplings or traditional Indonesian fare in Karama -- the older part of the city -- for a steal, before heading off for cocktails, gourmet fare and stunning views in a five-star hotel just a taxi ride away.

What surprises people about the Dubai dining scene?

SW: I'd like to think it's the plethora of (alcohol) licensed and unlicensed independent restaurants outside the hotels. But I fear many holidaymakers don't venture out much.
SAA: The international array of restaurants. I really believe there should be more authentic Emirati restaurants in the scene -- perhaps a Michelin guide would be able to help push that movement forward.
ABH: People are often surprised at the big party vibe in Dubai. Every night, restaurants and bars are full across the city. Women can find "ladies' nights" every night, which means they could literally drink for free all week, if they wanted. I think many people might avoid Dubai as they think it is dry, which isn't true.

Angela Hundal's Dubai Michelin Guide picks

"At.mosphere is excellent. They serve a really impressive menu, and their Japanese scallops with vadouvan, cauliflower, raisins and almonds is presented beautifully. The foie gras, apple, beetroot, apple and vanilla dish is absolutely stunning, too."

Any misconceptions about the food scene?

SW: There is a perception that dining in Dubai is restricted to glitzy hotels -- whilst there are indeed plenty of restaurants within hotels, there are also just as many outside. Some of these are in free zone establishments and can therefore serve alcohol, and some are independent non-licensed cafes, as well as small roadside joints serving ethnic eats.
SAA: That it is mainstream. To be completely honest, some things are. But if you look closely and choose well, you'll find a beautiful community that enjoys good food, good coffee, and good ingredients.
ABH: People often assume everything is very expensive, when you can actually find incredible deals across the city, in both five-star eateries and in smaller, more humble establishments in the older parts of Dubai. The most delicious Punjabi food can be found in Karama at restaurants like Pind Da Dhaba and Sind Punjab. I would not call these restaurants expensive, and the quality of the food is wonderful.

Does Dubai deserve a Michelin guide?

SW: As much as I would love to see a Michelin Guide in Dubai, which is an excellent marketing platform, I don't think Dubai has enough critical mass of restaurants that would make the Michelin cut.
We need to see more ... high-end licensed restaurants serving modern interpretations of cuisine from the Arab world to really demonstrate a mature dining scene worthy of a Michelin Guide.
SAA: In every country, there is a food scene that is worth discovering. I think (a Michelin Guide and Dubai) would be a perfect pair, considering how the food scene in Dubai is becoming more diverse. There are so many different food experiences now.
AH: It's about time Dubai had a Michelin guide. The range of food here is incredible -- people could eat a different country's cuisine every night, if they wished. And the restaurants aren't all fine dining or gourmet.
These interviews have been edited for brevity.
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