The world’s smallest chef, a culinary abra tour, a champagne caviar experience and a pitch-black dining room…
Whether it’s an anniversary celebration, annual visit from relatives or turning another year older, Dubai has some amazing choices for special occasions. From dining in total darkness, to the world’s smallest chef, we’ve seen (and tasted) it all.
So if you’re after a unique dining experience you’ll remember forever, look no further…
1. The Experience by Reif Othman
Few local chefs garner the attention of the masses the way Reif Othman has. In fact, referring to Reif Othaman as just a ‘chef’ almost feels offensive (though he wouldn’t have it any other way). To us, Reif is a scientist, an artist and one of the most passionate and charismatic people we’ve ever met.
We come to this conclusion within seconds of arriving in what he calls his ‘lounge’, as he comes out to greet us warmly on the 37th floor of his intimate 12-seater restaurant. Reif entertains us with tales from the kitchen and his thoughts on the Dubai dining scene before we head through to the dining room, a space he refers to as his ‘apartment’. And it’s cleverly laid out to look exactly like that. Naturally, the kitchen dominates the space, with a prep counter dividing the kitchen from the dining room. There’s also a ‘living room’ with cosy couches facing out over Old Dubai where we retire for dessert later in the evening. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The menu changes on a daily basis, and is dependent on what ingredients Reif’s suppliers can send him from Japan and France that evening. With Reif, nothing is left to chance, and his attention to detail is unparalleled. On the night we dine, dinner kicks off with a toro tart with myoga, served in a dish moulded from the hands of the chef, as a thoughtful welcome gesture. Next comes an umi brioche with unagi sauce – it’s a delicious flavour combination that dissolves instantly into the mouth. The third course, Reif’s caviar, is one of our highlights. Reif selects the eggs individually, and serves it on a bed of cauliflower puree. It’s not a combination we would have expected, but it’s one we thoroughly enjoy.
Reif delights in explaining each course to us, from a wild mushroom tart with truffle mayo, to a palate-cleansing blackberry sorbet that leads on to a quail cannelloni with truffle jus and then red snapper with butter asparagus. Our absolute favourite is what Reif calls a Wagyu sandwich, and the perfectly cooked beef is rich and flavourful, to the point that we never want it to end. A mushroom cappuccino separates this from dessert – a plate of strawberry elements that tastes like an explosion of strawberry and looks too pretty to eat. Every course is beautifully presented, cleverly thought out and perfectly executed.
We totally get why this is called The Experience, because an unforgettable experience it is. But more than an experience, dining at Reif Othman’s dining table truly is an honour.
WOW RATING: 10/10 (nope, we couldn’t find a single fault)
37th floor, The H Hotel, daily 1pm, 8pm & 11pm, 5-course lunch Dhs550, 8-course dinner Dhs750. Tel: (04) 336 2222. email@example.com
When you step into Bagatelle, you leave Dubai firmly at the door of the first floor of Sheikh Zayed Road’s Fairmont Hotel. Instead, you’re welcomed into a glamorous hotspot in the French Riviera, where singers come draped in sequins and waiters are dancing on the dinner tables by the end of the evening. “Le Mardi c’est permis,” our French waitress tells us. Google later tells us this means, “On Tuesdays, everything is allowed”. That works for us.
Although we arrive in the height of summer, there’s a buzzing atmosphere to the restaurant which is full by the end of the evening. Its decor is understated, but high-impact, with navy velvets and white-washed table cloths stark against the bold pop art pieces and pulsating tunes being mixed by the DJ at the edge of the restaurant. He too, got the “everything is allowed” memo, mixing R&B classics with a host of French hits (we think). It’s a combination that works to surprising success.
The menu is as decadent as the decor, and staff make recommendations without needing to glance at a single page – a true sign they know their product. The predominantly French menu features influences from across the Med, and we order three starters and two mains. The Escargots a L’ail, Burgundy snails served in a garlic butter (Dhs120) eclipses all other dishes, and we’d go as far as to say they’re one of the best starters we’ve ever had. They set the standard for the main courses. The Faux Filet de Wagyu (Dhs345) is cooked to perfection, and we’re torn between that and the dazzling performance from the French singer who begins to wander between us and the other diners. The Filet de Loup de Mer, a pan-seared seabass with a leek fondue and pickled vegetables (Dhs185) is another testimony to executive-chef Tim Newton’s clear craftsmanship when it comes to cooking.
By the end of the night, we’re as tempted as the waiters to be up dancing on the tables. And if it wasn’t for our full stomachs, we just might have been. While this fancy French cuisine is certainly not cheap, the authentic execution more than justifies the price.
WOW RATING: 8.5/10
The Fairmont, Sheikh Zayed Road, daily 8pm till late. Tel: 04 354 5035. More info on website.
3. Caviar Decadence at Hoi An, Shangri-La
The Shangri-La Hotel Dubai has launched this sophisticated new offering at the popular Hoi An restaurant. The four-course set menu is a rich and balanced fine dining experience, with immaculate attention to detail. It begins with Yasa Premium Caviar (from Abu Dhabi), which is delicately weighed out in front of you. Served with blinis, crispy toast, chopped egg, onion, parsley and sour cream, it’s as delicious as it is extravagant. The second course is a morel mushroom consommé which returns to the authenticity of Hoi An’s Vietnamese roots. Flavourful and inventive, it comes with dumplings inside.
The stand out dish is the Australian wagyu beef tenderloin – it’s cooked to perfection. Both this dish and the steamed Boston lobster arrive with seasonal vegetables, and are colourful and beautifully presented. The rice served on the side is an unusual touch, and would have been more welcome alongside the consomme. The dinner concludes with a mascarpone macaroon with exotic fruits and berries, served with a fruit coulis sphere. It’s light and refreshing, and is the ideal note to end on.
What sets this place apart is the attention to detail, from the delicate condiment spoons to the welcome sorbet between courses, to the warm towels provided post-dinner. The staff are knowledgeable and passionate about ensuring your dining experience is second to none.
WOW RATING: 7/10
Shangri-La, Sheikh Zayed Road, daily 7pm-12am, Dhs880 per person. Tel: (04) 405 2703. More info on website.
4. Dining in the Dark at Noire, Fairmont Dubai
The science is simple: Reduce the ability of one of the senses to heighten all the others. And that’s exactly what Noire does with its three-course dining in the dark experience. Beginning with a briefing at 8pm, the maitre’d leads guests table by table into the pitch black restaurant, leaving you to rely on waiters in night-vision goggles to find your seat. Each course is wine paired (there’s a soft drink option, too), and while you’re struggling to locate your glass, the first course is served.
On our visit, it’s a seafood theme, and we carefully navigate the plate, throwing out wild guesses of squid, tuna, prawn and octopus. By the time our mains arrive, we’ve given up on cutlery and are making our way through the dish in a way that resembles a toddler discovering candy. We agree the meat is beef, but enjoy debating the accompaniments. We’re full, but we’ve always got room for dessert. It’s a fusion of chocolate, vanilla and coffee and is delicately arranged to be enjoyed piece by piece.
The whole meal is a flavour flight through rich and well-balanced flavours, and the interactivity of guessing the elements makes it a truly memorable experience. After dinner, you’re guided out to meet the chef and sommelier to see and discuss the dishes. It’s an intimate affair for 20-25 guests, and being able to discuss the food with the chef is a fun final touch. The menu changes every single week, so you’re sure to enjoy something you’ve never had before. You can head back in after dinner wearing the night vision goggles too. We’re confident it’ll leave you seeing dining in a new light.
WOW RATING: 8/10
Fairmont, Sheikh Zayed Road, Mon-Fri 7:30pm, Dhs325 per person. Tel: (04) 332 5555. More info on website.
5. Culinary Abra Tour, Madinat Jumeirah
You know how Aladdin showed Jasmine the world on a magic carpet ride? Well, the concept here is almost the same – except instead of sightseeing you’ll be tasting your way around the globe, gliding through Madinat Jumeirah’s winding waterways from restaurant to restaurant on an electric abra.
Your journey starts in North America, at The Hide meatery in Al Qasr. Soak up the all-American atmosphere in this cosy steakhouse as you’re served a welcome drink, and some appropriately adventurous appetizers (we never knew bone marrow could be so delicious). Try not to fill up too much before the main course though – your private abra is waiting to ferry you to the Orient, in the form of Chinese restaurant Zheng He’s.
Here, you’ll enjoy a delectable selection of dim sum, before the restaurant’s resident “duck master” appears at the table to carve the meat for your Peking duck pancakes – the best we’ve tasted outside of Beijing. After sipping on Chinese tea and cracking open a fortune cookie, it’s time to hop back on the boat to make your way to Mexico.
You’ll be put in the party mood at Tortuga, where wait staff will be standing by as you step out of the abra to dress you in a festive poncho and sombrero. It won’t be too hard to find room for classic desserts like churros, chocolate-covered fruit, and ice cream cones. Finally, you’ll be welcomed aboard your abra for one last scenic sail around the Madinat, where you have time to do all those important things, like snap that perfect selfie with the Burj Al Arab.
The VIP treatment and variety of food on the culinary abra tour make for an unforgettable experience. It’s a good thing we weren’t on a magic carpet – by the end of the evening, we were so full we almost certainly would have come crashing back down to earth.
WOW RATING: 9/10
Madinat Jumeirah, bookable daily from 6pm, maximum of six people per abra. Dhs888 per couple, includes alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Tel: (04) 432 3232. More info on website.
6. Dinner Time Story by Le Petit Chef, World Trade Centre Club
When technology and culinary art collide, the product is Le Petit Chef. Originating from Belgium, the world’s smallest chef brings his Dinner Time Story to the UAE for the first time this year. Promising a flavour flight around the world, complete with 3D mapping and optical projection, it’s a sure boredom-buster for those who can’t wait for the next course.
Guests gather at the Trade Club for a pre-dinner drink, before being shown to the intimate dining room, which seats only a handful of tables. You’re invited to pick your main course, all inspired by Chinese cooking, but the other five courses remain a surprise. As the lights go down, out pops Marco Polo, the world’s smallest chef, to guide you on a culinary journey around the world as he hunts for the best flavours for his restaurant, with each of the six courses from the tasting menu originating from one of the destinations of his travels.
With an amuse bouche inspired by France, we head off to Ababia, and shortly after the amuse bouche is served, our waiter arrives with a trinket box filled with small mezze dishes. We don’t know what tastes better – the fattoush or the amount of Instagram likes we’re going to get from this later. Marco Polo travels across India, where a plate of dal is served and Asia, where pre-chosen mains arrive, before returning to his Marseille restaurant where the signature rice pudding is served. It’s a combination of flavours from across the little chef’s travels, and a delightful way to end. What makes this dinner so clever is how the story arrives onto the plate. There’s a danger that the story and the food could clash, but they’re so intelligently intertwined you hardly notice.
The story and the dinner move quickly, and fitting six courses into a 90 minute sitting feels a little rushed. But travelling around the world with Marco Polo is 90 minutes to be treasured (and Instagrammed). And now he’s returned, we know we’ll be rushing back.
WOW RATING: 8/10
The World Trade Club, 33rd Floor Dubai World Trade Center. Dhs450 per person, includes non-alcoholic drinks. Tel: 056 657 3273. More info on website.