A homegrown hero takes on the big boys with his first restaurant in Dubai…

John Buenaventura. You would do well to remember this name. Thirty-two-year-old John is the young owner of hip new restaurant Cuisinero (pronounced ‘cuisine’ and ‘nero’ Uno located in Steigenberger Hotel – and judging by his passion and flair for cooking the unexpected, John’s career might just be taking off Reif Othman style.

After working in the city’s top restaurants – Seafire Steakhouse at Atlantis The Palm was his last posting – John has taken the leap to open his own spot.

Don’t let Steigenberger’s lobby set a plush precedence for you – Cuisinero Uno is removed from that five-star vibe. Exposed brick, a shouty ‘Socialize’ neon graffiti and an open kitchen-style bar make it feel like you’re at an after-school hangout for the cool kids.

John and his team serve what he’s coined as ‘Dubai cuisine’, which basically means you’ll find everything imaginable without much rhyme or reason. Think fusion tapas inspired by the Mediterranean and Asian-inspired flavours with a hint of Emirati zest added in for fun. We were first served fake carpaccio (Dhs38) – an inventive version replacing the traditionally meat dish with watermelon, creme fraiche, pine nuts and tarragon. It’s packed with flavours that crash, bang and wallop in your mouth. The best bit is the fried tarragon, which drips with oil.

The burnt leeks with shemijii mushrooms (Dhs41), browned butter and hazelnuts is smoky and deliciously charred, while the palamos octopus (Dhs57) nestled in a squishy bed of smoked potato foam, chips and chimichurri is another mix and match feat with a clever tang courtesy of the chimichurri. For a bit of local flavour the DXB shortribs (Dhs48) with madrouba (a nod to the Emirates), pickled onion and spiced ghee is incredibly photogenic despite the unlikely pairings and somehow the ingredients neatly come together.

To finish, some Filipino home comforts from John’s childhood; the JD honey apricots, burnt pineapple and syrup with ice cream (Dhs41) is a playful old-school sundae. Like most dishes here, if you’re open to interpretation, you’ll find Cuisinero Uno a lot of good fun.

Steigenberger Hotel, Business Bay, Dubai, Sat to Wed, 11am to midnight, Thur and Fri, 11am to 2am, Tel: (04) 431 7816. Facebook.com/Cuisinerouno

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Images: Supplied