Expo 2020 review: Alkebulan Dining Hall
What to eat at the world’s first African dining hall…
In a city flush with foodie-pleasing options, Alkebulan boldly claims to be the world’s first African food hall. And there is certainly a sense of uncharted waters here, as the impressive two-story site at Expo 2020 houses 10 chef-led concepts and two additional bars, exhibiting the whole continent’s most incredibly diverse cuisines.
There’s also a real sense of urgency, too – if you don’t make it to Alkebulan during the Expo season, it will disappear from Dubai forever and you’ll not get the chance, which – after a phenomenal afternoon spent trying as much as our bellies could handle – would be a real shame.
Hand-selected by opera singer-turned-restaurateur Alexander Smalls, each chef plays their part in re-educating the world in African experiences through a series of bespoke concepts under one roof. Those top chefs include Kiran Jethwa and Coco Reinhertz.
Of course, Africa’s geographic location is easy to pin down, but its cuisine is a different story. With so many cultures in the mix, the continent offers delectably diverse food that’s part seafood, part vegetarian, part meaty, and entirely delicious.
Here’s a look at some of our favourite dishes…
Sweet Ophelia’s by Alexander Smalls
What to eat: Oxtail Fried Rice
Regular fried rice dishes will forever pale by comparison once you’ve tried Chef Alexander Smalls’ wholesome rendition. His Afro-Asian-American combo consists of a generous helping of wok-fried black rice, tender hunks of pulled oxtail mixed with spring onion, beansprouts, a sprinkling of spices and a medium-boiled egg. It’s served steaming hot in a huge bowl.
What to eat: Maputo prawns
Blazing a trail for modern African cuisine is Burundian chef Coco Reinarhz. His contemporary take on more traditional dishes has impressed tremendously at his restaurant in Johannesburg, and now, too, at Alkebulan. Try the Maputo tiger butterfly prawns cooked in coconut milk, garlic and a spicy chilli sauce.
Chicken Coop by Alexander Smalls
What to eat: Baby chicken with cornbread
Price: From Dhs53
There are typically two requirements for a good rotisserie chicken: tender meat and crispy skin. But if you rub on some jerk spices and serve it with a side of Chef Alexander Smalls’ famous sweet cornbread, you’ve got yourself one sublime meal.
What to eat: No chicken burger
Afrovegan chef goddess Glory Kabe’s no chicken burger is made from fried oyster mushrooms, pickled red onions, creamy avocado, and turmeric vegetal mayonnaise. It’s crispy, juicy and *quiet voice* better than most real chicken burgers in Dubai.
What else to eat: African Gold
Pastry chef Moos Akougbe – and recent finalist on British TV show Bake Off: The Professionals – brings his low sugar, plant-based desserts to Alkebulan. We devoured his African Gold creation, made using creamy Ivory chocolate mousse, crispy cocoa-teff biscuit, salted caramel and penja pepper. “You won’t believe it’s vegan,” says Chef Moos with a glimmer in his eye as we eagerly collected our plate from the counter. And you know what? We still don’t.
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Seven Seafood by Kira Jethwa
What to eat: Ugali tacos with seared lobster
Shining a light on ugali, a thick porridge made from ground white maize that’s a staple food from Kenya, Chef Kira has used it to create a beautiful soft taco shell to cradle his Indian ocean-caught lobster. It’s seared with mustard seeds and smoked paprika and topped with toasted coconut.
As for drinks, on the first floor of Alkebulan, you’ll find two bars flanking the food hall.
The first is Jiko – a cocktail concept whipped up by the team from luxury Nairobi boutique hotel Tribe. The second is Bar Cane, curated by Chef Coco, which utilises African spices to make exclusive cocktails.
Alkebulan African Dining Hall, Expo 2020, Dubai. Sun to Thur 10am to midnight, Fri and Sat 10am to 1am. Tel: (050) 131 1627. alkebulandininghall.com