When it comes to gourmet food, you can find all manner of creations in Dubai – from camel stir fry to truffle ice cream.
Yet there is one thing missing – a Michelin star. That may be about to change, if recent rumours are to be believed.
The prestigious 126-year-old French ratings guide recently expanded to Singapore, another expatriate-dominated hotspot. Last April, the international director of Michelin Guides, Michael Ellis, told the Global Restaurant Investment Forum in Dubai that his company is well on its way to rolling out its rating system in the UAE.
When we asked about progress towards this, the Michelin Group said it never comments on development strategy. But with a slew of restaurants in Dubai fronted by Michelin-starred chefs – at least 20 – and new fine-dining concepts launching almost daily, Dubai would seem an obvious market.
“There has been some talk in the air about Dubai getting a Michelin-star guide,” says Heinz Beck, a five-star Michelin chef with two restaurants in Dubai: Social, in the Waldorf Astoria, and Taste of Italy in Jumeirah’s Galleria Mall.
“I think it would be a good idea because Dubai has some fantastic restaurants. Having an international food guide like Michelin on the scene would be very significant for Dubai.”
In Europe, three of Beck’s restaurants have Michelin-star status. One of them, La Pergola in Rome, has the maximum three stars. In 2013, he named Dubai’s Japanese restaurant Zuma as one of the five best places to eat in the world. Would it be worthy of a star?
“If I knew the secret to getting a Michelin star, then all my restaurants would have three stars,” says Beck. “Zuma has nice food – I like to go there. But it does about 400 covers, I believe – I don’t know if that’s too many for Michelin.”
Dubai food blogger Courtney Brandt believes Beck’s restaurant Social deserves a star.
She also suggests French restaurant Stay, by three-Michelin-star chef Yannick Alleno, at the One&Only The Palm, and Asian-inspired Dragonfly in City Walk, by two-Michelin star chef Tim Raue. But the American foodie, whose blog is called A to Za’atar, believes most Dubai restaurants would struggle to meet the requirements for star status.
“There are Instagrammable dining moments in Dubai, but sometimes … there is so much focus on presentation that the quality is lost,” she says.
Despite their stuffy reputation, Michelin inspectors only judge the quality of the food – factors such as decor and service are irrelevant.
“They’re not concerned about the place or the decorations,” says Michelin-star chef Maria Jose San Roman, who is hosting a dinner on January 26 at Morah in the JW Marriot Marquis hotel, Dubai.
“They’re concerned only with the quality of the product, the way it’s cooked and the way it comes to the table.
“Even if you make a pizza, it could be a Michelin-star pizza if it’s done to perfection.”
Roman advises restaurants in Dubai to “search their roots”.
“Even simple things can become important,” she says. “A sardine can be as good as caviar, or a potato can be as good as truffle.”
Food critics around the world were shocked last year when two street-food-style hawker stalls in Singapore were awarded Michelin stars.
Silvena Rowe, a chef at three Dubai restaurants (Omnia, Omnia Gourmet and Omnia Glow) – and formerly a TV and newspaper food critic in the United Kingdom – was once invited by Michelin to become an inspector.
“The salary was very ordinary, but they give you a Mercedes car,” she says. “At the time I had a regular food column in The Guardian newspaper, which I didn’t want to give up.”
The Bulgarian-Turkish chef, whose restaurants serve Emirati dishes with a healthy twist, thinks Michelin inspectors would be on the lookout for something “very Arabic, alluring and different” in Dubai.
“They’re not going to come here for Peruvian or Japanese, they’d come here for something authentically local,” she says.