Private dining in the UAE is no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and famous.
Heeding requests from customers with a desire for closed-door rooms and secluded enclaves for entertaining, restaurants in the country are increasingly providing spaces where patrons can host private get-togethers.
While some packages can cost thousands of dirhams, if your tastes are gourmet or your group exceeds 30, there are deals to be had for as little as Dh150 a head.
“I get a lot of inquiries about private dining room [PDR] events,” says Christine Wakim, the owner of Events by Christina.
“I reserve many dining rooms for ladies who want gatherings in complete privacy. These rooms are quite different from hotel ‘meeting rooms’, because they are more ornate in decoration and the food matches that of the signature restaurant.
“I also did a Frozen-themed birthday party for a little girl, within the PDR of Turquoiz restaurant in The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi. Absolutely everything was blue, from the chairs to the decorations to the glasses.”
For couples on the hunt for intimate venues for small-scale weddings, private dining rooms offer an affordable option.
“The UAE is promoted as being good for destination weddings,” says Wakim. “I’m doing more and more of them. For example, I had a bride from Tokyo and a groom from Syria wanting a venue for just 25 people, so we went for the private dining room at the Shangri-La in Abu Dhabi.
“The food and drink is normally a set package in most private dining rooms, but these are weddings – it’s up to the couple how much extra they want to spend on flowers, decoration, a photographer and music et cetera.”
Some private dining rooms require clients pay deposits of between 50 and 100 per cent for large-scale bookings, while others charge a supplement per head.
Emirati restaurant Mezlai, in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace, however, offers customers its plush VIP dining facilities at no additional cost.
“Anyone can use our private room, there’s no extra charge,” says Emirati executive chef Ali Ebdowa. “The room can fit about 17 people and it’s a very special place. The interior design is inspired by Islamic and Arabic architecture and the room has it’s own gold-plated china dinner service.”
There is no minimum spend at Mezlai, where à la carte dishes include grilled local hammour with mixed nuts and rose water for Dh140, and camel or lamb machboos from Dh125.
“Our style of cooking and presentation is traditional Emirati with a modern twist,” says Ebdowa. “There are many very famous people who use the room but I’m unable to tell you who they are. All I can say is that we host a lot of ministers and business people who like to hold private meetings with clients.”
Well-known faces, from politicians and footballers to Saudi royals, are also frequently spotted in Argentinian restaurant Gaucho, in Dubai International Financial Centre. The venue has three PDRs, seating between eight and 44 people.
“I would say we’re in the medium price range for private dining,” says Natissa Bouhezila, Gaucho’s international operations director.
“We have very reasonable set-menu prices ranging from Dh375 to Dh480 a person. Obviously if you prefer chateaubriand [steak] it can push the cost higher.”
With the cost for private dining not differing greatly from prices the main restaurant, Bouhezila has seen an influx of clients reserving the spaces for birthday celebrations, leaving-dos and bachelor parties. Gaucho’s open-minded policy means that no colour scheme or theme is too unusual to accommodate.
“On the weekends, we’re doing a lot of divorce parties,” says Bouhezila. “We can even provide a cake with the iced hashtag #GameOver. In general, the parties are made up of ladies of all nationalities, ages 35 to 50.”
At the luxury end of the scale, five sophisticated private rooms are available at Armani Hotel in Dubai. Fine-dining options span the cuisines of authentic Indian, Japanese, European-Mediterranean and signature Italian. The venue’s Armani/Ristorante has two elegant rooms for high-rolling clients to choose from.
“The Circular private dining room seats up to eight guests and the Rectangular private dining room seats up to 12 guests,” says Mark Kirby, general manager of Armani Hotel Dubai. “Armani/Casa’s exclusive furniture reflects the restaurant’s understated gold, cream and sand colour palette. The cutlery is 24-carat gold plated, the linen is silk dupion and the glassware is sparkling German crystal. Prices of set menus range from Dh350 to Dh750 per person and customised menus are available upon request.”
The venues are popular with patrons looking to host intimate suppers, high-powered business meetings and celebratory family get-togethers.
The restaurant regularly welcomes actors, singers, designers and dignitaries, with anonymity guaranteed.
“Because of the discrete environment, the private dining rooms are frequented by several celebrities and well-known business tycoons,” says Kirby.
“Constant endeavours are made to provide guests with the ultimate in exclusivity and confidentiality through these areas.”