DUBAI: For Flavio Briatore, the flamboyant Italian restaurateur and businessman behind Billionaire Dubai, the global pandemic has changed our notion of nightlife indefinitely. Gone are the days of heaving dance floors and crowded venues. In, for Briatore at least, is the pairing of cabaret-style entertainment with fine dining. Hence the arrival of Billionaire Dubai.
When the pandemic forced Billionaire Mansion, which had been a staple of the city’s nightlife for the past five years, to close its doors at the Taj Dubai earlier this year, Briatore set about reinventing the venue with the help of Montse Moré, a former employee of Cirque Du Soleil and Billionaire’s new artistic production director. Out went all the trappings of a traditional nightclub, in came a renewed focus on food and a cast of singers, dancers and acrobats.
“We had to think about what was acceptable for the future,” says Briatore. “COVID still exists and it’s not going anywhere soon. We knew it was impossible to operate like before, so I wanted to create the best entertainment. I wanted to entertain people with the best performers in the world. This is what we have brought to Dubai. Excellence in food, entertainment and price.”
Moré, who was previously artistic production director at Pacha in Ibiza, took that new ethos and ran with it. In doing so, she has assembled a stellar line-up of performers from around the world, including the singers Luciano Bassi and Geniris, dancers such as Pamela Pucheta, Iryna Hentosh and Gina Llebaria, and the acrobats Gonçalo and Kinga. The latter are perhaps best known as “Poland’s Got Talent” winners Duo Destiny.
The end result is surprisingly enjoyable. Tables are socially distanced, the music is tastefully volumed, and even the dancers wear masks. Attempt to banish, if you can, any negative connotations associated with the word ‘billionaire’ and go along for the ride. After all, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself when the performances are so good, the food is exquisite, and your waiter (ours was Santo) is as much a part of the experience as everything else.
The first act, Geniris, takes to a small, circular podium to the left of the main stage at roughly 9.45pm and delivers a powerful rendition of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” With the podium set back amidst a packed house of seated diners, it’s an intimate performance that sets both the tone and the format for the evening — fine dining interspersed with solo acts or ensemble performances on the main stage.
Such a format not only allows diners to converse freely, but to make the most of chef Batuhan Piatti Zeyneloglu’s wonderfully curated à la carte menu. A former judge on “MasterChef Turkey,” Zeyneloglu has crafted a menu that combines a mouthwatering selection of both new Asian and traditional Italian cuisine. That means dishes such as miso marinated Alaskan black cod, spinach and ricotta ravioli with butter and sage sauce, and maki rolls with wagyu beef, asparagus, mushrooms and creamy truffle sauce. It’s a testament to Zeyneloglu’s and the kitchen’s success that Billionaire Dubai is far more than just a show with dinner tagged on.
Great emphasis has been placed on experience. The salt-crust baked wild sea bass is set alight just prior to serving; the spicy guacamole accompanying the wagyu beef tacos is freshly prepared at your table; and there’s an air of entertainment to even the most trivial of tasks. The predominantly Italian waiters sing and dance throughout the evening, encouraging you to clap and shimmy to Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” or to twirl your napkin in the air during a rendition of the Gipsy Kings’ “Volare.” It might not be for everyone, but it’s fun.
Even the decor is extravagant. Red velvet curtains line the hallway to the venue, stunning chandeliers grace the high ceilings, and subtle nautical references have been woven into the architectural detailing. If you hadn’t guessed already, everything is inspired by the brand’s birthplace of Porto Cervo in Sardinia, with gold, white, navy blue and bold red accents combining with a striking use of geometric fabrics to create a sumptuous interior.
Whatever you do, don’t go expecting a quick bite and an early exit. This is a full evening of food and entertainment, with the final act not taking to the stage until around midnight. Luciano in particular is a standout performer, but there’s not a single moment of mediocrity. Even the music in between acts is finely curated, ranging from the Senior Citizens remix of Billy Stewart’s “Fly Me To The Moon” to Eagles & Butterflies’ “Can’t Stop” featuring Coloray.
And for those in Saudi Arabia keen to experience Briatore’s new vision, you won’t have to wait long. Billionaire Riyadh is set to open before the end of the year.