How the Michelin Guide’s arrival will shake up Dubai’s dining scene

How the Michelin Guide’s arrival will shake up Dubai’s dining scene
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Updated 03 June 2022

How the Michelin Guide’s arrival will shake up Dubai’s dining scene

How the Michelin Guide’s arrival will shake up Dubai’s dining scene
  • The prestigious restaurant guide launches its Dubai edition this month. We asked the experts what it will mean for the city’s culinary field

DUBAI: The Michelin Guide — the restaurant industry’s most-respected guidebook — will launch its Dubai edition this month in partnership with Dubai Tourism. That has led some skeptics to speculate that the list will be filled with international headliners in tourist-friendly venues. But it’s not uncommon for Michelin to partner with tourism boards for its guides, and the company has stressed that “one star in Dubai equals one star in Paris.”

Michelin inspectors visit venues multiple times, anonymously. That’s something of a rarity in a region where reviewers (often non-specialist journalists like this writer) are usually invited for a free meal booked well in advance, ensuring they receive the best possible experience. None of Dubai’s thousands of restaurants will know when a Michelin inspector might be assessing their dishes. And that can only be a good thing.




Orfali Brothers. (Supplied)

Arab News spoke with three respected Dubai foodies to get their take on where the city’s dining scene stands, compared to the great culinary cities of the world, and what they hoped might be improved by Michelin’s arrival. All agreed that, in culinary terms, Dubai is in good health, but also that it has some way to go to match up to the international greats.

“I think the sign of a matured — not maturing — dining scene is when you have more homegrown concepts than imported concepts,” said Samantha Wood, founder of the impartial restaurant review website FooDiva.net. “That’s where Dubai is at now. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s on a par with Paris, London, New York or Tokyo — there’s still some way to go, especially when it comes to modern Emirati and Middle Eastern concepts — but Dubai’s certainly heading in the right direction.”

Her sentiments were echoed by chef and cookbook author Dalia Dogmoch Soubra. “When I came to Dubai in 2007, it impressed me on a diversity level; there were a lot of really good, really authentic cuisines. I know there’s this image of Dubai’s restaurants as just being expensive with not-so-great food, but I disagree. I think it’s improved a lot,” she said, adding that, in the fine-dining category, Dubai remains exorbitantly priced. “I’m not surprised that the Michelin Guide is coming; I think it’s about time that Dubai got noticed. But I don’t necessarily think the usual suspects are the best restaurants here.”




Courtney Brandt is a food writer and content creator. (Supplied)

Wood, too, stressed the range of quality options in Dubai. “Name a cuisine and you’ll find a good example,” she said. “The only city that might be comparable is Singapore, where you can get really good food across practically any cuisine under the sun. You don’t necessarily get that in Paris, Tokyo, New York or London.”

While there are definite advantages to basing your restaurant in Dubai — the opportunity for a great seafront setting, or an impressive view of the city’s famous skyline, for example — chefs in the UAE have some significant challenges when it comes to matching up to their international counterparts. One challenge in particular.

“Dubai is one of the most competitive markets in the world,” said Courtney Brandt, food writer and content creator. “I really believe in the chefs in this city, but I don’t know that we have three-star (the highest Michelin rank) restaurants in the UAE currently. There are reasons for that that are unrelated to the chefs: We don’t have access to the produce. If I’m in a three-star in France, the produce might all come from within five kilometers of that restaurant. Unfortunately, because of the growing conditions in the UAE, we don’t have that.”




Dalia Dogmoch Soubra is a cookbook author. (Supplied)

“Ingredients have to be flown in, and that affects quality, flavor, seasonality of menus, and price point. So that’s definitely a challenge here,” Wood said.

While all three women believe the situation is improving, particularly when it comes to fruit and vegetables, with the opening of hydroponic farms and locally sourced concepts, they unanimously agree that there’s a long way to go.

“I find challenges even in the ‘best’ restaurants in Dubai when it comes to good red meat,” said Soubra. “It does hold Dubai back.”

For many diners, the lack of fresh produce can be mitigated by great service, or a fantastic view, or an entertaining experience. But Michelin bases its recognition purely on food. “Service, atmosphere, location, price point — none of those come into play,” Wood explained. “It’s all about the quality of food and how the chef interprets that. It’s very focused.”




Samantha Wood is founder of the impartial restaurant review website FooDiva.net. (Supplied)

For Brandt, another thing holding Dubai back is the city’s ‘Big is best’ approach, which can lead to expensive mistakes for would-be restaurateurs. “The transiency does break my heart. To me, that comes down to market research. There’s a sweet spot that isn’t really being addressed, which is that 30- to 40-seat restaurant. We always go big here, and I’m not entirely sure why. I’d love to see a trend towards smaller restaurants.”

All three interviewees are hopeful that Michelin’s arrival will see Dubai’s restaurants raise their game. “I think we’ll start to see an elevated food experience with the rise of tasting menus, more creative cooking, more chef-led concepts,” said Wood.

But they expect a handful of the city’s bigger names, who might anticipate recognition, to be disappointed.




Tresind Studio. (Supplied)

“There are many concepts that are very trendy — somewhere like Nusr-Et, or Roberto’s — where you’re going for the experience and it’s not really about the food that much, as long as the food’s ‘good enough,’” said Soubra, adding that she has not been to Roberto’s since before the COVID-19 pandemic. “And there should be those places; they’re great for a Friday night, when you want to celebrate a promotion or something, and you’re 28 and you’re out with friends. But then there are those places that don’t necessarily hit the ambience and the crowd boxes, but you’re there for the food, so you don’t care.” She cited long-established seafood restaurant Bu Qtair as an example of the latter.

Soubra continued: “I hope those places that are (just) very trendy, and have made a lot of social-media noise, won’t make it — on a culinary integrity level.” She stressed, however, that because a concept is imported, doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. “Credit’s due where it’s due. I’m not necessarily a Zuma fan, per se, but if you compare Zuma Dubai with Zuma London, Dubai beats it for sure.”

The three food lovers all expressed their hope, though, that the guide will shy away from big-name international chains (unless their food truly deserves recognition) to focus on homegrown concepts.




The grilled Octopus at BOCA, which all three of our interviewess praised for its sustainable approach to food. (Supplied)

“I’m always more interested in the local story,” Brandt said. “I’m not so interested in the chain restaurants that (are) in other places. Not taking anything away from those chefs, but I want something I can experience only in this one place and time.”

“I hope the majority of (featured) restaurants are independent, homegrown, and chef-led, because only then will the guide be interesting and compelling. If we go down the route of imported concepts attached to celebrity chefs, it’s eye-rolling and very boring,” said Wood. “You want this guide to attract culinary tourism, so you want (people) to say, ‘That sounds really interesting. I want to go to Dubai.’ And the only way they’ll do that is if there’s a name in there they’ve never heard of.”

“If there are 10 Michelin stars in Dubai, or 100, then that’s wonderful,” said Soubra. “But maybe there aren’t any, right? And maybe we should just say that. What I want to see is places being judged on merit. Dubai lacks consistency of judgement (at the moment). I’m really curious to see what makes the list.”


Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia
Winnie Harlow attends the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Scott Garfitt)
Updated 29 January 2023

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

Canadian model Winnie Harlow spotted at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI: Canadian model Winnie Harlow was spotted in Saudi Arabia this weekend attending the Formula E Diriyah E-Prix.

 The model was part of the thousands of fans who watched on as 22 of the fastest electric race cars ever built raced for the second time this weekend.

 “The experience at Formula E is unmatched and I’ve really enjoyed the vibe, people, atmosphere, and racing. I’ve been to Saudi Arabia a few times and always have a great experience, so I love that Formula E is in Diriyah,” Harlow said in a released statement.

“Living in a more sustainable world and being able to enjoy motorsports at the same time is incredible,” she added. 

Harlow rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Legend, Martin Garrix, Miguel and French Montana, who performed at the event’s after-race concert series.

Netflix series “Emily in Paris” star Lucien Laviscount was also in attendance.

“I’m a massive fan of motorsport and anything to do with cars. Seeing the new GEN3 race car on track for the first time was insane,” he said in a released statement. “It looks like a fighter jet on wheels and sounds like it’s from a sci-fi movie. Formula E are leading the world in electric car innovation. I’m in line for an electric vehicle and this has really given me a taste.”


Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  
Updated 29 January 2023

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

Review: More dungeons and more dragons — ‘The Legend of Vox Machina’ season two is a ‘critical’ hit  

DUBAI: It would not be an understatement to say that we are living in the golden age of television when it comes to sheer diversity in terms of content. That much is evident when a Dungeons & Dragons game that started out in someone’s living room is now a full-blown animated series on a massive streaming platform — and it has returned for a second season.   

 “The Legend of Vox Machina” is based on the hugely successful D&D actual play series Critical Role, in which players livestreamed themselves playing the tabletop game. The adult animated series made fans in its debut season for its ability to carefully balance juvenile humor with immense character depth, set against a lore-heavy fantasy setting.   

Season two builds on that promise and comes back even stronger with greater character arcs for its seven main characters: Half-elf rogue Vax’ildan (Liam O’Brien), his ranger twin sister Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), half-elf druid Keyleth (Marisha Ray), gnome bard Scanlan (Sam Riegel), goliath barbarian Grog (Travis Willingham), his BFF gnome paladin Pike (Ashley Johnson) and human gunslinger Percy (Taliesen Jaffe). This is an impressive feat to achieve given that the episodes have a run time of under 30 minutes.   

The new season picks up exactly where season one left off — with a group of large and ancient dragons attacking the city of Emon. Our motley crew of mercenaries/heroes, clearly underqualified for the job of defeating these powerful beings, must now go on a continent-hopping jaunt to retrieve magical artifacts that will help them in this mission.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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It is helpful here to remember that “TLOVM,” unlike any fantasy series or movie that you may have watched so far, is not based on a book or video game: It is based on a story created by a group of friends as they played a game over several years, albeit with an audience watching on Twitch and YouTube.   

And, hence, what makes the animated show such an engrossing watch, despite having a story that may seem familiar to most fans of fantasy media, is that “TLOVM” manages to accurately capture the bond between the players and translate it into endearing television.   

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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And while the personal stakes are dialed up to 11 this time around, the larger plot is not ignored either. As big as the emotional punches are, they are matched in intensity with the beautifully realized action scenes and set pieces, which will again feel familiar to anyone who has ever played a role-playing game with their friends.   

With Critical Role announcing that they will also be animating their second campaign, Mighty Nein, for Amazon, and if you are a fan of all things magic, camaraderie and epic battles, there has never been a better time to tune in and let “Vox Machina” enthrall you. 


‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  
Updated 29 January 2023

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

‘Star Wars’ C3PO actor Anthony Daniels to attend MEFCC 2023 in Abu Dhabi  

DUBAI: The force is strong with “Star Wars” fans in the Middle East.   

British actor and mime artist Anthony Daniels, best known for playing the lovable golden droid C3PO in the “Star Wars” franchise, is headed to the Middle East Film and Comic Con, set to take place in Abu Dhabi from March 3-5.   

He is the only actor to have either appeared in or been involved with all theatrical films in the series, having starred in 10 “Star Wars” films, apart from being involved in several TV shows, video games and radio serials.   

It has also been heavily hinted at that British actor, writer and filmmaker Andy Serkis will be in attendance in Abu Dhabi at the three-day event. Serkis is best known for his performance capture roles comprising motion capture acting, animation and voice work for computer-generated characters such as Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise, Caesar in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot trilogy, and Supreme Leader Snoke in the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy   

He most recently portrayed Kino Loy in the “Star Wars” Disney+ series “Andor.”  

However, Serkis’s attendance has not been confirmed by the organizers as of yet.  


UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  
Blackpink performs onstage at the 2022 MTV VMAs at Prudential Center on August 28, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2023

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

UAE’s Blackpink fans enjoy birthday surprise at Abu Dhabi concert  

ABU DHABI: Fans of K-Pop supergroup Blackpink were treated to a concert and surprise birthday celebration for band member Rose at the group’s performance in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.

The chart-topping group hit the stage and performed a number of their greatest hits — including “Pink Venom” and “Lovesick Girls” — before Korean-New Zealand singer Rose, whose birthday is on Feb. 11, was surprised with a multi-tiered cake on stage. She is set to turn 26.

Bandmember Jennie was also spotted visiting Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque before the show.

Abu Dhabi is the second Middle Eastern stop on the “Born Pink” world tour after the group performed in Riyadh on Jan. 20.


US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 
Updated 29 January 2023

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

US singer John Legend closes out Diriyah E-Prix 2023 with a bang 

DUBAI: US singer-songwriter John Legend made a resounding comeback to the Middle East with his performance at the final day of the Diriyah E-Prix races in Saudi Arabia. 

From up-tempo, dance tracks like “All She Wanna Do” to his famous ballad “All of Me,” Legend had the packed audience screaming for more and singing along to every word. 

Moroccan American rapper French Montana and Egyptian singer-songwriter Mohamed EL-Hamaki also took to the stage on Saturday night. 

Returning for its ninth season and after a two-week break following an opener in Mexico City, the Diriyah E-Prix kicked off on Friday in the Saudi capital with two days of racing on the Diriyah Street Course.