I’ve read a couple of these lists already – as always, I’m a little slow off the mark.I’ll try and make up for my tardiness with breadth and quality.
Fine Dining Lovers have given us a brief and broad, but probably quite sensible list of 12 food and drink trends for 2014. Huffington Post gave us only five, keeping themselves safe from later criticism by making two of them centric on cuisine that has always been in fashion, and the other three being sustainably responsible and therefore not appropriate for backlash. If you want the official report from the other side of the kitchen bench, then you can check out the National Restaurant Association’s annual What’s Hot culinary forecast here. There’s a 14-page PDF full of information that comes from the brain-waves of chefs around the US. Considering the greatest contribution to cuisine from the states last year was the cronut, I’m not going to take the lot as gospel.
From me, you’re going to get a list that is a little more local. I’m focusing on the UAE, Dubai in particular. These are not just what the chefs and restaurant owners think will happen, but what I believe we will demand as a market over the next year. Some has started already, and the response has been so favourable I’m expecting a continuation. Others may appear to come from a little left field, but there’s reason in the thought. Finally, some predictions come from some whispers behind the scenes.
Diet-centric dining will become mainstream. Millenials are now aged between 14 and 32, and are the key trend setters. They eat out more than any other generation has in the past. A person who never packs a lunch, and eats out at least 2 nights a week simply cannot maintain health in the old-school eateries. Not only that, they are demanding that restaurants provide items that are necessary for their minority population allergies and intolerances. And others without intolerances are considering health when ordering and are jumping on the bandwagon. Think gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, carb-free, macrobiotic, vegetarian and plain old low-calorie. None of this is slowing, and you will find that every-day restaurants will begin to offer such menu items with more frequency. Good article in the National here…
Local and organic are the next two buzz-words that won’t be whispered in 2014. It won’t be accepted that restaurants are selecting the best quality produce they can. People will expect to see this written as a guarantee on menus more often. They are asking where their food comes from, and what happened to it while it was still alive. (Not to mention what we are doing to keep the breed in existence – i.e. sustainability). Fine dining restaurants in particular will suffer resistance against their expensive imports. Some cuisines will be safer than others (possibly Japanese and French, due to the nation-specific ingredients required), but if you put chicken on the menu and it’s over 60AED for a main, it better be free-range, organic and not from Brazil (or another country more than 5000km away), or I’ll be one of the first of many to come around with my whip.
Less fuss, small plates, and greater choices. Nobody wants a 27-course degustation menu anymore. It’s not just the quantity of food, which with over 7 billion people now consuming the planet, is downright disgusting. People are also getting sick of the iced, gassed, popped, vacuumed, bong-smoked, disintegrated-into-sand, music-infused and nuclear-disected dishes that used to amaze but now just turn out stomachs. Izakaya and Tapas have found success in Dubai in recent years, and there’s no slowing it. But also expect to see it in other cuisines – Table 9 worked with the concept very well, and you’ll see more openings of restaurants offering smaller dishes (probably with cheek, for the same price as the larger ones) designed specifically to share.
Eggs, but not for breakfast. Local, organic meat is hard to find in Dubai, and the imports are expensive options for restaurants to stock. Eggs, on the other hand are cheap, often organic, and with the rise of numbers of commercial local organic farms, you’ll see more and more around. Luckily, there’s plenty of egg dishes in the locally vibrant cuisines that don’t look like a breakfast fry-up. But hopefully we’ll see some innovation here too.
Sea vegetables and other obscure greens. These will mainly gain popularity due to the demand for healthy organic dishes, Japanese food and macrobiotic diets. Unfortunately, not because they taste particularly good. Hopefully we’ve got some good chefs out there who can work their magic (Eva Barril from Comptoir 102 managed to get me to eat some pickled seaweed with scrambled tofu a month or so ago, and it was super). Then we can all order wakame, kale or escarole and figure out how the hell we are going to cook these super-foods at home.
Kitchen garden produce. Chef’s gardens are popping up all over the world, and there’s great economic sence in it. 1. It’s pretty and makes your customers think you care about the environment and also about providing good food. 2. It’s organic (or should be), and fills a demand. 3. It’s local, and fills another demand, and 4. It’s fresh, and remains fresh until the restaurant cooks it because they pick the produce on order. Not rocket science, so hopefully we’ll see more cress and carrots than orchids and bougainvillea adorning the balconies and courtyards of the metropolis.
Fancy stuff for Eating in. Nick and Scott are moving to Spinneys. Gourmet food shops are opening up all over. Eataly is sitting about in the Dubai mall looking all pretty and enticing. Home delivery of supermarket items is finally becoming more viable. People know more about the food they eat than ever before, and they are going to swap the money they spend on dining out, and use it instead to dine in with better quality ingredients. For me, it’s because I can’t find a decent wine list to partner my lovely food.
Cuisines making a rise:
Fine dining Arabic is taking a while, as I expected a bit more of this last year, but I’m still convinced it’s coming. After a stint as consultant at the H Hotel, Silvena Rowe is still sniffing around, so I’m hoping there’s some more solid news shortly. I also walked past Greg Malouf in El Sur a couple of weeks ago, and despite the unfortunately untrue news on his site saying he would open in the DIFC in 2013 (yes, he’s running even later than me), I’m of the firm belief that he wouldn’t be here happily eating tapas if he didn’t have at least some connection to the city. The rest of the world is going wild for Arabic cuisine right now, so let’s also expect a few local-inspired dishes in some of the city’s non-Arabic fine dining restaurants.
Fusion won’t stop. This city is a mix of so many cultures, it’s impossible to imagine chefs being unchanged by the culture around them. It might be as simple as cronuts were – more aloo on the McDonalds menu and maybe bacon-and-egg dosas for breakfast, or just mixing some basic local flavours with other nation’s recipes (I had some shawarma sushi at the Ritz Carlton DIFC recently), but will still go all the way up to fine dining, particularly based on some clever menu items at new openings like Toko and Yuan.
Fast food cooked slow. Yeah, burgers, curry, fried chicken and shawarma will all still have it. They will just be organic, local, with less grease, and more expensive. They might leave their age-old establishments and end up in food trucks if the managers have any nous.
Chinese. This is just a hope. Possibly a blind one. I’d love to see some really great Chinese food at all ends of the spectrum a little closer to new Dubai than International city or Beijing.
Traditional European food, perfected. Italian is the big prediction from Huffington post (derr, like anyone ever disliked it?) But it’s not really that silly. As people move towards grass roots, and simple, organic produce, they will look to unfussy cuisines. And let’s not forget cultures that like sausages, because all that nose-to-tail eating has to be made more pleasurable somehow. Expect more casual fine dining establishments opening with Italian, French and Eastern European offers.
Peruvian. Nope. Never going to make the big-time here. Everyone thinks of barbecued guinea pig and mole (which they think is a rodent, not a gravy). Maybe some ceviche and more gourmet Mexican, but Peruvian is just way too obscure for this market.
Mocktails are finally being recognised as not just an effective way to increase bill totals, but a necessity in a Muslim country. Why would anyone want to spend 400AED on a meal and partner it with a 1AED multi-national-produced canned beverage? There’s already some tasty options in places like Eataly, Katsuya and the Reform and some other places like Bait al Bahar are giving it a nudge, (but need a nudge themselves to lift creativity). Let’s see some light, dry, zesty drinks people – non-alcoholic bitters, Japanese flavours and all those gnarly ingredients at the spice souq are just begging for action.
Booze. Are we ever going to see decent wine lists in this country? Probably not. Is this going to be the year when a restaurant and wine company will finally put on a great wine dinner with more than 48 hours notice? Probably not. Am I going to complain about it? Definitely. Will it do any good? Probably not. Gin will remain in fashion, and hopefully they will get over this love of soggy cucumber and start putting something more inventive in it. Whiskey may finally see the rise it deserves as more and more Japanese lounge bar concepts open. Wine Spectator’s predictions for the international market here.
Openings, Closings, Media and Events
Openings will continue full steam ahead. Four Seasons is due around towards the end of the year, and there’s whispers of Zuma/Petit Maison owners are going in with something big. The group are having a huge 2014 in the UAE, with their Abu Dhabi venture in Sowwah Square also set for completion. Palazzo Versace might finally open at some stage this year too, but I’m not holding my breath. Waldorf Astoria are coming to the Palm, and Sofitel are opening Downtown. Greg Malouf will probably open as discussed above – who knows where. Sass cafe will be a big one in the DIFC over the next month or so.
Closings. There’s going to be lots of them. Eventually. It’s just going to take the owners a while before they realise the market is saturated and there’s no way they can pull themselves out of the red. I’m wondering who is going to eat at all these fine dining restaurants on the Palm, personally. But unfortunately they and others supported by international bucks will stay, and might just suck your favourite chefs and concepts away as they constantly refurb and rebrand. Some of your favourites will no longer be there by the end of 2014, so if you like what someone’s doing, get your butt in there and support them.
Areas of growth. Look to districts like Al Quoz, which is getting edgier by the second, and will become Dubai’s Soho, albeit dry as the desert it sits next to. Another spot to watch is the Jumeirah/Umm Suqeim foreshore, which in the preparation for Expo 2020 is undergoing a gigantic uphaul. Fishing harbours, souqs, new beach parks and street food all planned. There’s already some reasonable action in Umm Suqeim 1 with the lovely Seaview (mid-priced fish market restaurant) at the Fishing Harbour 1, and Lebaneesh and some other food-carts including dutch panckaes and snowcones at Kite Beach. Hopefully JLT will chuff along, but I’m unsure many new openings will be sustainable. Downtown will continue to expand, and finally destroy all pretenses the Dubai Marina and Mina Seyahi areas have of being the hub of Dubai’s Dining scene. And they have parking.
Popups. These will get bigger and better this year. The smarter of Dubai’s venues have already realised that a brand name only carries interest for so long, and the best way to inject more excitement into a forgotten venue is another big name. I’m expecting more week-long visits and plenty of very tired jet-setting celebrity chefs to shake hands with. Hopefully Lime and Tonic will continue with their secret dinners, and maybe something like Dinner Club No. 57 will start up in Dubai? Apparently there’s also a vintage food truck for hire. Tomas Reger – will you rent it and park it outside my place please?
Events. Taste of Dubai should pull its socks up this year, but probably won’t. Dubai Food Carnival is the one to watch for, and you’ll probably even catch me in a feisty discussion there at some point. Gulfood follows it and is even bigger than ever – now you have five days in Feb where it will be impossible to get around Trade Centre Roundabout in less than 45 minutes. The Specialty Food festival will bring a little refinement in November. Markets will get bigger and better this year. After the successful expansion of the Ripe market into the Courtyard and Safa Park, expect more, possibly in Abu Dhabi too. The Farmers Market is still the prize – let’s hope they can keep it going a little longer this year, and maybe consider an inside expansion when it warms up.
Media. Respect for Bloggers. Of course, I’m a little biased… Many of Dubai’s food bloggers are now leaving the sidelines and heading mainstream. Did you know that quite a few of the articles you read in the National Eats, Gourmet, BBC Good Food ME, Caterer Middle East and other traditional media are now written by bloggers you will find also contributing to Fooderati Arabia? Not only that, blogs are becoming more respected for their impartial, timely, and relevant reviews, over and above what you will find in a monthly publication, Tripadvisor and more. I’ve been out with Foodiva while she’s been fan-mobbed. Unfortunately I’m not quite a celebrity yet, but I’ll keep wearing my Jacki-O glasses just in case. (Oh, and it’s a secret, but we might just get together and release an online Dubai food magazine of our own. Shhhh……)
So – that’s about all I’ve got for now. Please add your thoughts below. I’d love to hear you tell me that Peruvian IS going to make it, or that I’ve missed a big segment. If you’re silent, I’ll assume I’ve got it perfectly right. And that’s only going to make my head swell…