Dining Predictions for 2014 – Dubai and the UAE

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.

Restaurant directions:

Comptoir-soupDiet-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.

Ingredients:

table-9 eggEggs, 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:

Silvena Rowe-mortar and pestleFine 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.

Drinks:

okku-rose cocktailMocktails 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

palazzo versaceOpenings 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…

17 Comments

  1. Happy New Year. I didn’t write a ‘trends’ piece because I didn’t think I knew anything about them – but reading your list it seems a) I did b) I agree with all of it. 🙂 Well researched and brilliantly written as always. And no you can’t have Tomas Reger park outside your house – he’s got to come to mine first! 🙂

  2. Pretty comprehensive coverage here, though I’m still flying there flag for Peruvian – at any rate, for South American cuisine that doesn’t involve large hunks of grilled meat! The gluten/organic market is quite complex: we see people flocking to markets and buying organic at Ripe or Spinneys but just about every experiment for organic menus has seen very little take-up. As an example, a year back Certo in Radisson Blu DMC did a major push and saw less than 15% of dishes ordered being the organic specials. Equally, everybody but everybody not has a food allergy (in the US, up to 170 are now identified) but diners shy away from dishes marked gluten-free, possibly because of the ‘no fun’ connotation. Moves by Dubai Municipality, at least, will see stricter food labeling on menus this year…

    Also coming will be a major push for emirate cuisine following November’s Dubai World Hospitality Championship. Plans are afoot for every menu to have too contain at least one local dish, although places like Reflets will probably be exempted. Problem is that many local dishes are not amenable to ‘a la minute’ cooking and so some kind of system of central kitchens will have to be worked out. Interesting to see how this develops.

    I think the big trend for the year ahead will be quality food at affordable price points, casual fine dining if you like. Places like Rivington Grill led the way – and that, five years on, is still getting it right. Look for a major rolling revamp of Jumeirah outlets, as they experiment with the idea of standalone restaurants in hotels, although hopefully more successfully than the less than busy Jamie’s Italian at JBH.

    • I remember that conversation we had! You’re right – I should have quoted you on it. I agree that casual fine dining has its calling, and I’ve touched on it in my paragraph calling for “Less fuss, small plates, and greater choices”, but haven’t gone on to include your described concept, which is definitely not waning in popularity. Let’s just hope that new “Casual fine dining” establishments are not just higher-priced-mid-level-dining ones!
      Regarding Organic and diet-specific items, I agree it’s a complex market. Maybe I’m easily pleased, but I think a 15% uptake is quite acceptable. If we could get 15% of the population eating organic, local, sustainable 100% of the time, or 100% of the population doing it 15% of the time, that would be a mammoth feat. I think those finding success in diet niches will need to be clever with their recipes. It’s so true that some “gluten free” dishes are dull, and likewise for other diets. There are plenty already getting it right in Dubai (e.g. Comptoir 102, Balance Cafe and Ultra Brasserie). Some of these things are also happening so subtly you may not be noticing them. I cannot for instance remember the last time I booked/sat down at a fine-dining restaurant when I was not asked if I had a food allergy or intolerance. I also believe that the intelligent fusing of cuisines will assist in creating better diet-specific menu items. The recent rise in popularity of South American cuisines internationally could be in part because of the higher use of quinoa and corn as starches in preference to wheat. I think many restaurants are discovering this, and will continue to embellish upon it over the coming year.
      And yes, Jamie’s Italian is a strange choice for JBH, as it was for likewise quiet area DFC. Think the franchise branch needs to do some market research!

  3. great review and round up Mrs 🙂 spot on 🙂

  4. The point about the 15% of dishes being organic was that, with higher costs plus the marketing expense, it is an operation that the hotel is very cautious about repeating. and this is a hotel that tried growing organic veg on its roof as well. One interesting approach is being taken by Liz Stevenson at Qbara where she’s trying to deliver a dessert menu where these issues are not even mentioned – in other words, a menu that anyone can eat without worrying because it takes into account gluten intolerance and the rest.

    • Sounds like the right approach – I’ve heard Qbara is amazing, looking forward to trying soon. Good on the Radisson Blu for trying – I hope they give it another go. The market is ready to suck it up, so if they are clever, it should work.

  5. I dont know too much about the facts of the matter, so not much there for me to comment on..but the writing style is enjoyable! Great post!

  6. Great overview Sarah. Q’bara has made Arabic cuisine, fine dining, which is exactly the route that Dubai’s restaurant scene should be following. Greg Malouf is opening at DIFC sometime this year…inshallah 😉 And I gather Silvena’s operation will be a non-licensed venue which is a shame. On the Peruvian front we already have The Act and Story (admittedly the latter only has a few dishes), but Coya (a London Peruvian import) is opening at the Four Seasons later this year. And yes it’s the same owner as Zuma/ LPM. In fact at Zuma, the chef has been testing Peruvian dishes for a little while now. Here’s the retro food truck for hire http://www.ghafkitchen.com/about/ With Dubai municipality laws changing we will see food trucks/ pop-ups become more prevalent. Wild Peeta are set to launch a truck this year. That’s enough from me I think! x

    • Not so worried about Silvena Rowe’s venue being wine-free. I remember chatting with her earlier in the piece and saying the same. I do love a tipple with dinner as much as the next, but I think that this might just be the year that alcohol-free dining gets cutting edge, and if anyone can prove it, she can. It also sticks within her roots and beliefs as she is a non-drinker herself, and will bring esteeem to her venue from the region’s many teetotalers.
      Regarding Coya, it’s just one, and many years after the Peruvian influx seen from vanguard dining cities like London and New York. I’d say that Story and the Act are not really what I’d call restaurants – being more fixed on nighttime entertainment or dance beats than cuisine. Sorry, but you’d still have to work hard to convince me that Dubai is doing it’s bit for Peruvian food.
      Thanks for the link of that truck. I’ll add it above!
      xx

  7. Zooming in on the “cronut” and therefore discarding the culinary minds of US chefs, is a terrible oversight. I’ve been in Houston now for over three months, and have yet to come across a “cronut”. What I have come across, though, are innovative chefs with brilliant cooking skills, a keen eye for quality food, and a dedicated mind to sustainability. It isn’t a new trend either.

    I know the USA is associated with big portions, and not undeservedly so. Monster burgers, giant steaks, and the infernal doggy-bag as an excuse to order more than you can chew. Yet, the enigma is in the criticism versus the popularity of exactly this kind of American food worldwide. Dubai cheered on its chairs when the Cheesecake Factory came to Dubai, with its huge portions. Steakhouses are modeled to those in the US, complete with ginormous steaks and neatly wrapped doggy-bag to take over half of that home. A thick, doughy “pepperoni pizza” internationally wins over the traditional Italian pizza, or why else would it be so readily available worldwide? And then, the “Dubai Buffet Brunches”, Vegas-style. From a Friday brunch this wasteful abundance became so immensely popular that it is stretched to other days of the week, and evenings as well. If only we would relinquish those atrociously lavish buffets, with all those foods wasted….

    In a world where American “big and fast” is popular as ever internationally, to me it seems important NOT to ignore American chefs who speak a better food language. Dining around Houston in the last three months or so, and compared to when I lived in New Orleans 11 years ago, New American cuisine has always been that: homegrown, original, and a style of cooking where culinary roots and local ingredients are key. It is a sustained cuisine, which is simply widening: one that embraces all of the animal, all of the plant. New, innovative cooking techniques assist chefs in extracting the best from the ingredients they use. Incorporating ethnic cuisines in modern cooking (fusion never left), ancient or “forgotten” foods re-emerging, and using what is right under your nose: not threatened, not genetically manipulated, but fresh and beautiful. May it be THESE trends that catch on worldwide, and forget the America of the big, bad, and fast food!

    I could go on, but I’d rather sit down with you, crack a bottle of nice vino, and chat. I miss our food discussions, Hedonista!

    • I think you’ve got a post in here of your own Francine! Miss you heaps. One day I will come over there and demand you show me a side to US cuisine I never see from an international perspective. And stop defending the inventors of the cronut. If there was an X-Factor for food, it would have won last year. The fact that you can’t find it demonstrates it’s flash-in-the-pan character and therefore my criticism of it 😉

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