Even without an award-winning chef’s name behind it, Pots, Pans & Boards is interesting enough to get the most discerning diners excited.
The restaurant, which opens this month on The Beach in Dubai’s JBR, is a foodie’s playground: crockery, utensils and appliances are stacked on floor-to-ceiling shelves; there’s a fully loaded kitchen cupboard in the middle of the space; the open kitchen gives diners a front-row seat to the chefs whipping up food; and mismatched chairs and tables accentuate the playful, modish vibe.
The menu is just as quirky. For example, the burger menu does not have a single beef burger on it. But you will find a lobster burger; a lamb burger with paprika aioli; an oxtail burger with piquillo ketchup and smoked cheese; and a soft-shell crab burger.
The concept was dreamt up and brought to Dubai by one of the culinary world’s most respected stars: British chef Tom Aikens.
Aikens, a master of modern French cuisine, made a name for himself at age 26 when he became the youngest British chef to earn two Michelin stars, for Pied à Terre in London, a restaurant at which he was the head chef. In 2003, he opened Tom Aikens Restaurant in Chelsea. The fine-dining restaurant was awarded a Michelin star nine months later. By 2005, it ranked No 8 on the coveted San Pellegrino list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
His eponymous restaurant is temporarily closed (it will reopen in central London next year), but Aikens has plenty to keep himself busy. He has four casual concepts in London and one in Istanbul called Tom’s Kitchen; a restaurant called The Pawn in Hong Kong; another Hong Kong eatery is scheduled to open in November; and now, Pots, Pans & Boards in Dubai, which, after its September 17 opening, will initially serve lunch and dinner, but will start serving breakfast later this year.
“When I was looking at doing a concept for Dubai,” says Aikens, “I really wanted to do something that was casual and laid-back. The trend is definitely going away from fine dining. People want to come out and have relaxed, informal, all-day dining.”
Aikens’s Dubai concept is all in the name. Every dish in the restaurant will be cooked – and served – in a pot, pan or on a board. Aikens says: “It’s very easy, simple service. Everything goes down on the table and people help themselves. It just creates a nice atmosphere. It’s all about sharing, eating, communicating and having fun.”
The menu showcases Aikens’s varied cooking styles. There are Mediterranean, French and British dishes, but there are also some Middle Eastern touches – a respectful nod to the culture he’s now a part of. Aikens says: “When you go to new countries, you want to embrace the culture in a way that translates onto the menu. It’s not always just about the chef wanting to do dishes he wants to do. It’s also taking our guests and local market into consideration. At the end of the day, if you’re not cooking food you know customers will want to eat, you’re going to have an empty restaurant.”
Like most star chefs who open international restaurants, Aikens will not be cooking at Pots, Pans & Boards, but he says he has put the kitchen in capable hands. The head chef is Ibraheem Musleh from Britain, who worked with Aikens at his Michelin-starred restaurant in Chelsea.
Musleh, who has spent the past three years as a chef at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, knows the market.
“Ibraheem has had his own input on the menu,” Aikens says. “It’s important that he’s involved in the menu. Having a menu that is well balanced gives people enough of a choice so they can come back as regular customers.”
And Pots, Pans & Boards is counting on those regular customers. Aikens is sure he can keep them intrigued once they pay their first visit. He says: “What we’ve created here is very unique. I like a restaurant to be fun, where people can feel at ease. Once you get that magic, then people will come. Good food, good service and great fun. You get those three things right and everyone’s going to have a really great time.”
Pots, Pans & Boards is scheduled to open at The Beach (across from the Amwaj Rotana) on September 17