It’s the Cinderella story of the culinary world.
On Monday, home-grown restaurant 3 Fils, long considered something of a hidden gem at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, nabbed the much-coveted No 1 spot at the Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony held in Abu Dhabi.
This means it beat some of the world’s most prestigious restaurants, which have outposts in the Mena region. You can find the complete list of winners here.
To say it came as a surprise, though, downplays the popularity of this chic casual restaurant, which has racked up a loyal following since its launch. With cosy interiors, a rustic harbour setting and a small but consistently excellent Japanese-inspired menu, food lovers and chefs alike have been singing its praises for a while now.
Being recognised as the best restaurant in the Middle East was still a surreal moment for the team. “I don’t know how to express this feeling,” says Ahmed Abdulhakim, co-founder. “But you do feel more responsible. Proud of the team. I’m also thankful for the trust that’s been given to us.”
The restaurant was launched by Singapore-born chef Akmal Anuar along with Emirati co-founders Abdulhakim and Adnan Ali in 2016. Anuar has since moved on to 11 Woodfire, but when the team accepted the award, they gave him a shoutout on stage.
“For us, it’s all about making people happy,” says sous chef Freddy Kazadi. “It’s not like we came here expecting to be No 1. But I do know that we are not competing. We are learning from others.”
When asked about what they think it is about the restaurant that has people coming back for more, Abdulhakim amiably jokes that it’s a question they’ve all been wondering about themselves.
“But I think, it’s the people. The whole chain, from our suppliers to our staff.”
Having a small but quality-focused menu doesn’t hurt either. According to Abdulhakim, it’s impossible to pick one bestselling dish from a menu that includes Fremantle octopus, sakura ebi, bluefin tuna sashimi, beef carpaccio and (for dessert lovers) African powerhouse – a chocolate tart with a touch of sea salt – and karak ice cream.
From hidden gems to the winner of Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants List, is no mean feat. But it also begs the question – where does one go from here? Will there be expansion plans in the works?
“We have only one plan, and that’s to do something different,” says Abdulhakim. “If we are able to reach more people and give them the same experience, then yes. If not, then no.”
The team behind the restaurant also seem adamant that this new victory will not go to their heads or prompt any change in their service. One of the lighter moments of the evening comes when a question arises about their famous no-reservation policy: will that have to change now?
“We have to be how we are,” says Rami Massuod, general manager. “If we change, other people will change their perception of us.”
And if people flood in by the hundreds? “We will manage. It’s a responsibility, and we are very grateful,” he says. “The team do a lot and I hope all guests understand that.”
Abdulhakim says there may be other plans in the works, perhaps even ones that shine a light on local cuisine.
“It’s something I‘ve always dreamed about – to do something with local cuisine,” says Abdulhakim. "Maybe this will be our next project."