The first course is toast, butter and jam. Far from being an ordinary breakfast staple, however, this dish comes with a smooth kefir butter infused with Parmesan cheese and Emirati dates, alongside a sweet yet tart jam made of mango, corn and desert wormwood.
The unconventional yet congruous flavours offer a palatably unique experience, one that’s matched by the rest of the five-course seasonal tasting menu at Teible.
The Dubai restaurant opened on February 2 within Jameel Arts Centre. The brainchild of entrepreneur Peter Ahn, Teible aims to offer a vibrant menu designed around an increasingly important eat-localphilosophy, which is motivated by a four-pillar value system: sustainability, seasonality, simplicity and integrity.
Accordingly, fresh produce takes centre stage at Teible, with executive chef Carlos Frunze working closely with farmers across the UAE. A home-grown food-for-thought concept in every sense of the expression, Teible takes diners not only on a culinary journey, but also an intellectual one of curiosity, surprise, experimentation and awe.
We are left wondering how a dish such as red snapper fish in a lemon verbena oil serves primarily to shine a light on the mind-blowing flavours of a simple-looking and sounding cucumber jelly. The beef garum tartare, meanwhile, explores the fresh beef supply network in the UAE and pays homage to late chef Anthony Bourdain within the framework of Emirati produce.
“I consider [these recipes] my love letter to the UAE, the country I’ve grown to call my home,” says Frunze.
The majority of Teible’s dishes draw from global cuisines, yet carve out a niche for what Emirati fusion cuisine can look like. One dish, for example, takes the classic Korean staple kimchi and reinterprets it using spicy local dried peppers, fresh greens and local lamb bone broth.
“The native lamb is a gentle meat. As a chef, I wanted to see how I can balance its gentle texture and flavour using only the ingredients immediately available around me,” Frunze says.
Teible’s head chef Danuka Punchihewa, meanwhile, draws inspiration from his home town Colombo with his bite-sized creation, the Ceylon Orb. This dish manifests Sri Lankan street food using local seasonal fish and home-made curry leaf powder.
The restaurant is so committed to using locally sourced produce that even its soy sauce is made in-house, by fermenting sourdough bread with koji to create the intense umami flavours typically found in Japanese ingredients.
Discussing the process of sourcing local ingredients, Frunze emphasises the importance of forming meaningful partnerships with farmers. “We travelled around the UAE almost every week to find farmers through our network. Eighty per cent of the introductions were made through referrals, and the rest through online and social media research.
“Building relationships was relatively easy because all the farmers were excited about a concept that places importance on local produce. It came naturally for me to approach these collaborations as friendships, to make them more than just a transaction. We consider our farm partners an integral part of the Teible team.”
The norm-challenging restaurant is made up of many such stories of patient growth and labour — from tilling the land to oiling a pan. As such, it is a fitting metaphor for the larger cultural story of the UAE.
Each dish is accompanied by a business card of sorts, which outlines the ingredients and backstory behind the dish’s conception.
This carefully crafted storyline draws significance to every ingredient, making the dining experience all the more personable.
“It is a beautiful [feeling] to know our entire process is organic and that we can rely on the natural eco-environment here to grow produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and so on,” Frunze tells me.
It’s all about trust
Those strawberries make their way to the dessert course, which is just as unconventional as the rest of the meal — think pickled berries, fennel oil and fruit in black pepper, all of which make for an icy, creamy, chewy texture all neatly packaged on one plate.
Another creation melds pistachio and coriander with rose vinegar, fermented banana and sourdough rose petal crackers. While the combination doesn’t immediately make cognitive sense, one taste reveals it successfully encapsulates what chef Frunze and the team at Teible are trying to do: offer diners an unexpected taste of gustatory joy.
The final item is a mystery dish, which comes with a blank card that reads “Trust the Chef”. It serves to remind diners that food is as much an emotional journey as a physical one, and that the best way for chefs and patrons to connect is by taking a culinary leap of faith. That it’s delicious is just the cherry on top.