The arrival of the debut Michelin Guide in Dubai elicited all manner of reactions from chefs and celebrated F&B players. From elation and expectation, to pride, pressure and even some disgruntlement, here’s what industry experts think the Michelin Guide means for the city — and its diners.
Long overdue validation
Rumours of the Michelin Guide coming to the UAE have been swirling for nearly a decade, with chefs and foodies alike often expressing their confusion and frustration over the delay. Now that it’s finally here, Saki Takase, F&B operations manager at Teible, says: “The anticipation had been building over the years and was met with an excitement so overwhelming, it was almost petrifying.
"It was the moment of truth; we all looked to the stage, in person or through screens, equally unnerved. It’s an understatement to say the guide has been long awaited.”
Scroll through the gallery to see the restaurants that are part of the Michelin Guide in Dubai
For others, the arrival simply validates what they’ve always known: Dubai boasts world-class culinary gems.
“The restaurants in the city have always operated at a high level compared to many other places worldwide, even prior to the Michelin Guide Dubai,” says Swarup John, managing director at Rock Star Restaurants and Jehangir’s Restaurant. “This simply puts a direct measure on culinary proficiency and pits Dubai restaurants against the best in the world.”
Cookbook author Flavel Monteiro says a local guide was “just a matter of time and now here it is".
"It is a scrumptious and historical moment to have the guide," he says. "It is a great boost for the industry and will change the culinary landscape. Not only does the guide validate Dubai’s impressive range of culinary offerings, but we will also start to see a lot more consistency with restaurants.”
The pressure is on
Consistency is key for two reasons: one, a Michelin-starred restaurant needs to serve high-quality food on a regular basis in order to retain its star. And two, venues aspiring to add a star to their name need to dish out delicious meals day in, day out, for when the anonymous Michelin inspectors come calling.
This puts some amount of stress on chefs but also means diners can expect top-notch food around the city.
Himanshu Saini, the head chef at Michelin-starred Tresind Studio, is well aware of this pressure. “Getting a Michelin star is a great start and a proud moment, but what I'd like to do next is reflect back, evolve the cuisine even further and push for two stars next year,” he says.
“Being the only Indian restaurant in Dubai with a Michelin star, the expectations will be huge, but I want to surpass those.”
Regis Bertrand, UAE general manager for the Michelin Guide’s official partner Classic Fine Food, says: “Chefs will now be inspired to improve from one level to the other, be it a restaurant in the Bib Gourmand category that wants to accomplish a star, or a one-starred venue that wants to attain two or even three stars.”
One such chef is Reif Othman, founder of Hotaru Holdings. Othman’s Reif Japanese Kushiyaki was one of 14 restaurants lauded by the Michelin Guide in its value-for-money Bib Gourmand category.
“Receiving the award solidified our long-running ethos of using premium ingredients and offering consistency,” says Othman. “For home-grown brands, the arrival of the Michelin Guide is an inspiration-driver for restaurateurs and chefs to up their game with a focus on the overall mastery of their craft and dishes.”
Hari Kaimal, chief executive of Goldmead Hospitality, believes Dubai is at the brink of a game-changing moment. “Over the years, there has been a strong evolution in the quality of food and diners have witnessed the development of a diverse culinary scene here in Dubai," he says.
"Now, I am sure there will be more to come. We will see an elevated experience, with more tasting menus, creative art of cooking and speciality chef-led concepts.”
Teible’s Takase offers a different take. She says an F&B scene as versatile as Dubai’s can be both “inexhaustibly demanding and over-pleasing in nature".
"This leads to the misconception that it lacks individuality and is somewhat inferior to other destinations," she says. "But the introduction of the Michelin Guide will drive to eliminating such fallacy and allow the true gastronomic gems and unique home-grown establishments that Dubai is filled with to shine.”
Taste for more
While the years to come will, hopefully, shine a light on home-grown restaurants, the fact remains these were scarce in the first crop of Michelin-starred restaurants.
As Samantha Wood, founder of restaurant review website FooDiva.net, puts it: “Of the 11 one and two stars, only two are independent concepts. The rest are either hotel-operated restaurants in five-star premises or imported, celebrity chef-led venues, including both the two-starred restaurants.
“The Bib Gourmand makes for a far more intriguing selection overall, demonstrative of the real Dubai with its thriving home-grown dining scene.
“I hope tourists, who ultimately are the target audience for this Michelin Guide, will dig deeper to discover a true taste of Dubai. Perhaps the Michelin inspectors could also dig a tad deeper next time? Or maybe they did, and weren’t impressed with the rest of our restaurant scene.
“Either way, one thing’s for sure: Michelin does put Dubai on the global culinary map.”
Calling all gastro-tourists
Finally, the most exciting aspect of being a Michelin-starred destination is the global recognition that comes with it.
Naim Maadad, founder and chief executive of Gates Hospitality, says: “I believe the selection was appropriate for Michelin’s entry into the market. The guide has done wonderful things in terms of recognition and awareness, for the economy and for the city’s positioning in the F&B industry across the globe.”
The presence of an award-winning list of restaurants, says Bertrand, means “new arrivals to the country or tourists can plan their meals with this in mind”.
The rise of gastro-tourism — whereby travellers choose a destination specifically based on its award-winning food scene — is another positive side effect.
“The debut of the Michelin Guide in the Middle East market is bound to create more opportunities for restaurants to showcase themselves and gain recognition globally. This will convert to more footfall and travellers to the region,” says Deepak Bhatia, chief executive of Snowbell Restaurant Management.
As a Michelin-lauded chef, Othman wholeheartedly agrees. “Michelin Guide in Dubai catapults our already buzzing gastronomy scene to a whole new level," he says.
"For tourism, this opens a strong opportunity to attract international visitors planning culinary trips to try Michelin-awarded and listed restaurants. It’s a historic moment.”