The Michelin Guide revealed its debut selection of restaurants in Dubai this June, with nine venues receiving one Michelin star and two honoured with two stars.
In this series, called Star-grazing, The National visits a few of the spots that won stars or were included in the Bib Gourmand category, which is “not quite a star, but most definitely not a consolation prize”, according to the guide.
Tasca by Jose Avillez, the second restaurant in our series, is located at the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai.
The story behind Tasca
The Portuguese restaurant was launched in Dubai in February 2019 by Jose Avillez, the culinary mastermind behind — among other restaurants — Belcanto, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Lisbon.
At the time, Avillez told The National: “The Portuguese, we travelled around all the world. We brought a lot of influences back, we left a lot of influences there. Portugal was very influenced by Arabs, so I feel at home in the Middle East.
“At Tasca, I'm bringing small portions to share. There are some dishes to eat with your hands, and others that you use your knife and fork, but the idea is to share everything.”
The Dubai restaurant marks Avillez’s first international outpost and is headed up by two of the longest-serving members of his staff: chef Jose Barroso and general manager Sergio Machado.
While Barroso acknowledges that “winning a star the very first time the Michelin Guide came to Dubai is an honour”, Machado says: “Tasca is, at its core, a friendly restaurant. And while expectations may have changed, we still want to retain our identity. We want to keep our regulars coming back in addition to any patrons who are visiting us now we are a Michelin-starred restaurant.”
Tasca translates as “tavern” from Portuguese or, as Barroso puts it: “A tasca is a small restaurant that serves honest food and drinks. It’s a place in Portugal where you can find real and typical dishes, which is something we seek to represent here in Dubai, but with a modern twist.”
What’s on the Michelin-starred menu
That twist is evident from the get-go as chef Barroso brings out a trio of starters. A wedge of lime doubles as the spoon for a one-bite prawn ceviche (Dh65 for two pieces), while the kimchi-mayo-infused tuna tartare (Dh115 for two) is meant to be eaten like an ice cream, served as it is in a crispy cone made of brick pastry leaves and garnished with nori flakes.
Even the tempura cod cake (Dh65), a traditional Portuguese dish if ever there were one, is sprinkled with powdered olives and raspberries.
A word of advice: eat the tuna tartare dish first before the generous dollops of sauce seep through the delicious crunch of the cones.
These are followed by two starters to share: spicy roasted octopus and garlic-chilli prawns (Dh95 each). “Sharing food around a table with friends and family, over laughter and conversation, is a very important part of our culture,” says Barroso. There was not much conversation at this point of the meal, but that was down to the sheer deliciousness of the kimchi sauce the octopus comes doused in, which mingles beautifully with the creamy yolk of sweet potato in the centre of the sharing platter.
Bacalhau or dried, salted cod, is the national dish of Portugal and a star attraction among the main courses at Tasca. Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa (Dh140) is one of the country’s most traditional dishes (and, incidentally, incorporates the last name of the chef’s grandmother), and comes with shredded cod cooked sous vide with eggs, potatoes, onions, parsley and olives. The trick here is to get all the layers in one buttery bite, and enjoy the piquant aftertaste the olives proffer.
Another must-try main is the piri-piri chicken (Dh140). Tender morsels of chicken leg are cooked sous vide with Tasca’s in-house chilli sauce and served with two dips: smoked avocado cream and spicy mayo. This is definitely one for spice lovers.
If curry and rice are your go-to, try Tasca’s ode to “Portugal’s brother country Brazil”. The seafood moqueca (Dh210) is a feast of scallops, shrimps and sea bass cooked in citrus-infused coconut milk. Enjoy the stew with a side of creamy rice or dial the fiery factor up by adding the restaurant’s spice mix.
Crucially, save room for dessert — and not only the signature Portuguese pastel de nata (Dh55), but rather the rose pavlova and chocolate cone (Dh65 each). The first is a crispy meringue slathered with a velvety paste made of berries and cream cheese (and is nowhere near as overwhelmingly sweet as it sounds), while the latter offers an explosion of flavours on the palate, with its three types of chocolate, salted caramel, popcorn and delightfully, tongue-tingling popping candy, all ensconced in a crunchy waffle cone.
Unlike fellow Michelin-starred Dubai restaurants such as Torno Subito and Ossiano, Tasca has not put together a set menu of signature dishes and, as such, a meal for two here can cost upwards of Dh700. The portion sizes, punchy flavours and friendly service do, however, make it, as the Michelin Guide specifies, “a very good restaurant in its category”.
The ambience at and view from Tasca, too, deserve special mention. While the guide categorically states it is only the quality of the food that affords a restaurant its star, dining on a stellar meal in a buzzing restaurant with views of Burj Khalifa on one side and the Arabian Gulf on the other makes for an experience that’s par excellence.
Look out for Michelin-starred restaurant 11 Woodfire, coming up next in The National's Star-grazing series