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.
11 Woodfire, the third restaurant in our series, is opposite the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai.
The story behind 11 Woodfire
Charming and laid-back, the restaurant is led by Akmal Anuar, the chef behind 3 Fils and Goldfish Sushi & Yakitori.
Housed in a villa on Jumeirah Beach Road, 11 Woodfire “celebrates Earth's natural bounty and community” with a theme that is centred on fire. It's also had one extremely famous guest: Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.
According to Anuar, the “Michelin effect”, and the accolade, became a rallying cry for the team to step the service up a notch. “I still cannot believe we received a star. I am over the moon,” he tells The National.
“It gave us a boost to work harder and better. I believe nothing comes before hard work. 11 Woodfire is here to stay and will gradually evolve.”
While the Michelin star may have resulted in more foodies heading to the restaurant to see what the fuss is about, Anuar has no intention of changing its easy-going approach, in that the atmosphere will remain casual and the ingredients the stars of the show.
“We will continue using top-quality seasonal produce and applying the wood-fire element to our cuisine,” he says. “We will bring warmth and sincerity to our guests every single time.”
What's on the Michelin-starred menu?
It's all in the name. The restaurant specialises in natural wood-fired cuisine, a labour-intensive cooking method that relies equally on technique and intuition.
The open kitchen means diners can witness the elaborate process where fresh produce is cooked at scorching temperatures that, according to staff, go as high as 700°C.
Scroll through the gallery below to see the dishes on the 'Best of 11 Woodfire' menu
My dining companion and I begin with putih (Dh20), a palate-cleansing drink with smooth notes of chrysanthemum and camomile, and a kick of house-made kombucha.
Up next is a selection of cold starters. The delightfully named chlorophyll (Dh60) is a refreshing and tangy salad of green leaves and seaweed, buttressed by sweet and creamy pureed edamame.
“It is one of my favourite dishes,” Anuar says. “It is a dish I made in 2010 with various green vegetables from the land and sea. It's vegetarian and our take on a classic salad.”
The interplay of sweet and savoury that serves chlorophyll well is also exhibited in the beetroot salad (Dh50), which comes with generous dollops of feta cheese and fragrant hazelnuts.
It is with a hot starter, the chicken wings (Dh45), that we first taste the dishes kissed by the wood-fired oven. These wings mean business. Impressively sized and served in pairs, they are marinated in spiced coconut and togarashi, and cooked to perfection.
The main meals are neatly split between seafood and meat. The dishes encompass 11 Woodfire’s ethos and are hearty with a central focus on each ingredient's natural flavour.
There are no gimmicks here. Even asking for French fries or Ketchup elicits tender disdain from the staff. And justifiably so, given the premium produce on offer.
The lamb chops (Dh175), rubbed with pimento chilli and garlic, are moist and come with little fat. The crispy duck leg (Dh115), with a cucumber, hoisin and sumac dressing is Anuar's nod to the region and his South-East Asian roots.
With all these lavish dishes on offer, you'd think it would be almost offensive to order a hamburger, right? Well, think again.
Since opening last year, 11 Woodfire has stirred up a buzz among the UAE's burger-istas, and we can confirm the options here are truly top-notch. The brilliant Wagyu burger (Dh100) is served with melted Gouda, mushrooms and sriracha, for a flavour that's rich and dynamic yet doesn't feel heavy.
Seafood lovers shouldn’t scroll beyond the lovingly cooked Fremantle octopus, which comes with a delectable char to the exterior, and soft and velvety meat within.
With the meals tailor-made for sharing — you can even request the burgers to be cut in half — there is more than enough room for dessert.
My partner and I finished with burnt cheesecake (Dh50). The name is derived from the dessert's charred exterior, which is drizzled with a rich milk chocolate over cream cheese or goat's cheese.
Chilled-out yet serious about its convictions, 11 Woodfire is arguably the most welcoming of Dubai's Michelin-starred restaurants.
The reasonably priced menu, with starters ranging from Dh50 to Dh175 and mains starting at Dh65, also makes it the ideal spot from which begin exploring the UAE’s exciting fine-dining scene.
Look out for Michelin-starred restaurant Il Ristorante, coming up next in The National's Star-grazing series