The Michelin Guide revealed its debut selection of restaurants in Dubai in 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.
Al Muntaha, the fifth restaurant in our series, is located in the Burj Al Arab and received one Michelin star.
The story behind Al Muntaha
Located on the 27th floor of one of the world's most famous hotels, Al Muntaha melds French fine-dining precision with the rustic heart of Tuscan cuisine.
This is down to head chef Saverio Sbaragli’s various inspirations.
His grandmother was his first culinary hero, he tells The National, and recalls assisting her in the kitchen as a child in rural Tuscany.
“She used to love preparing food for a large number of people at home and showed me everything she had prepared, which fascinated me from a young age,” he says.
“To be able to pass on everything I've learnt is one of the things I love most about my career.”
Sbaragli went on to train under French master chef Alain Ducasse at his La Terrasse restaurant on the French Riviera, followed by a stint in Paris at the three-Michelin-starred L'Arpege with chef Alain Passard.
Winning a Michelin star was the key motivation for Sbaragli to relocate to Dubai last year from the Swiss city of Geneva, where he was chef de cuisine at one-Michelin-starred Tosca.
“Receiving a Michelin star for Al Muntaha has been an exceptionally proud moment for me,” he says.
“Even though it is a competitive process, my team’s dedication to consistently deliver an exceptional dining experience is what keeps our guests coming back, and has led to this moment.”
What's on the Michelin-starred menu?
Al Muntaha boasts a spacious dining hall with spectacular views of the Dubai coastline.
The well-heeled diners are a mixed bunch of in-house hotel guests, business colleagues and couples ― the latter sit on tables for two beside floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pulsating skyline.
Sbaragli recommends we try the six-course degustation menu (Dh1,100) for it is “an excellent representation” of the restaurant's ethos of “innovation, authenticity and creativity”.
My dining partner and I begin with a house-made loaf of fresh sourdough bread served with rich silky ribbons of butter from the South of France.
The amuse bouche is an innovative take on the Caprese salad: tomato foam and basil olive oil are drizzled over fresh cherry tomatoes and surrounded with a mozzarella cream.
The first course is salmon trout served. The fish is fresh and cut into small shreds to resemble a tartare. The other side of the plate houses a yoghurt sauce with a dollop of escabeche vinaigrette in the middle.
The presentation is elegant and playful. It gives you the option of enjoying the salmon while monitoring the amount of kick you want to receive from the vinaigrette — escabeche is a summery Mediterranean-style dressing that is tangy and acidic.
Scoop all elements together in one spoonful and you get a beautifully fresh and creamy bite.
“My favourite ingredient is not necessarily solid, but rather the sauces,” Sbaragli says. “They bring a final touch to the dish through coherence, bitterness and acidity.”
Next up is a generously sized langoustine that’s delicately pan-fired to keep it moist and silky within. The big flavours and textures arrive courtesy of the sweetness of the pickled onion, crispy tapioca and a luxurious cocoa-bean puree.
The lavishness picks up a gear with the first of two pasta dishes. We begin with the garganelli, a cylindrical pasta with a ribbed exterior.
This is normally accompanied by thick ragu sauce, but Al Muntaha takes a different direction with a white sauce made of coconut and yellow capsicum.
The addition of premium Sevruga caviar enhances the dish's buttery notes, without leaving you feeling too full.
“Cooking at low temperatures is my favourite technique. It allows me to achieve perfect cooking while preserving the true taste and flavour of the dish,” says the chef.
The ravioli dish is a standout, and speaks to Sbaragli’s heritage and trajectory.
The strong flavours of the guinea fowl and Parmesan cream filling hark back to his rural upbringing in a “family full of farmers”.
That finesse and class of this Michelin-starred outlet come through in the accompanying flakes of French black truffle.
Another brilliant dish is the veal filet mignon. As with the dishes that precede it, the quality of the product is top-notch, which goes some way towards assuaging the hefty Dh1,000-plus price tag per person for this menu. The knife cuts through the meat like butter and the delicately cooked veal melts in the mouth.
Dessert is a lovingly prepared assortment of meringue, lemon curd, eucalyptus confit and lemon sorbet.
The zest of the sorbet, coupled with the explosive bursts of flavour of the confit, ends our dining experience in a memorable fashion.
The fact Al Muntaha achieved (only) one Michelin star is a worthy subject of debate.
With its tastefully low-key and elegant service and dishes that are both virtuosic and full of heart, we hope it is deemed to have enough potential to reach even higher in the Michelin rankings next year.
That said, Sbaragli prefers to keep his eyes on the “real” prize. “Though Dubai’s culinary scene is very challenging, passion and hard work are what truly matter. Without those, you can’t last in this field.”
Look out for Michelin-starred restaurant Ossiano coming up next in The National's Star-grazing series