The late chef’s son is preparing to take on the role of continuing his father's culinary legacy by joining the Rhodes W1 family as general manager.
And somewhat paradoxically, the end game is to elevate a diner’s experience by dialling things down.
“Fine dining was the order of the day in Dubai even up to five years ago, but people’s needs for dining out have changed post the pandemic,” says Rhodes. “There is a move away from high-end, but stuffy places to casual dining.”
To Rhodes, the term represents comfort, choice and loyalty. “Casual dining is where you can still go to a five-star hotel, like Grosvenor House in our case, and sit in a beautiful restaurant, but without the stuffiness," he says.
"We want it to be comfortable, so you don’t feel like you have to get dressed up to the nines every time you go out for a meal. We want it to be relaxed, so it becomes a place you visit as often as a couple of times a week, on a date night, with the family or for a quick bite on your way home from work.”
As such, casual dining restaurants avoid pricey set menus and allow diners to “eat as much or as little as they want”, says Rhodes, echoing his father’s long-held ethos. “You can come in and opt for a fancy three-course meal or you can order a simple salad or a single burger — we’re open to that.”
Casual without compromise
A burger was one of Rhodes’s many culinary contributions to the updated W1 menu, even though it took some time to convince his mum Jennie, who has been running the show for the past three years, to make the restaurant even more casual. The dish epitomises Rhodes’s outlook — it’s a classic cheeseburger, but one the team spent weeks perfecting.
“We spent a lot of time developing what blend and cuts of meat we were going to use for the patty,” says Rhodes, who reveals one of his long-term goals is to open a burger joint.
“I am really happy with the result: a 100 per cent beef brisket burger, which uses the same USDA Prime beef as our steaks because this provides the best mix of the flavour and tenderness of the meat. We use Gouda cheese, a malted bun, which toasts up nicely, and a house-made Rhodes W1 burger sauce.”
Another of his favourite new dishes is the bang bang chicken salad, with crunchy greens doused in satay sauce and a home-made sweet chilli dressing. “It’s more Asian-inspired than British, but is another good example of creating a menu that pays homage to Dad’s ethos about simple, good-quality food that you really want to eat,” says Rhodes.
Other new dishes at the restaurant, which is featured in the Michelin Guide Dubai, include: burrata with truffle oil, prawn cakes, duck leg on confit waffle, aubergine caviar creamed spaghetti, lemon meringue pie, and orange and syrup sponge trifle.
The restaurant will continue to serve the signature dishes of its founding chef, including smoked haddock with Welsh rarebit, chicken kiev, and a classic bread and butter pudding. It also retains one of Gary's best-loved dishes, the white tomato soup.
"It first appeared as an amuse-bouche in 2007," says Rhodes. “But because we are getting away from that fine dining slant, it’s now part of the main menu, so you can have a whole bowl instead of just a few licks.”
Rhodes is also planning to launch an evening brunch alongside the array of new inclusions on the menu. It will be the first time the restaurant will join in with such an offering in the city. While details are still being finessed, diners can expect a continuation of the excellent fare and casual atmosphere served throughout the week.
Focusing on the diner's experience
While he was always behind the scenes at his father’s restaurants as a child (“in the restaurant, he was always Chef, not Dad,” he says), Rhodes began his career at the age of 17 in Greenhouse restaurant in London. “Guest interaction was what I loved most about the job and the whole reason I’ve continued in this industry until today; it’s not something I ever want to lose,” he says.
As a result, Rhodes says his new role as general manager extends beyond simply sitting in an office crunching numbers.
"It’s now about greeting guests and building a rapport with them, to the point where you look at the reservations list, spot a familiar name and look forward to meeting them," he says. "Or where guests call you directly instead of the reservations line to help secure a table.
“All this can ultimately determine the experience our diner has, and that’s not something that should be taken lightly if you want to make a restaurant as successful as possible.”