It's been almost a year since home-grown Dubai restaurant 3 Fils took the coveted number one spot in the inaugural Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and the team are still feeling the effects.
“More international guests are coming," Ahmed Saleh, chief executive of The Lab Holding, which runs 3 Fils, tells The National. "There has been around a 15 to 20 per cent increase in traffic.
“You really feel the difference. Being part of a list, and of course being number one, makes you part of people's checklist of restaurants they want to try,” he says.
The Japanese-inspired restaurant, located at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, was voted No 1 by an anonymous panel, beating some of the world's most prestigious restaurants with outposts in the region.
And ahead of the second Mena's 50 Best list being announced on Monday, Saleh says he is ready to pass the baton. “There are people in this region who have been working really hard, and they deserve to be recognised regionally and globally,” he says. “I'm excited about a new era that the list will usher in for the region.”
The arrival of the World's 50 Best and the Michelin Guide in the region has undoubtedly helped to shine a spotlight on the UAE's food scene, says chef and author Anissa Helou, who earlier this month won the Foodics Icon Award by Mena's 50 Best Restaurants.
“It has given an opportunity to chefs who did not have global exposure," she says. "That makes a huge difference, to the chef, to the cuisine and to the region in general.”
Helou has written extensively about Middle Eastern cuisine, with the hopes of shedding light on what she describes as “underexposed” areas in the food world.
While awards are undoubtedly good for the region, celebrity chef Ali Ghzawi, who won Top Chef Middle East in 2019, says he hopes the 2023 Mena list includes more venues offering Middle Eastern cuisine.
“A lot of the concepts from last year’s list were not Middle Eastern,” he tells The National. “That made me question: is this how it’s supposed to be?
“If you are coming to the Middle East, you need to have the best Middle Eastern food. I don't want to see another sushi brand, wok place or steakhouse making it to the list.”