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.
Ossiano, the sixth restaurant in our series, is located at Atlantis, The Palm and received one star.
The story behind Ossiano
At 36 years old, Gregoire Berger has already established himself as one of the most groundbreaking chefs in the UAE — and beyond.
The Frenchman had run Ossiano, Atlantis’s famed underwater seafood restaurant, for six years before he announced he would be stepping away in January last year.
However, by March this year, he was back, seemingly reinvigorated by his time away and brimming with ideas that have since earned the restaurant a Michelin star.
His upbringing in Brittany, north-west France, looms large, but dishes on Ossiano's menu are similarly inspired by sunsets in South America, his wife’s Middle Eastern heritage or the ham and cheese sandwiches he used to eat as a young chef — now reimagined as a delicate croque monsieur served on top of an actual clock.
“The idea was to be able to create a sense of nostalgia,” Berger explains. “We decided to plate the dish on a clock where the time is going backwards, which provokes a lot of emotions in the guest.”
Berger was a particularly vocal advocate for a local Michelin Guide in Dubai, although many in the culinary community were surprised when he was only awarded a single star. “The Michelin Guide coming to town is the collective achievement of pushing standards and boundaries in the region, and something many of us have been working on for some years by raising the bar, driving sustainability and seasonality, and developing our craft and personality,” Berger previously told The National.
What's on the Michelin-starred menu?
“Everything must provoke emotions,” Berger says of his 11-step tasting menu (Dh1,095 per person), which is dubbed Metonoia and pays homage to the riches of the ocean. The dishes are guided by the chef’s lifelong interest in seasonality and foraging, but are artfully interwoven with his own personal memories and experiences.
Berger’s menu is a multifaceted, multisensory experience. The chef is mindful of appealing to the eyes as much as the taste buds, and presentation is integral to the stories he is trying to tell. From bowls shaped like oversized crabs to cauliflower leaves mimicking the movement of corals and potatoes disguised as lumps of charcoal, the plating is playful, sculptural and almost too pretty to eat.
All ingredients are sustainably sourced from the ocean or within 50 kilometres of a coastline. The marine theme is naturally reinforced by Ossiano’s views into one of the world’s largest aquariums. Multicoloured fish, rays and sharks glide past your table, helping to create a fully immersive experience.
Berger’s deeply personal culinary saga begins with Snacks of the Sea, which includes a delicious caviar and gold flake-topped nori tartlet. It sets the tone for a meal that explores and elevates all the traditional flavours of the ocean.
Next up, the evocatively named Back Where the Mist Meets the Sea. Wafts of dry ice rise from a bowl like a gentle mist, enveloping a dish consisting of a base of soft cauliflower cream overlaid with home-made smoked trout topped with pickled cauliflower and a salty seawater foam. It is a prime example of Berger’s propensity to play with texture as well as flavour.
The experiential nature of the meal means there are also some detours from the menu. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” chef Aurelian Durand, Berger’s right-hand man, proclaims as he presents us with a dish consisting of tiny slivers of jellyfish, shrimp and green apple in a consomme of seawater and dill. The flavours are a little overwhelming for my tastes, but the point is more that Berger is trying to lead his guests places where they might not otherwise think to go.
For the next chapter, an oversized glazed “bowl” shaped like a crab, with a bundle of herbs clasped in its pincers, is set in front of us. Safely ensconced within is a dish of Brittany brown crab, fragrant kari gosse spice mix and bouillabaisse essence.
Other highlights include Feeling the Warmth of the West Side, an umami dashi served in a delicate whelk shell sitting on a bed of white sand; and a scallop dusted with a fine scattering of pure white truffle and artichoke, which alludes to snowy days in the French countryside and is fittingly called Late Afternoon Walks Through the Woods. A burnt leek is stuffed with clams for Dreaming Under the Starlight, while mascarpone and wakame are combined and crafted into the shape of unexpectedly realistic-looking olives in Back to the Roots.
Perfectly paired with either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, Berger’s masterclass in culinary storytelling is an experience to be savoured. It is complex and multilayered but also, at its heart, whimsical and fun.
This is emphasised midway though our meal, when we are escorted to the bar and treated to a (non-tequila) tequila shot. The ritual begins with a sprinkling of “salt”, in this case some rock pop, followed by a shot of a lightly spiced, non-alcoholic liquid with undertones of chilli and black pepper, and followed by a yuzu sorbet in the shape of a perfect lemon wedge. It’s a little reminder that in Berger’s domain, you should always expect the unexpected.
Look out for Michelin-lauded restaurant Armani Ristorante, coming up next in The National's Star-grazing series