Gerbou supper club adds Emirati touch to international dishes

Intimate evenings in Dubai villa lay foundations for coming restaurant, and provide welcome addition to UAE dining scene

Emirati pastry chef Sahar Al Awadhi serves baked sago pudding with asario seeds. Photo: Gerbou / Atelier Hospitality
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Gerbou. Or should I say welcome.

As an Emirati, I cannot count the number of times I've heard the Arabic word that epitomises warm hospitality and gracious reception. Even at home, when lunch or dinner was served, my father or my uncle would beckon us to the table with a “gerbou”.

It's a fitting name, then, for a restaurant that seeks to shine a light on Emirati and Arab cuisines – one that will open at the historic Nad Al Sheba Centre Building in Dubai in April. Until then, chefs Ionel Catau and Sahar Al Awadhi, as well as the team at Atelier Hospitality (of 11 Woodfire fame) are hosting supper clubs every weekend to give discerning diners a taste of what's to come.

Here, The National takes a seat for a sample.

The story behind Gerbou

Gerbou aims to infuse international and regional dishes with an Emirati touch. The kitchen is led by chef Catau, who says he fell in love with Emirati cuisine during a previous visit to the UAE and returned to apply his own touch to it. Pastry chef Al Awadhi, meanwhile, adds a twist to traditional desserts.

The supper club unfolds every Saturday and Sunday in a private villa in Meydan, with an intimate party of 10 making their way through an eight-course dinner.

Gerbou is a collaboration between Atelier and Tashkeel, with the latter bringing its Emirati-designed furniture and art to the villa, and eventually the restaurant – lending an atmosphere that reminds me of the homes I've lived in and those of my Emirati family and friends.

“This supper club serves as an intimate preview of our vision, where we celebrate the rich mosaic of Arabic culture and the diverse flavours and textures of the UAE,” says Catau, who reveals his top four dishes.

Cabbage mille-feuille

“The dish was inspired both by the bounty of produce now grown here in the UAE, as well as my desire to elevate this humblest of all ingredients,” says Catau

“The cabbage first gets treated in a dill brine, then we slow-poach it with aromats to enhance its flavour Then the cabbage is caramelised in a pan and layered like a mille-feuille, with feta cheese added in between the layers.”

Taste test: I am taken aback by how un-cabbage-like this dish looks, but that is no bad thing – and the taste does not disappoint, either. The cabbage and feta come together well, swimming in a pool of surprisingly moreish cabbage juice. Made from the vegetable's trimmings that would have otherwise gone to waste, the juice enhances the freshness of the dish.

Lamb badanjan

“This is our own interpretation of imam bayildi [the Ottoman staple with aubergine stuffed with onion, garlic and tomatoes]. Here we use local aubergine, salted then cooked in a slow confit in extra virgin olive oil,” says Catau

“The local lamb is made into a ragu with dates and bzar spice, and the tomato harvested from a garden right outside the window to enliven the dish.”

Taste test: I might be a little biased when I say this dish is both delicious and refreshing, given aubergine is my favourite vegetable. And the combination of meat and yoghurt makes it even more tasty.

Chicken machboos

We source our chicken locally, which is roasted and tempered in manually ground spices, also sourced from the Dubai spice souq,” says Catau. “These are left to infuse and create a base for the rice to cook in and soak up all those beautiful flavours.

“We also developed a recipe for our own achar after many trials, in which local tomatoes sourced from Pure Harvest Smart Farms are juiced, and we believe it complements the dish perfectly.”

Taste test: Move over aubergine, this is my favourite dish. It is, in a word, fresh – from the tender chicken to the local spices and home-made achar. It might not look, or even necessarily taste like the traditional machboos I grew up eating, but it is a welcome innovation to a beloved dish.

Sago with asario seeds

“The Gerbou sago custard is a reinterpretation of an Emirati drink called habbat hamra, where we serve a baked tapioca pearl custard and creamy biscuit finished with a warm creme anglaise laced with asario or garden cress seeds, which gives it its unique flavour,” explains pastry chef Al Awadhi.

Taste test: I've tried sago before as well as asario seeds, but never together. Here, the chef instructs us to make a hole in the middle and pour the asario seeds in, making for a creamy, rich and delightful dessert – a must-have at the end of any meal at Gerbou the restaurant or the supper club.

Gerbou supper club runs on Saturdays and Sundays; Meydan, Dubai. Bookings can be made via 050 287 8882

Updated: January 24, 2024, 10:47 AM