Dubai restaurant Table 9 to focus more on food, less on celebrity

Two chefs who have worked at Gordon Ramsay's Verre for the past 18 months are now keeping the high standards but putting their own creative stamp on things, turning it into Table 9.

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The UAE is awash with restaurants that have a celebrity chef's name and seal of approval above the door. Just to name a few, there's Rhodes Mezzanine, Ronda Locatelli, Nobu, Rostang's, the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill and, until very recently, Verre - the Dubai outpost of Gordon Ramsay, which revealed earlier this week that the British chef would not be renewing his consultancy contract with the restaurant at Hilton Dubai Creek.

But what unites all of these different spaces? Quite simply that none of their namesakes are in the kitchen and running service from night-to-night.

Nick Alvis and Scott Price are looking to redress that. Both have worked at Verre for the past 18 months, Price as executive chef and Alvis as head chef. With Ramsay's imminent departure, an opportunity presented itself for these young but well-heeled chefs to create something of their own.

"This is going to be a restaurant in Dubai that isn't found anywhere else," says Price.

Alvis seconds that. "In London, it's normal to have a big name above the door and the chef is pretty much there. But here, it's just not the norm, but we'll be in the kitchen doing service every night."

Verre is due to close on October 28 and, after a subtle but pointed rethink of the atmosphere and visual of the restaurant, will reopen on November 9 as Table 9, replete with a new menu and jointly managed as a venture between the two chefs.

Named after the number of the chef's table, at which guests are treated to a menu specifically designed for them by the head of the kitchen, Price and Alvis say that this table will play a pivotal role in the dynamic of the restaurant. With both names above the door and in the kitchen, the tailored element of a meal at the chef's table will bear an even greater significance.

The two chefs met while working at Ramsay's restaurant at Claridge's Hotel in London seven years ago, imagining even then their own outfit.

Both agree that they've inherited a number of the notoriously demanding chef's ideas, but are now looking to create a more relaxed place to dine. "We're getting away from the set menu," says Price. "So when you come in you don't have a minimum spend, which I think scares people off a bit. The traditional three-course meal no longer applies.

"The quality of the food stays the same, but we want to make it more accessible," he adds.

The new menu features 27 dishes, and the kitchen presented a selection of these at a launch event for Table 9, held at Mojo art gallery in Dubai on Tuesday evening.

Bresaola, marinated in orange zest, accompanied by puréed Jerusalem artichokes and sautéed girolles led the way as a stand-out example of the inventive, keenly European but aware style of cooking that Price and Alvis hope Table 9 will typify. Showing similar leanings, the lobster, its tang plumped by vanilla, came served on an ample sliver of crackling mango with bite.

Both chefs note that making the restaurant more accessible doesn't necessarily mean dumbing down the menu. They've included rabbit, served with quince piccalilli and a Scotch egg, to keep things stimulating, while they've also been tinkering with a venison dish over the past few weeks, served with a celeriac polenta, that should complement a challenging selection.

"This is not the end of the restaurant, just the start of a new era," said Price at the Mojo event, explaining that location was a key inspiration in their formulation of the look and feel of Table 9. The gallery will continue to work closely with the new venture, exhibiting careful selections from their own base of regional and international artists in the restaurant. While Homa Vafaie-Farley, a ceramicist who heads up Abu Dhabi Pottery, has been brought in to craft a range of tableware specific to the restaurant.

It's all part of a plan to emphasise the local edge that Table 9 aims to represent. But this, both chefs insist, is not about reinventing Verre. "This is one of the most established restaurants in Dubai, and we want to continue that - with our own touch," says Price.

Ramsay has gone deep into their understanding of what it means to run a kitchen. "It's about maintaining standards," says Alvis. "It's a level of restaurant, as well as a level of cooking, that you can't just shake off."

After a decade of Verre, how these chefs - primed on what they call Ramsay's know-how of "how to run an operation that is a success" - take this well-established spot on Dubai's restaurant scene, and run with it, remains to be seen.

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