The UAE truly is a foodie haven. From ostentatious endless brunch buffets and elaborate chef's tables to every conceivable cuisine, the country's line-up of hotels and restaurants puts on feast after feast for guests on a daily basis. But all of this indulgence comes at a price.
Food waste is the elephant in many of these grand dining rooms. The country produces about two million tonnes of food waste each year, which is about 197 kilograms per resident. Fortunately, change is on the horizon and Lowe Dubai is taking a leading role.
The restaurant, opened in March by culinary duo Jesse Blake and Kate Christou, champions seasonal dining cooked naturally with fire in an open-plan kitchen. Lowe's contemporary, sharing-style menu has won praise among Dubai's foodies, who flock to its Wadi Al Safa location. But this is not the menu I am here to try. Instead, I have arrived to sample dishes that combine Lowe's playful cooking style with an aim to help reduce Dubai's food waste. I am here to eat scraps.
This is the second of Lowe’s Waste Not suppers, an event dreamt up by Blake and Christou to challenge themselves in the kitchen, help the environment and encourage people to see food differently. “In an effort to reduce our environmental impact, Lowe is going off-menu, turning would-be waste products into a delicious multi-course meal,” Blake says.
I’ll admit I was sceptical. No matter how you dress it up, the thought of eating a meal comprising ingredients otherwise destined for the bin does not immediately whet the appetite. Still, I arrive hungry and with an open mind.
Waste Not diners eat what they are given, but that's part of the fun. Even the menu is recycled, hand-written on the back of an old Lowe breakfast list. Within minutes of being seated and questioned about any dietary requirements, we sip the evening's specially created drink, a clementine and grapefruit cordial with cracked salt, which is followed by the first course: cauliflower stem soup served with crispy potato skins and sour cream.
After carefully studying the dish, I'm trying – and failing – to see how this differs from the kind of starter you would normally find in a restaurant of this calibre. It's presented beautifully, full of colour and texture, and smells incredible. After the first taste, I'm left wondering why anyone would throw this food away. The soup is rich and creamy, and the potato skins are as good as any chips I've had.
The next course confuses me somewhat. "Shaved foie gras toast and kombu marmalade with citrus," the server says as she places the delicacy down. She sees the bewilderment on my face and, before I have chance to ask how this premium dish amounts to food waste, she tells me it is made from the remnants of a special Bastille Day dinner held the week before. "Don't worry," she says. "It's been frozen for freshness."
The courses keep coming. Pea, Gorgonzola and mint granita buckwheat. Braised lettuce risotto with wild rice and parmesan rinds. Each is as delicious and well thought-out as the last. The fifth plate to arrive is the main course, and perhaps the dish with the most obvious waste element to it.
"This is a hamachi head and collar, served with cod butter," we're told as my eyes clock what has arrived at the table. A fish head, in all its glory. Teeth, tongue, eyes and all. After an elongated staring contest with the remnants of this sizeable fish, I hesitantly begin to eat. It takes a little bit of work to find the bulk of the meat (it's in the cheeks, in case you were wondering), which is tender and full of flavour, and I soon move past the eyeball staring up at me.
The meal is rounded off with two desserts. First up, caramelised artichoke in chocolate, served with coffee foam. It's a strange combination of flavours, but it works. The artichoke is frozen to resemble ice cream, masked by the bitter richness of a dark chocolate coating. Perhaps the best dish of the night is saved for last – vanilla cream, citrus preserve and frozen peach vinegar – a dessert so good I would crawl into the bin after it if anyone tried to throw it away.
Had I not known better, I would never have imagined this meal would have otherwise have ended up in landfill – fish head aside, perhaps – and it's a testimony to the creativity of Lowe's team that they were able to reuse these ingredients in such a triumphant way. And the best bit about this seven-course feast? It only costs Dh99 for a meal that could rival any tasting menu in the city.
"We want to make it a monthly thing. The reaction so far has been really good," says Christou, adding that Lowe was forced to turn diners away for this second Waste Not supper. "We don't want to get to the point that we are creating more waste by holding these events. We evaluate what waste we have, and only create what we can from that."
The next Waste Not event is on Tuesday, September 3. Given the limited menu capacity, booking is essential, while guests can expect an entirely new set of dishes. "We love the challenge of going off-menu to test our creativity and skills," Blake says. "It opens an interesting dialogue with the team and allows them to showcase their ideas."
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