For almost 20 years, Fresh Express has been importing and distributing high-quality ingredients and luxury foodstuffs to five-star hotels and fine-dining restaurants in the region.
Among chefs, the company has a reputation for sourcing the very best ingredients, be it wild mushrooms, live seafood or seasonal fruit and vegetables. Up until recently, though, it was only industry insiders who were privy to such purchases; the opening of Market & Platters, a deli/market shop run by the brothers and Fresh Express vice presidents John and Girard Vouyoukas, has changed all that. We paid a visit to find out more.
Stepping through the doors of Market & Platters in Dubai Marina, there's something about the light-filled space that instantly appeals. "For the theme, we wanted the beige floor to reflect the sand, the blue ceiling is for the sky and then the fish displayed on the back is like the sea. It was important to us that the shop have a comfortable, rustic market feel and showed the ingredients at their best," Girard explains. And that it certainly does.
In the centre of the room, a large stand displays an autumnal bounty of fruit and vegetables (pears, clementines, apples, pumpkins, artichokes, figs and more), distressed white wooden shelves boast the contents of a dream pantry - on first glance, I spot Italian risotto rice infused with truffle, extra virgin olive oil from Crete, cans of Ortiz tuna, argan oil, aged balsamic vinegar and peeled black garlic. To the right, there's an excellent selection of primarily European cheeses and an array of deli items that I'll return to later. Then there are baskets of freshly baked baguettes and loaves, gourmet coffee, teas and Monin syrups and, finally, stretching along the entire back wall is the shop's crowning glory: an exceptional fish section.
Spread out majestically over ice is, in essence, a reminder of what fresh seafood should really look like: whole cod, turbot and halibut have bright, clear eyes and glistening, taut skin and are positioned alongside carefully arranged sides of Scottish salmon, line-caught sea bass, Dover sole, yellowtail kingfish, tuna and large, hand-dived scallops. Whether it be from Pacific, Atlantic or Mediterranean waters, Vouyoukas assures me that everything here is sustainably sourced from the best suppliers in the business.
For shellfish lovers, there are bowls filled with cooked lobster, prawns, langoustines and crab, as well as live cockles, whelks, five different types of French oyster and large tanks housing still-skulking lobsters and crabs. Crucially, the area is spotlessly clean and the only discernible smell is that of salty sea air, not fish (a fishy smell is never a good sign in a seafood shop).
For the keen cook
Vouyoukas says that in his experience over the past few years, there has been a real increase in the number of people wanting to source quality ingredients to cook with at home. "More and more people are cooking as a hobby these days, so we wanted to satisfy their needs and provide high-quality items," he explains. "That's where the name for the shop came from - we thought it should be a marketplace where customers can buy raw ingredients to cook with, but we also wanted to supply ready products which can be eaten straightaway, hence the platters."
One of the most pleasing things about Market & Platters is the emphasis on interaction: not only will your chosen piece of fish be filleted to order, the culinary adviser Eric Martinet is likely to be on hand to advise on how best to cook it and to suggest which vegetables you should be purchasing to serve alongside. As soon as you enter the shop, you'll spot a little table set up with tasters for customers to nibble on as they wander about - crumbled feta, verdant green pesto, olives, a slice or two of properly ripe pear - and at the cheese counter, you're positively encouraged to try before you buy.
For the customer after a quick fix, there is much to like. You can buy sushi and sashimi platters of varying sizes, salmon, tuna and sea bass carpaccio, bowls of gazpacho, lobster, prawn and salmon sandwiches, salads and ready-made cheese platters worthy of any dinner-party table.
The deli section meanwhile consists of an array of interesting tasting bits and pieces: green beans with toasted pine nuts and slices of smoked duck, sweet figs with Parmesan shavings, heirloom tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, grilled fennel with garlic and thyme, marinated octopus, Greek feta in olive oil - the list goes on.
Considering the quality of the products on offer here, the pricing is, while not cheap, certainly very reasonable. I recommend a visit.