Reif Othman leaves Zuma for playful new venture

Play Restaurant & Lounge will open in the H Hotel in Dubai in time for New Year's Eve.

The dining room at Zuma in Dubai.  Courtesy Zuma Dubai
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If you’ve dined in any of the Zuma restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Istanbul, you’ve certainly had a taste of Reif Othman’s genius.

He resigned from his role as regional executive chef of Zuma Restaurants in October but, fortunately for foodies, he has not gone far. Othman is now leading the kitchen in Play Restaurant & Lounge, a new concept that opens on Thursday, December 31 in Dubai.

“It was time for a change and I feel I have accomplished what I set out to do when I joined Zuma in 2009,” Othman says. “My dream was to open my very own restaurant and I am one step closer to realising that dream.”

Play Restaurant & Lounge is a completely new concept, home-grown in Dubai. Located on the 36th floor of The H Hotel, it will offer a “Mediterrasian” menu – a fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine.

“The menu is not a copy of Zuma’s,” Othman says. “Zuma has its own identity and is the brainchild of Chef Rainer Becker. Competing with it would be murderous.

“The food in Play will test me and my team’s creative side. We have designed a menu that is easy on the palate as well as new to the food scene here in Dubai. You will find interesting, playful twists on classic dishes.”

Othman and his team of 40 chefs promise to treat diners to new and innovative dishes and menus that will change each ­season.

“I like to think of Play as food and beverage overload – and I mean that in the nicest way possible,” he says. “Play is going to be a truly memorable experience that will tantalise all the ­s­enses.”

His favourite dishes on the menu are the pita surprise, the air cracker and the lightly seared Wagyu beef carpaccio.

“They are twists on classic everyday dishes,” he says, but adds: “I will not reveal too much.”

If Othman lives up to the reputation that precedes him, Play Restaurant & Lounge might just be Dubai’s next “it” restaurant.

Othman joined Zuma in 2009 and, under his leadership, Zuma Dubai the only restaurant in the country to land a spot on the coveted list of The World’s 100 Best Restaurants four years in a row, since 2012.

La Petite Maison is the only other UAE restaurant to make the list, though it dropped off this year.

“Zuma gave me opportunity by opening lots of doors and pushing my creativity,” says Othman. “I had to always be on top of my game. That was a life-changing experience for me.”

When asked how he will set Play apart from other restaurants in Dubai, Othman says: “The other restaurants don’t have me.”

Then, in a more serious tone, he adds: “I don’t want to be the one to answer that question. Let’s leave it for our guests to ­determine.”

Play Restaurant & Lounge launches on Thursday, December 31 at The H Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Open from 7pm to 1am daily, with lounge hours from 6pm to 3am daily

sjohnson@thenational.ae