The 9th annual Taste of Dubai festival is in full swing at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre.
Thousands of foodies poured through the gates on opening night to get a taste of the nearly 20 featured restaurants and the dozens of food vendors and exhibitors. Celebrity chefs hosted cookery demonstrations throughout the night and will continue to share their culinary secrets throughout the weekend.
There are plenty of newbies among the restaurants at this year’s festival including Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay; Vesna; The Croft; Bistro Des Arts and Catch Dubai. Across the board, the portions seem smaller than in years past – but it’s a good change given the amount of food on offer. With the smaller portions, you can save room for more bites.
The Taste of Dubai runs March 11 until midnight and March 12 until 11pm. Standard tickets are available online at tasteofdubaifestival.com/tickets for Dh75 or at the door for Dh90. VIP tickets are available for Dh240 online or Dh260 at the door.
The restaurants have put their best food forward, each bringing a sampling of their most popular dishes to the festival. After eating too much food from too many restaurants, Stacie Overton Johnson found her favourite bites.
The gourmet duck burger from Bistro Des Arts is, without a doubt, the best dish I had. The flavour-packed duck and confit patty along with a generous portion of pan-seared foie gras are set atop a heap of caramelised onions that added just the right amount of sweetness. It's served in a toasted brioche bun. Don't miss it.
I loved the deviled chicken skewers with blue cheese dip from The Croft. Executive chef Darren Velvick says this dish is his take on Buffalo chicken wings. It is very reminiscent, but trust me when I say Velvick's version is better. The chunks of chicken are incredibly tender, drowning in a sauce made with cayenne pepper, tabasco sauce, chilli powder and butter "to balance it out," says Velvick. The blue cheese dip is made with English stilton cheese and sour cream. You won't be disappointed.
I'm not a fan of pasta so I was reluctant to try the mushroom pasta from Catch Dubai, but the staff on hand assured me it's one of their signature items in the restaurant. And now I know why. The thick spaghetti noodles are simple, but the sauce that spaghetti is drenched in is anything but. Made with enoki and button mushrooms, the sauce is heavy on butter, cream and truffle oil (it might be what dreams are made of). It's rich, smooth and bursting with flavour. It's a small portion, but it's all you need given the richness of this dish.
I was eager to try the famous shepherd's pie at Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay and it didn't disappoint. This little pot of decadence is packed with incredibly well-seasoned lamb that's been braised for at least seven hours; onions; diced veggies and a smashed potato topping. There's also a Parmesan crust, dusted with a sprinkle of parsley-brioche bread crumbs. This is shepherd's pie, done right.
For something on the spicy side, head over to Sonamu Korean restaurant and pick up an order of dakkochi (Korean skewered chicken street food). These two chicken skewers come slathered in a Korean chilli paste sauce, sesame seeds and slices of green onion. The spicy sauce is the star here - the chicken just acts as the vehicle to deliver it to your mouth. Don't ignore the little pile of pickled cabbage and carrots under the skewers – it's excellent.