I'm currently in the process of planning a trip to Iceland. As well as wanting to visit all the touristy must-sees – the Blue Lagoon, waterfalls and black sand beaches – there is another resource I have turned to when it comes to organising the holiday: the Michelin Guide.
That’s not to say I am going on a no-expense-spared gastronomic getaway, but the culinary guide has pointed me in the direction of five extraordinary restaurants in the country, which have either Michelin Star or Michelin Plate ratings. Recognition from the guide makes them, by definition, worth a detour, and I now know that I want to make a reservation at one, at least.
It has served as an extra trip-planning tool, pointing me, and countless other tourists, to places we wouldn't necessarily have found in, and around, Reykjavik.
This week, it was announced, after years of rumours, that Dubai is getting a Michelin Guide of its own. The culinary critics have already started eating their way round the city, as was confirmed by Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of Michelin Guide, who told The National their inspectors are “all over Dubai”.
As much as I look forward to visiting restaurants around town and seeing the well-earned red star (or stars) proudly displayed at the entrance, I am vicariously excited for visitors, who will plan their trip to the UAE with top-quality dining in mind. People who will search Dubai on the Michelin website and know they want to tick off a handful of the listed restaurants before they leave.
I just hope that the guide will take people off the beaten track to restaurants with a history of extraordinary output, not just a fantastic social media strategy. The latter can, at times, divert attention from the food on the plate.
Without a doubt, it’s been a transformative year for Dubai’s culinary scene. Several new noteworthy restaurants have opened and in February, the Mena 50 Best Restaurants awards took place in Abu Dhabi. Of the 50 regional restaurants, 16 are in Dubai.
Anyone who has lived in the emirate for more than five minutes knows that the best food isn’t exclusively found in five (or seven) star hotels. This was reflected in the Mena 50 list, with 3 Fils, a restaurant in Jumeirah Fishing Village, coming out on top. Another neighbourhood favourite on the list of 50 was Reif Kushiyaki (No 16), a Jumeirah eatery where people queue for skewers, gyoza and ramen prepared by chef Reif Othman.
The rest of the Dubai restaurants fit firmly in the fine dining category – no one was surprised to see DIFC cornerstones Zuma, LPM and BB Social Dining on the list, along with Coya, Hoseki and Tresind. They are six of the names regularly thrown around when it comes to "must dine in" conversations. But they aren’t representative of the emirate’s overall food scene.
When the Michelin Guide is published in June, it is likely there will be a culinary overlap with the Mena 50 list. However, in the past the French guide has handed out stars to food trucks, hawkers and street food kiosks around the world, so it has the potential to spotlight Dubai eateries not accessed via a glittering hotel lobby. This will bring in a whole new clientele – something that will please many (but may also irk those who have been dining there for years without even a sniff of a queue).
The beauty of the Michelin Guide is that there is no upper, or lower, limit when it comes to the number of restaurants. The Dubai guide is going to be a digital one, available via the website and app, so there could be three, 33 or 103 restaurants listed – although that final number seems a stretch.
In the decades I have lived in Dubai, I have seen it progress from a city stocked, almost exclusively, with chain restaurants, to a city with a diverse and multicultural culinary scene, with options to cater to every budget. While Middle Eastern food is the jewel in the city's culinary crown, I struggle to think of a global cuisine you can't enjoy somewhere in the city.
We’re yet to see how Michelin will play out in Dubai, whether we’re going to have a city decorated with stars, a handful of the lower price-point Bib Gourmand Awards or Michelin Plates, for places where inspectors “have discovered quality food” but that doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for stars.
Regardless, it’s no doubt going to set higher dining standards across the city, at various price points, and direct visitors and residents alike to a whole new list of places to try. Me included.