3 Fils x Brix pop-up review: Dubai double act fills stomachs in the Empty Quarter

Twelve courses, two restaurants and one memorable night at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara

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From BTS x Fila to Nike x Tiffany & Co, the growing appeal of collaborations shows no sign of waning.

While some power couples may raise an eyebrow or two — globe-trotting sports brand adidas meets humble Satwa curry house Ravi’s, for instance — others are a match made in heaven.

The latest comes from 3 Fils and its dessert-only sister site Brix, a double whammy of home-grown restaurants that have found the recipe for success in Jumeirah Fishing Harbour.

Until mid-March, chefs from the Dubai venues will pack up their kitchen knives, load up the car boot and drive three and a half hours to Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara for a fine-dining pop-up in the Empty Quarter.

Knowing there are only a few weeks left to operate and a maximum of 45 covers per night, The National went along for the ride — all 12 courses of it.

Dinner in the dunes costs Dh900 per person. Photo: Anantara

Where to sit and what to expect

For starters, the Bedouin-style resort, nay village, is at the very edge of Abu Dhabi, close to the Saudi Arabia border. It is set in a conservation area and is surrounded by rolling sand dunes, which rise like mountains as far as the eye can see. Similar to Burj Al Arab, guests need a reservation to even make it past security (best not to schlep out here without one), before embarking on the snaking 16km drive to the hotel reception.

Needless to say, almost all diners are hotel guests — although anyone hardy enough to make the two-hour drive back to Abu Dhabi or three-plus hours back to Dubai after dinner can still book.

The pop-up runs on Fridays and Saturdays, from 6pm, at the enchanting Royal Pavilion restaurant. While no exact end date has been revealed, it is expected to operate until Ramadan starts.

The menu

Straying from the casual yet elegant dining 3 Fils — currently fifth in Mena’s 50 Best Restaurants list — is known for, chefs go full high-end set menu for the evening. Twelve courses are accompanied by five mocktails.

The menu is titled Around the World and it does exactly what it says on the tin, taking guests on an international food journey through storytelling. It’s split into three sections of four dishes each — The Odyssey, The Expedition and The Discovery.

Our adventure begins, appropriately, in the desert, where the sand’s orange hues and layers of textures are embodied by the salmon tartare. Next, we’re whisked 8,000km away to Japan, the heart of 3 Fils’s cooking inspiration.

In bygone eras, bluefin tuna was a headache for Japanese fishermen and chefs. A lack of cooling technology meant storing just one of the monster fish — they weigh up to 250kg on average — and keeping it fresh was problematic. However, with the introduction of refrigeration, its popularity soared. Here, 3 Fils celebrate the fish with the most desired cut, the belly or otoro. Famed for the delicate fattiness that “melts in the mouth”, chefs create a trio of starters, one is accompanied by potato, one by truffle and one actually highlights Wagyu beef instead, but we’ll get on to why later.

The trio of dishes celebrating bluefin tuna otoro and Wagyu. Photo: Anantara

Next, the whistlestop world tour continues in the Philippines, courtesy of a flower of sliced scallop with a mandarin spherification in the middle; and Norway, where our delightful waitress shares the story of how the Nordic nation's salmon farmers expanded their exports by breaking into the Japanese market.

In 1986, with so much salmon on their hands and overflowing freezers, the government was forced to intervene. Norway launched Project Japan, a programme designed to export the prized product to the fish-loving Far East. There was just one problem, “the next big thing” salmon appalled Japanese diners, who rarely ate it and, when they did, it was always cooked. Raw salmon? No thanks, sayonara.

However, after years of persistence, palates adapted, as did restaurants, which warmed to the impossibly low prices at which Norway sold it to them. In the decades since, the low-cut deals paid off for Norway and then some — when was the last time you saw a Japanese menu that didn’t have salmon on it? The fish is served raw in all its glory, with a zing of yuzu, sesame seeds and chilli to enhance it.

The soft shell crab and watermelon dish, one of 12 courses on the menu. Photo: Anantara

The tour continues through China, via a delightfully punchy mushroom broth; Thailand, via a marriage of soft shell crab and watermelon; and Chile; via another piece of culinary history.

If offered the choice between Chilean sea bass and the Patagonian toothfish, most would gravitate towards the first, staying well clear of the eerie-sounding second, understandably.

Yet they are both the same fish.

In another example of export wizardry, the Chilean government launched a PR campaign in 1977 to soften the Patagonian toothfish’s off-putting name and make it more appealing to seafood diners. Thus, a new star was born and the now-renamed Chilean sea bass has been a stalwart on global fine-dining menus ever since.

The meat course takes guests back to Japan, where the nation’s ubiquitous Wagyu awaits. Its genetics may stretch back more than 35,000 years, but it’s been dominating the international food scene over only the past 20 to 30 years. The reason? Its tenderness — after all, the cows are raised by farmers on a diet of beer and sake, daily massages and soothing music to block out any stress and capture “total rest and relaxation” in meat form. The gorgeously marbled A5 cut is served with asparagus, and a tomato and garlic jam.

The desserts begin with a bit of pomp and theatre, as the cheesecake dish is finished at our table by Carmen Rueda, the head pastry chef at Brix, with smoking, icy liquid nitrogen. It’s a savoury pudding thanks to its playful use of Brie, cucumber and celery “snow”, and perfectly tees up the next experimental dessert: caviar.

Alas, not the real stuff. Instead, teeny handmade pearls of ganache are served on top of layers of flavours that span black truffle and yuzu, sesame and mushroom jelly. It’s all served in a caviar-style tin alongside a fiery ginger mocktail to cleanse the palette. It’s the sort of dessert that divides opinion, plunging our table into “thinking mode”. For me, it’s avant-garde dining at its best — it’s skilful, it’s bold and it’s designed to engage conversation (which it does superbly in between a symphony of “mmms”, “ahhs” and “oof, never again!”).

A cocoa bean shell filled with lighter-than-air mousse and a trio of petit four chocolate bonbons (the Ferrero Rocher-style one is a triumph) bring the curtain down on the night's delectable partnership.

Standout dish

For pushing boundaries, and perhaps taking inspiration from the boldness of both Norway and Chile in its quest to break new ground, the caviar dessert takes the plaudits tonight. It’s a combination of savoury and sweet, one of the oldest double acts in history. And, just like 3 Fils and Brix, it’s proof that good things do indeed come in pairs.

Price point and contact information

The 3 Fils x Brix 12-course menu costs Dh900, which includes five mocktails. It takes place on Fridays and Saturdays from 6pm at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Abu Dhabi, and is scheduled to run until mid-March before Ramadan begins. More information is available at anantara.com/en/qasr-al-sarab-abu-dhabi/restaurants/3fils-x-brix

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: February 17, 2023, 6:02 PM