The Dubai Food Festival 2016 from 25 February 2016 to 12 March 2016 was a 17 day citywide culinary celebration of everything that this metropolis has to offer. The Dubai Food Festival 2016 overlapped with Gulf Food 2016, the premier food and hospitality industry exhibition in the region.
The Dubai Food Festival 2016 featured business and consumer oriented food related activities and events that promote the diversity and creativity of the city’s multicultural local and expatriate population.
The events included Dubai Restaurant Week, Taste of Dubai, Street Nights, and Global Village Street Food Celebration. There were also food walks, tastings, workshops and live cooking demonstrations at various locations in the city. In addition, there were also events at which the public could meet celebrity chefs from the Middle East and further afield.
With so much to do and so little time, I restricted myself to attending an Italian PDO cheese cooking demonstration at Gulf Food 2016, four Dubai Restaurant Week dinners and Taste of Dubai.
GULF FOOD 2016
The Gulf Food expo was held from Sunday, February 21, 2016 to Thursday, February 25, 2016 and showcased food manufacturers and suppliers from all over the world.
I accepted an invitation to attend an interactive cooking demonstration by Chef Alessandro Cargiolli, Head chef of Nais Italian Kitchen. They had teamed up with the Association of Italian Protected Designation of Origin, to highlight the versatility of Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano and Mozzarella di Bufula.
Chef Alex prepared the most delicate and delicious modernized antipasto and pasta carbonara using the Italian PDO cheeses and we were lucky enough to taste the creations. These included Grana Padano baskets with sautéed mushrooms; deconstructed Insalata Caprese with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil foam; pear gel with gorgonzola cream and lastly pasta carbonara.
The convention halls were filled with exhibits from all over the world but I noticed that the leaders in processed foods were definitely the companies from the United States. The event was focused on the business sector and bulk buyers, so I didn’t hang around after the cooking demonstration ended.
DUBAI RESTAURANT WEEK
The inaugural Dubai Restaurant week took place from 25 February to 5 March 2016 and included offerings from 30 of the best fine-dining restaurants in the city.
I had been looking forward to this for months, and when the bookings went live I could barely contain my excitement. It seemed like a reasonably priced and cost effective way to experience some of the best fine dining in Dubai… 3 courses for a mere AED 189 per person! Now tell me, who could resist such a bargain?
Knowing the delays I usually face in evening traffic, I decided to limit my restaurant visits to the weekends.
FABULOUS EXPERIENCE - EXCEPTIONAL FOOD AND SERVICE
- Social by Heinz Beck at the Waldorf Astoria, Palm Jumeirah – this was my favorite by far and you can read about my experience here.
3 course set menu – this does not even cover half of what they actually served.
- Garden at JW Marriott Marquis Dubai – this was my other favorite and you can see some of their delicious dishes below.
Don’t expect any half portions here…
LACKLUSTRE EXPERIENCE - DISAPPOINTING AND EASY TO AVOID
- Sea Fu at the Four Seasons Dubai – The location on the beach and the sunset were stunning but the state of the toilets left a lot to be desired. This may have been due to the proximity to the beach and it’s obvious choice for beach goers needing to use facilities. The pre-dinner drinks service was poor and not a single waiter came to take an order although I was sitting there long enough to watch the sunset. The portion sizes were so small that both my friend and I still felt hungry when we left.
- Yuan at Atlantis the Palm – The service was great but the restaurant’s approach to the 3 course set menu appeared to be: ‘split the portion for cheap food week’. We suspected this when the ‘sharing platter’ short ribs main course arrived and looked as if it was a single main course portion. This was confirmed when the dessert arrived, and the sum of our two desserts were equivalent to the same full priced dessert served to our neighbor at the next table. At our neighbor’s raised eyebrows the waiter explained the obvious difference as the chef was ‘being creative’.
Despite the two disappointments, I had such wonderful experiences at Social by Heinz Beck and the Garden restaurant, that I am waiting in anticipation for the 2017 Dubai Restaurant week.
The management and staff at all restaurants were welcoming. However, at my favorites they provided a superior menu and overall personalised service and experience, while never once making us feel that we were ‘in the cheap seats’. If you choose wisely you will definitely have an enjoyable night out tasting the best the city has to offer, at a price that cannot be beaten.
TASTE OF DUBAI
The 9th annual Taste of Dubai from 10 March 10 2016 to 12 March 2016, started at the end of one of the wettest weeks we had seen in years. Many roads were flooded, causing traffic jams that lasted for six hours or longer. Despite the inclement weather early on, the Taste of Dubai welcomed in excess of 27,000 visitors over the 3 day period.
I attended on the final day (a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and sunburn). My friend and I went early to avoid the crowds and to be able to enjoy the experience without feeling overwhelmed by the deluge of people that would turn up later in the day.
The location has never appealed to me (hence this was my first time attending), but we did manage to find parking behind the venue close to offices, and a short walk brought us to the entrance. One thing I must admit that I find odd, is the unevenness of the terrain in the Du Arena. There are some places that feel like walking uphill and I did not think it was particularly wheelchair accessible.
Shortly after entering we were offered nibbles and bites as we passed a variety of stalls specializing in juices and snacks. We were invited to watch a pasta cooking demonstration by Barilla’s chefs as we passed their demonstration kitchen. They instructed on how to cook the perfect pasta and sauce! I tend to avoid buying bottled sauces but this tasted quite acceptable.
As we turned the corner to enter the main arena where the stalls were set up, my eyes fell on the banners of Tresind. In recent months I had read a few rave reviews written by bloggers who had been guests of the restaurant. As always, I took those reviews with a pinch of salt (ok, more than a pinch).
The first thing that caught my eye was the tall vase of bubbling liquid where one staff member seemed to be concocting some interesting beverages. Molecular mocktail anyone?
Tresind: Alchemy or modern Indian gastronomy?
Then we caught sight of some tasty morsels, and decided that it was time for a lunch break. I tasted flavorful modern takes on Indian fine dining, but bite sized portions do not tell the full story! I hope to follow it up with a full on visit to the restaurant in shaa ALLAH.
Sadly, both my friend and I were feeling full and lazy at that point, and not particularly inclined for more strolling in the hot sun after having lunch in the unshaded section of the eating area.
Instead of circling around and visiting the rest of the big stalls, we moved toward the back of the arena where the smaller stalls were congregated and found some gems.
Too full, you heard me say right? There is always place for dessert, and we shared the decadent Pain Perdu from Bertin Bistro.
Further along I discovered a purveyor of the most exquisite Pasteis De Nata (Portuguese custard tarts of every persuasion). I chose the plain unadorned tart; the pastry was crispy and the filling was indulgent and creamy perfection.
Our next stop was a new online artisanal gourmet food purveyor, Award Deli. I recently received a gift from Award Deli containing organic trickle fermented apple cider vinegar, organic currants, chickpeas and artisan chocolate bars. Unfortunately I have not yet had an opportunity to put it to use.
In the end I was glad that I attended Taste of Dubai, but just a little disappointed that I couldn’t stay longer as I was having so much fun! If you are in Dubai for the 10th anniversary of Taste of Dubai in 2017, please make an effort to attend as it is not to be missed.