Taste of Dubai returned to Dubai’s Media City this month to thrill culinary professionals and amateurs alike. The much-loved event broke all records this year with more than 30 restaurants, 10 celebrity chefs and more than 150 dishes on offer.
The taste test
The hands-down winning dish for me this year at Taste of Dubai was Armani Ristorante’s fregola. Vibrant yellow in colour and topped with a pearly froth, the pots of Sardinian pasta, crab, shrimp, carrot and ginger were packed with flavour and couldn’t be beaten at just Dh20 a piece.
Atmospheric lighting, courtesy of Armani/Casa, no doubt, and an -ultra-chic stand in tones of coffee and cream also served to give customers a good idea of what the in-house dining experience at Burj Khalifa would be like.
Many stands seemed a tad overwhelmed during peak times on Friday – with staff yelling order numbers and hollering instructions to each other above the live music. None of that was to be found at Armani, which was far and away the classiest act of the festival.
Upping the steaks
Competition on the ground for the best steak was tough. Gaucho’s offering was tender, expertly marinated and beautifully presented. Whereas my dining companion gave the Oscar-style fillet at Ruth’s Chris Steak House top marks.
A nice touch was the perfectly laid, private table the restaurant had set up on-site, which we were delighted to be ushered to when we reached the ordering counter. Better still was the surprise appearance of the executive chef Paul der Visser, who emerged from the hot kitchen where he had been cooking solidly all day. With a grin from ear to ear, despite the lack of AC behind the scenes, he shared with us his top tips for how to make the perfect béarnaise sauce and treated us to an indulgent cheesecake dessert. In spite of the challenging conditions, the steakhouse came up trumps for excellent al fresco service and a well-balanced menu at the festival.
Dishing out dirhams
Raising something of an eyebrow with the hungry hordes standing in the very long queue to pay was the Dh40 price tag for a small piece of Nobu’s legendary black cod. Some murmured it was a little dry and could have done with a garnish but, proving its enduring popularity, many queued up for a second -helping.
Causing an equal kerfuffle was the 15-minute wait in line to place an order for Atlantis Hotel’s tenderloin Wellington with truffle mash, only to be told it had run out before 7pm on Friday night.
The third-longest queue was for TBJ “The Burger Joint” with 100 per cent wagyu beef being flipped from the chargrill on to plastic plates at break-neck speed. When our order arrived, however, we were distinctly underwhelmed, not least by the cold fries. The patty itself was pretty small, overshadowed by a sizeable bun and large piece of processed cheese. Nevertheless, children wolfed them down with gusto and they were one of the most popular family options.
While there’s no doubt Taste of Dubai is a fantastic fixture on the UAE’s calendar, I would probably choose to go back on a Thursday evening rather than a Friday next year. For whether it was low sugar levels, sheer excitement or just bad manners, the second day saw a lot more pushing and shoving than the first. The venue was packed and walkways around the food stalls moved at a snail’s pace. Compare that with the night before, where seating was plentiful and no queues were to be had, the experience was an entirely different one in the space of 24 hours.
One upside of trying to escape the crowds in the main food area was, however, that we stumbled upon the many commercial stands dotted around the arena.
The vibrant pillar-box red stand of Lafayette Gourmet arguably impressed the most, with a vast range of products from melt-in-the-mouth smoked salmon to raw Yemini sumar honey; yours to sample for free or buy for Dh520 per 1kg.
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