One of the UK’s most celebrated chefs, Gary Rhodes, has quietly spent the last three weeks in the kitchen at Rhodes 44, the latest restaurant to bear his name at the newly opened St Regis Abu Dhabi. With a checked tea cloth tucked into his waistband and his sleeves rolled up, Rhodes, who has six Michelin stars to his name and won his first at the age of 26, is evidently busy but relaxed.
The “chef’s chef” has set up home in the UAE as he launches his third restaurant here in six years.
“I’d like to think that my future is here. I love it,” he says, comparing the buzz of Abu Dhabi and Dubai with the more depressed economic mood in London where Rhodes first made his name.
The menu at Rhodes 44 reflects his talent for reimagining classic British food; here that means using Arab seasonings to spice up more traditional fare. Dishes for dinner at Rhodes 44, which is also open for breakfast and lunch, include parsnip and date soup, homemade steak and kidney dumplings, seared sumac and pistachio king prawns with tahini sauce, a popular mixed grill and sticky toffee pudding. “I have collected endless cookery books of Arabic cuisine,” he says. “I try to add my personality.”
There is not a more passionate advocate of British food, which is perhaps why he has cooked for the late Diana, Princess of Wales, prime ministers and presidents, and will fly to Kuala Lumpur next month at the invitation of the British embassy to cook for up to 1,000 dignitaries. “I love the pressure ... You have to cook like an idiot all night,” he says of the exhausting 48-hour long process. His reward? “I like screaming and shouting about British cooking.”
Rhodes 44 is set to launch a British “dish of the day” and shepherd’s pie will likely be on the menu. How do you make the familiar special? “With love and affection,” he jokes, before adding that the lamb will be braised “very, very slowly”. Forget mince and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
Now in his 50s, with greying hair neatly shorn of its once-distinctive spikes, he chats happily and with great enthusiasm about food but says that he has mellowed with age. He’s no longer a fierce critic when he goes out to eat – something that he does a lot to unwind.
“The food has to be really bad for me not to enjoy my evening. I go out to enjoy the people I am with,” he says.
He won’t be pressed into revealing his favourite local restaurants but admits he is yet to find “a really good Italian”. When at home, though, it is his wife who does most of the cooking. “I can’t beat her roasts,” he says.