Led by UK celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, who has made his home here, the UAE is proving a top attraction for the best of British restaurateurs to open new branches of their London eateries.
Some of London’s most successful restaurants are keen to open in the UAE.
Hakkasan, the trendy Cantonese London restaurant owned by Abu Dhabi’s Tasameem property company, has already opened here and Dubai. The Ivy, the theatreland restaurant patronised in London by actors, TV and advertising types, is present in Jumeirah Emirates Towers.
The spiky-haired English chef Gary Rhodes, who specialises in modern British food, has set up home here and has opened three restaurants in the Emirates in the past six years, saying he prefers the buzz here to the depressed economy of London.
However, the cut-throat pace of London’s scene, which has accelerated in the past two years, may now be holding some restaurateurs back from fully committing to international ventures.
Gordon Ramsay, who opened his latest London restaurant Union Street Cafe in Bermondsey, south of the River Thames, last month, is perhaps the best-known of the celebrity chefs locals hope will return to the region.
Ramsay opened his first restaurant outside the United Kingdom in Dubai but Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek was closed and rebranded in 2011.
Zuma, a Japanese restaurant, which has had a branch in Dubai since 2008, is expected to open in Abu Dhabi next year but Zuma’s spokesman in London appeared to know few details about the prospective establishment.
Jason Atherton, one of London’s most prolific chefs, a protégé of Ramsay and whom recently opened the Berners Tavern, is the force behind the Pollen Street Social Club in Mayfair. He is one British chef who can confirm Dubai is on his itinerary.
His spokeswoman says he will launch Marina Social and Social Room in the Intercontinental Hotel, at Dubai Marina in the summer.
The restaurant is expected to be an informal but stylish dining experience with a contemporary bistro menu. Like the Berners Tavern, which opened at London’s Edition hotel, it will feature sharing plates – a must-have for any self-respecting London eatery these days.
At the casual dining end of the market, Pizza Express has been in Dubai since 2000 when Anand Radia opened his first franchised restaurant. He wants to open in Abu Dhabi and continue expanding in here.
The Global Restaurant Investment Forum is being held in Dubai in March, at which British restaurateurs and hospitality chiefs are expected to field a strong presence.
“A number of chains operating out of London want to expand – first to Manchester and then they look at global opportunities,” says Peter Backman, whose company Horizons, is one of the event’s sponsors.
“There is a huge appetite for restaurants in the UAE and it seems a natural place to come to – although like any overseas expansion it is complex and can only be done with local partners.”
The expatriate community is one evident attraction for many restaurant groups but chefs and owners at the top end of the market are also interested in opening here because they know there is a wealthy customer base who are already familiar with their London restaurants from spending summer months in the UK capital.
The one limitation in the region at the moment, particularly for mid-market restaurant chains, is that compared with other international territories such as Europe, Japan or Australia, it is only really possible to open one or two branches.
“There are not multiple opportunities all over the place,” Mr Backman.
But this will, of course, change over time as the Emirates continues to grow.