x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A new trend in UAE brunches: the half-half

We're seeing a trend in UAE brunches: part buffet, part à la carte served at the table, all in one meal.

Tuna tataki from Zuma, Dubai, where brunch consists of four buffets and a main course from an à la carte menu. Courtesy Zuma
Tuna tataki from Zuma, Dubai, where brunch consists of four buffets and a main course from an à la carte menu. Courtesy Zuma

The UAE has its very own Wikipedia entry under brunch, alongside only one other country, Canada. No other destination features. Not a surprise, really, given a weekend brunch is an institution here – and a bucket-list experience: the free-flowing dining and drinking variety, from all-you-can-eat, indulgent buffet feasts spread across hotels to more refined à la carte dishes in independent restaurants. But we’re seeing a trend that combines both: part buffet, part à la carte served at the table, all in one meal over a weekend lunch and, in the odd case, evenings too.

In Dubai, this concept is prolific with, at last count, eight restaurants going down the half-half route. The forerunner is Zuma, which launched the concept in late 2009 and has since fine-tuned the offering to serve sushi, sashimi, street food and desserts on individual buffets, while diners can choose one main course from a reduced à la carte menu of signature dishes.

“The challenge of having Japanese dishes served for a western-style brunch really inspired me,” says Zuma’s chef Reif Othman. “A regular hotel brunch is very different from a stand-alone restaurant brunch like ours. As we serve everything fresh, I had to be more creative when it came to matching quality with timings on the buffet line.”

Made to order

Meanwhile, the Indian-French import La Porte des Indes (at The Address Dubai Mall), which opened earlier this year, has just introduced its brunch on both Fridays and Satur­days, taking it one step further.

The meal starts at a table with chaat, the Indian savoury street snacks. Guests pick their favourite chaat, which is made to order and served at their table. Moving on, appetisers and main courses are selected from an à la carte menu and, finally, only the desserts are on a buffet. To make the experience more interactive, guests are encou­raged to visit the kitchen and quiz the chefs.

“The inspiration comes from the cuisine itself – we are a fine-dining outlet serving Indian food with a difference and to fit the ideology, we decided to offer this concept,” says Vishal Rane, the head chef. “We bring the buffet to the table, where the food is served in smaller portions and diners can always order more of their favourites.”

Want versus waste

Unlike buffets, including an element of à la carte or set dishes does help limit food wastage, but clearly not as much as a full order-off-the-menu experience. Is that a key objective?

Othman agrees. “All dishes are served completely fresh, which is challenging. However, over the years I have studied the demand patterns of diners, which has made it much easier to control portions and therefore waste.”

On the other hand, at La Porte des Indes the rationale is to offer diners more choice and by giving them an à la carte option they can choose what they like, as many times as they like.

Quality and quantity

At 3in1 in the slick boutique Vida Downtown Dubai hotel, the Friday brunch is a quirky urban take on a picnic, complete with hamper and blanket – it’s moving indoors with the weather heating up. Starters and desserts are on the buffet, while a choice of seafood platters and barbecued meats for main courses are served at the table.

“When items are prepared to order, they tend to be of better quality, which is our top priority, especially with competition growing over the last few months,” says Spencer Lee Black, Vida Downtown Dubai’s executive chef.

Similarly, quality and an un­limited choice of smaller main courses are also on the agenda for Friday brunch at the long-standing French favourite Le Classique at Emirates Golf Club and Legends steakhouse at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

The Latin-American restaurant La Parrilla at Jumeirah Beach Hotel and The Cavendish at Bonnington JLT also offer starter and dessert buffets, with the main course as à la carte on Fridays. So does the Italian trattoria Positano at J W Marriott Marquis, where over an Amalfi-inspired feast, diners choose their meat, fish and pasta from a counter before the dishes are served at the table – but swapping the weekend for Sunday evenings.

Meanwhile in the capital, at Monte-Carlo Beach Club on Saadiyat Island, a French-Mediterra­nean-themed brunch is served every Friday at Le Deck. The buffet boasts a starter spread of seafood, cured meats and terrines, while four main courses that change every week are served at the table to share. And if you still have room to indulge, it’s back to the buffet for desserts.