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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

Jason Atherton brings his casual fine-dining concept Marina Social to Dubai

The British chef, who owns 17 restaurants worldwide, says he is nervous about how Marina Social, which has been designed specifically for Dubai, will be received.
Jason Atherton at Marina Social at the InterContinental Dubai Marina. Sarah Dea / The National
Jason Atherton at Marina Social at the InterContinental Dubai Marina. Sarah Dea / The National

When Marina Social opens at the InterContinental Dubai Marina this week, it will be British chef Jason Atherton’s 17th restaurant worldwide.

But even with 16 previous successful openings – including his Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social in London – he still gets nervous. Really nervous.

“I have hospitality spilling out my fingers,” the 43-year-old chef says. “It’s the blood that runs in my veins. I’m having sleepless nights because I’m anxious about what people are going to make of the restaurant.”

Marina Social is an impressive-looking venue. On the first level of the InterContinental, the restaurant’s interior is sleek and sophisticated. It boasts an outdoor terrace that, with stunning views of the marina, may never be empty.

The restaurant is part of Atherton’s successful “Social” restaurant empire, a concept he refers to as deformalised fine dining. His Social restaurants are meant to be places for friends to gather after work or following a show; to share a meal or just a dessert; to talk, connect and simply enjoy good food.

“We’ve had a lot of fun with the menu in Dubai,” says Atherton. “It’s a sharing-style menu. We open at 6pm – we can catch people on the way home from work.”

Atherton lights up when he talks about his food. Beaming with pride, he explains his favourite dishes – but won’t give too much away before Friday’s opening.

A highlight? “The tomato and burrata,” he says. “I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it’s not just tomato and burrata. It’s way, way more. When it comes to the table, it’s far removed from tomato and burrata. It’s very, very cool.

“We have certain dishes that are ‘Instagram-able’, and that’s one of them. I want Marina Social to be Dubai Social. It only belongs in Dubai. It’s been designed for this city.”

When he’s not opening restaurants, Atherton spends most of his time at his flagship Pollen Street Social in London, but he’s heavily involved with all of the others. He says he’ll make at least five trips a year to Dubai and when he’s here, he’ll be cooking.

“I love what I do,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to have a job where I get paid for doing something I really love. Quite frankly, I’d probably do it for free, because I just love it so much.”

During his early days as a chef, Atherton trained with accomplished chefs Pierre Koffmann, Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White. He landed a position with Gordon Ramsay and opened Ramsay’s restaurant Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek in 2001. He returned to the UK in 2005 to open another Ramsay ­restaurant.

In 2010, he finally branched out on his own and never looked back. He opened Pollen Street Social in 2011 and it was awarded a Michelin star that same year. He now has restaurants in the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York and Dubai. He’s opening a restaurant in Sydney next, followed by Bangkok and another in London next year.

Atherton’s determination has driven his quick rise to the top, but he also credits his team of highly skilled chefs.

British chef Tristin Farmer will lead the kitchen at Marina Social. He’ll be joined by a handful of chefs who have worked with Atherton for years.

“Tristin is a great chef,” he says. “He’s very calm, very collected. He’s a great teacher, he’s a great chef – but you have to be much more than that. It’s like a magic ingredient.”

Diners in Dubai should benefit from that magic ingredient if Marina Social lives up to Atherton’s reputation. The nerves are still there, but his confidence isn’t far behind.

“However great you make your food is how great you’ll become,” he says. “If you make great food, people are going to come. It’s simple.”

• Marina Social opens at InterContinental Dubai Marina on Friday. Call 04 446 6664 or visit www.marinasocialdubai.com for more information

sjohnson@thenational.ae