There is more to dining out in the UAE than meets the eye, thanks to a growing number of unusual food experiences. From eating while blindfolded and snacking in the sky, to the misadventures of an animated chef, here are a few to try.
The sky’s no longer the limit for unusual dining experiences
Dining in the dark
Eating without looking first hit the culinary scene in 1999 when a blind man in Switzerland opened Blindekuh in Zurich, the world’s first restaurant where diners ate their meals in the dark.
Usually, eating is an act that involves all the senses. When you lose one of the most important ones – sight – the others are heightened, leading to an extraordinary dining experience.
Circo at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi recently hosted a Dining in the Dark night, at which blindfolded diners sat in the packed, darkened restaurant while waiters delivered three courses of signature Italian fare.
I was surprised to discover that I was better off not using cutlery – it proved to be too difficult when you can’t see what is on your plate – and so for the first time in a restaurant, I ate each course with my hands.
This tactile adventure kept me more focused on the meal than I have ever been. You are simply forced to concentrate solely on the food – not on fellow diners, not on what the food looks like and not on your mobile phone.
The event was so successful that Circo is planning to offer the experience as a regular promotion. If you cannot wait, head to Noire at the Fairmont Dubai, which offers dining in the dark from Monday to Friday. Diners are served by waiters who navigate using night-vision goggles. The 90-minute experience includes three courses for Dh325 per person.
For Circo, call 800 423 463. For Noire, call 04 311 8316.
*Stacie Overton Johnson
Helipad Sunset Supper
There is nothing quite like ending the week on a high – and what better way to do that than 63 floors up, on the highest helipad in the UAE.
St Regis Abu Dhabi recently launched its Helipad Sunset Supper, a monthly culinary journey that offers guests a sky-high view of the capital.
The experience comes complete with waiting chefs, waiters, a bar, jazz saxophonist and a guided tour to the helipad, through the five-star hotel’s back alleyways and lifts.
Sunset is the perfect backdrop for this event, which will be held monthly during the cooler months – and as you might imagine, the sweeping views out over the Corniche are breathtaking.
The number of diners is capped at 20, which is a good move because it means the space is not overcrowded, so everyone can move around easily to seek the best vantage points for photos as the sun goes down and Abu Dhabi begins to glow.
It is not often you get to mingle 255 metres in the air and enjoy extravagant bite-sized canapés alongside offerings of premium caviar and fresh oysters. As such, this experience is perfect for anyone who wants to impress visitors, or those looking to celebrate a special occasion.
And of course, for those who just love a good Instagram picture opportunity, this will help your social-media following hit new heights.
• The Helipad Sunset Supper is at St Regis Abu Dhabi on the second Friday of each month from about 5pm (times change depending on sunset). The 90-minute experience costs from Dh400 per person (excluding taxes). www.stregis.com
Le Petit Chef
When I found out the Le Petit Chef dining concept was coming to the capital, I was intrigued. This is not your average meal experience. A visual feast devised by the artistic collective Skullmapping, run by Filip Sterckx and Antoon Verbeeck, it will certainly provide plenty to talk about.
As we walk in for our 7pm sitting, we are taken to a private dining area at The Forge restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. The table looks like any other, except for the overhead light projected onto the plates.
After we order drinks and settle in, our waiter asks if we are ready to start.
Before we have time to blink, a 3-D animated “Le Petit Chef” climbs out of a manhole on the table and onto our plates. The tiny, yet resourceful foodie endures a series of challenges during the service, finally managing to deliver our virtual seafood soup in just under two minutes.
After the first video ends, we have a few minutes before the waiter brings the actual soup, cooked by real-life chefs.
The same scenario plays out twice more, with different, awe-inspiring animations. Le Petit Chef manages to catch on fire while cooking the main course – an Australian rib-eye fillet steak with vegetables, and has a ball while squirting whipped cream and rolling ice cream balls for dessert.
This experience is captivating, entertaining and can only really be properly described as a fun and interactive evening of culinary art.
• Le Petit Chef at The Forge is available for two sittings each evening, 7pm and 9pm, until the end of December. Prices start from Dh245 (excluding taxes). Call 02 818 8282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. www.ritzcarlton.com
Underwater dining at Ossiano
If you have not been to this deep-sea restaurant at Atlantis, The Palm, it is time to book a table. Descend the huge spiral staircase into an atmosphere of serenity, with front-row seats to an underwater world of stingrays, sharks and beautifully-coloured fish.
This is serious dining. Everything, from the lighting to the music, firmly plants this venue in the upper echelons of fine dining. But it is not only the atmosphere that will keep you talking about Ossiano long after you leave. Chef de cuisine Grégoire Berger took over the kitchen two years ago and has elevated the food to Michelin Star heights.
He recently won the coveted title of San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year for the Mena region and his food should be on your culinary bucket list. On the night I visited, his seven-course tasting menu consisted of dishes such as octopus carpaccio with celery, chives, yuzu pearls and squid-ink croutons; Wagyu beef tartare with a crispy quail egg, Wagyu beef chips, kimchi, avocado and kimchi bread; and Hokkaido scallops with chorizo and mustard ice cream (yes, you read that right).
This easily ranks as one of the best meals I have ever had. The seven-course menu will set you back Dh890 a person but it is worth every dirham – especially if you have something to celebrate. If so, a scuba diver will jump into the massive tank and hold up a sign with a special message, just for you. The à la carte menu also available.
• Open from 7pm to 11.30pm daily. To book, call 04 426 2626. www.atlantisthepalm.com
Stacie Overton Johnson
Rogo’s, the roller coaster restaurant
Rogo’s in Yas Mall is the UAE’s first roller coaster restaurant – and lots of fun for diners of all ages.
Located on level one of the mall’s Town Square, the 1,301-square-metre venue is spread across two levels with silent, motorless roller coaster tracks dominating the space. There are multi-spiral, double-loop and tornado-track systems throughout, and everything you order comes rolling down one of them direct to your table.
You might think all you can order is non-spill foods – but the menu includes lasagne, spaghetti, fried chicken, curries, biryanis, burgers and much more. You can even get soup and drinks – all with tightly secured lids, of course.
Kids love the excitement of the roller coaster service – and, let’s be honest, it’s just as much fun for adults.
• Open from noon to 10pm Saturday to Wednesday and until midnight on Thursday and Friday. Call 02 565 0888, www.rollercoasterrestaurant.com
Stacie Overton Johnson
Cipriani, Yas Island
If you fancy dining on the ocean waves, without the risk of seasickness, Cipriani is the spot for you. The interior of this restaurant at Yas Marina is designed to look like the deck of a cruise ship – it even has “portholes” with water flowing past, although upon further investigation the convincing-looking illusion is revealed to be plasma video screens.
There are three private dining areas – or cabins, if you like – a wraparound terrace, lounge, and main and private kitchens.
This restaurant has style and elegance to suit the most sophisticated diner or “boatie”. The menu is a delightful mixture of Japanese and Italian dishes but offers decidedly better fare than what you might encounter on many cruise ships. Special mention must go to the melt-in-the-mouth carpaccio and fresh burrata, with tomatoes and olives sourced from Puglia in the south of Italy and Liguria in the north. Make sure you get a table by the window as you won’t want to miss the views of the marina.
If the nautical theme is not enough for you, you might want to consider the Cipriani Concierge concept. The restaurant recently partnered with Peacock Concierge and now offers “ultra-bespoke” experiences that include access to top brands such as Lamborghini, Yas Links, Safwa Marine and Yas Viceroy, to name a few.
• Cipriani Yas Island, Building 1, Yas Marina, is open daily from 6pm. Call 02 657 5400 or email email@example.com. www.ciprianiyasisland.com