In the two years since I opened Mezzanine, my restaurant in Dubai, I've got a flavour for the emirate and all it has to offer: great food, vibrant nightlife, beaches and bewitching desert
My first trip to Dubai was eight years ago, but in the two years since I opened Mezzanine, my restaurant at the Grosvenor House Hotel (www.grosvenorhouse-dubai.com, then click Flavours, then Rhodes Mezzanine), I’ve been there 15 times – great for air miles! The first time I went, I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’d never been to the Middle East before. I remember thinking, "Wow, this is somewhere I really have to show my wife and kids" – and that’s what happened. We came back for a holiday the next year and loved it.
Of course, it’s changed since then… so many new buildings, and iconic developments such as the Burj Al Arab (see www.jumeirah.com, then navigate) and The Palm (www.thepalm.ae). I know the cliché about Dubai is that it has changed so much, even in recent years – but I mean, if I have a four-month gap between visits, I notice the differences.
When I’m in Dubai, I’m generally working long hours at my restaurant but I have had a chance to look around. One of my favourite things to do is to go out into the desert. It’s just stunning, the best thing by far that you can do there. There’s so much texture and beauty. I know it’s just sand, but with every breeze the landscape changes.
There’s a spot out there called Al Hadheera at the Jumeirah Bab Al Shams resort. It feels like a mini village in the middle of nowhere, though it's actually only 300m from the resort. There’s a fish market, a barbecue and delicious suckling lamb cooked beneath the sand which is so juicy and has a magnificent depth of flavour. Then you’ve got fantastic entertainment there, from belly dancers and a display of horsemanship to camel trains and henna painting. It’s just great.
If I had to associate one word with Dubai, it would be “magical”. It’s like, with a shake of a wand, there’s always something new. There are beautiful beaches, which I think surprises many people; they really are picture-postcard stuff. Dubai is architecturally modern, as I’ve said – but if you look, you can find the old history and there is a balance of structures. It’s pretty much crime-free, which is phenomenal, and there is this incredible warmth from the people – a great welcome with open arms, which I think comes directly from the pride ordinary people feel about what’s been achieved here.
I love the fact that you get tourists, as well as expats, from all over the world. It’s a real mix of society. If you go there on holiday, you can just look forward to a complete five-star visit; you’re offering yourself the biggest treat you could possibly have.
I’m not into shopping so much, but of course my wife is. The malls are quite phonomenal, especially the Mall of the Emirates (www.malloftheemirates.com), and you can even go skiing (www.skidubai.com). I love to watch – it’s almost like you’re looking at the Olympics. I’ve never skiied myself and don’t want to, just not my thing. I’d rather go and explore the mall’s massive open-plan food market which is superb. Great quality and lots of variety.
When I’m in Dubai I always stay at the Grosvenor House, of course, because that’s where my restaurant is. I think it has a British feel to it, which is reflected in the name, but at the same time it has great international variety. I love the Buddha Bar (www.buddha-bar.com, then click Buddha Bar in the main photo frame, then Buddha Bar Dubai) which is architecturally incredible. As someone who is really into cars, I even like looking at the car park outside it every night, where you’ll get Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Rolls Royces all lined up. Stunning!
Although the hotel is designed with business in mind, you can very easily get over to Le Royal Meridien just over the way, which is very family-friendly with great eateries, swimming pools and the beach right by it. I think you’ve also got to go and pop along and have a look at the Burj Al Arab, the world’s first six-star hotel – or is it seven? Even if you won’t get to see the rooms, non-guests can go along for afternoon tea if you book in advance. Next time, I really should get along to The Palms and have a look at the Atlantis hotel. I’ve heard great things about it.
As for dining, well of course, I have to say my own restaurant Mezzanine (www.grosvenorhouse-dubai.com/Flavours/mezzanine.html), don’t I? It has great British classics, done with a French twist. There are all the old favourites there like jam roly poly with fresh custard. My favourite dish is oxtail cottage pie – oxtail braised gently for up to six hours, then taken off the bone, put into a delicate pastry case, topped with some mashed potatoes, and oxtail gravy on the side. Elegant and delicious. We do bread and butter pudding too, which is my absolute favourite. In fact, that would be the fantasy choice for my last ever meal, with Marilyn Monroe at the table with me!
I know it’s also at the Grosvenor House, but I’d really recommend people dine at Indego (www.grosvenorhouse-dubai.com, then click Flavours, then Indego), which serves modern Indian food and has a great head chef, Vineet Bhatia, as well as wonderful service. It has later opening hours than my place, so if I’ve been working hard, I can go and grab a shower once I’ve finished, then get some delicious food cooked by Vineet.
Where else? Well, there’s Al Muntaha at the Burj Al Arab (www.jumeirah.com, then navigate) where you’re 200m above the sea, looking down, so not one for you if you are afraid of heights. At the opposite extreme you’ve got Al Mahara, also at the Burj. You get to it on a pretend submarine, and the tables are by a gigantic aquarium for a real underwater feeling, with sharks swimming by… I’ve been to Gordon Ramsay’s place Verre (www.gordonramsay.com/dubai) a couple of times and always eaten well. It’s at the Hilton Dubai Creek hotel.
I work hard in Dubai, but I always allow myself a day or two at the end just to switch off, enjoy some time with my wife and kids, lie by the pool, have a cocktail. My son is now working out there, so it’s always great to catch up with him. I think we’ll be visiting the Rivington Bar and Grill (www.rivingtongrill.ae) together when I’m next out there, because I really want to take a look at it. I’m not super-critical when I’m dining out any more – though, yes, I used to be, of course. Dining for me is about bringing together friends and family so I enjoy the company. If I can have my family and great food together in Dubai… well, then that’s perfect.