The super-chef talks to Time Out about changing his menus, rival restaurants and trying to forget Antony Worrall Thompson.
In town for the recent Taste of Dubai event, Gary Rhodes took to the stage and prepared dishes from Rhodes Mezzanine to tempt the show goers. Chris Anderson caught up with him to talk changing menus and Anthony Worrall Somebody-or-other…
Have you enjoyed Taste of Dubai? I think Taste of Dubai is absolutely fantastic. In this one location, the public can enjoy the food of so many different restaurants. How often do you get that opportunity, when you go to one location and taste so many different foods? And there are all the different styles and personalities within the food. It’s a great thing, a culinary education.
What’s it like when all you chefs get together? I love that family community among chefs – and this is a chance for us all, and hotel managers, restaurateurs, to get to know the guests. You get that one-to-one with them. They may like certain things, but you get that response that you may not get if they were sat in the restaurant. They feel free, they feel comfortable, and that’s good for us.
Any feedback on Rhodes Mezzanine? We’re getting a great response. People here are saying that either they’ve enjoyed it or that they are hearing a lot about it. That’s been an experience for me – that news travels fast in Dubai. The greatest advert of all is word of mouth.
Any standout dishes people like? People are telling their friends, ‘You must try that white tomato soup.’ Everybody is talking about it, so I will keep featuring it. Hopefully it will become a Rhodes Mezzanine classic.
How involved with the restaurant are you? Oh, well there’s all this hype about chefs sticking their name on something, and then off they go and forget about it, but that’s not the way I work – I won’t work like that – simply because it’s my reputation. I wouldn’t take on another restaurant unless I knew I had exactly the right head chef in place that I could trust. Paul Upton is the head chef at Mezzanine, and he has been with me six years. He knows what I want. But you know, we opened in September, and here I am on my fourth trip.
I think that’s a pretty regular visit. I’m back again the first week in April. We’re changing the menu at the beginning of March; I’ve been through all the dishes with him while I’ve been over this week. It doesn’t go on the menu until I’ve come over and cooked it, and shown them personally that’s the way it is. And that’s the way I work. I photograph every dish – I give them the recipe for every dish up to about 10-12 portions. And that’s how we operate in all of the Rhodes restaurants.
Why change the menu so soon? Well, when you’re opening a restaurant, although the head chef and the sous-chef have worked with me for several years, there are a lot of new people, and I don’t ever run before I can walk. I always start with a much simpler menu, something they can maintain confidently and consistently.
As we go on, and always during the first year, I always bear in mind that I may not have things quite the way I want them – certainly the quality, but maybe not the style. I won’t quite have it the way I want until the end of the first year. We’re going to introduce a lot more detail in the dishes, take it to another level, with a whole new depth of flavours.
What’s next for the Rhodes name? I won’t do anything else until I feel comfortable with it. There’s no point in that, it all becomes a bit slack. It takes time. We have eight restaurants at the moment, but that’s taken years. Around eight-10 years. We are looking at other projects in London and out of London too, but as I say it’s ‘looking into’. They’re going to happen, but it’s just a question of selecting the right time for them.
What restaurants have you been to in Dubai? Indego is good. I know that’s another Grosvenor House one, but it’s a fantastic restaurant. I’m a regular. And of course you’ve got Gordon’s restaurant…
Have you eaten there? Yes I have, and that’s another quality chef you’ve got there, the Michelin-starred Matt Pickop. I think there’s a great scene forming, with talk of other chefs in Britain coming over. So I’m proud to be part of it, and glad to be a part of it quite early.
What do you think of Arabic food? To be honest, I haven’t really experienced enough of it. I’ve had tastings. I’ve actually been coming over to Dubai for eight years now. Some food I’ve liked, some I haven’t been so keen on. It’s a learning experience for me, but I’ve never been afraid to try any food. And obviously, since being involved in this restaurant, it’s been about coming over, staying in the kitchen and cooking. I haven’t tasted a lot of local food yet.
Do you think you’d convince Antony Worrall Thompson, who was at Taste of Dubai, to set up a restaurant here? Who’s Antony Worrall Thompson? You can write that bit in. He’s a good old buddy of mine – I’ve known Anthony for about 25 years now. I don’t think he wants to do that right this second, but anything is possible.
Mezzanine, Grosvenor House (04 399 8888). Gary Rhodes’ new menu will be launched at the beginning of March.