In 2001, Dubai was endowed with plenty of Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, as well as a smattering of five-star venues and one ‘seven’-star hotel offering varying international fare. Yet the city began to realise its culinary ambitions when Gordon Ramsay, arguably the world’s most famous Michelin-starred chef at the time, opened Verre that year (significantly, his first restaurant outside the UK). Four years later and a long list of Michelin names were opening restaurants in the emirate, including Vineet Bhatia (Indego by Vineet, 2005), Gary Rhodes (Rhodes Mezzanine, 2005), Marco Pierre White (Frankie’s, 2007), Michel Rostang (Rostang the French Brasserie, 2008), Pierre Gagnaire (Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, 2009) and Yannick Alleno (STAY by Yannick, 2010).
Through the course of the past decade, Dubai has established itself as a regional hub of high-end cuisine, though it’s arguable that as the city’s heady excess peaked in the mid-noughties, substance gave way to style and unscrupulous restaurants were able to charge prices that didn’t represent the quality of the food. But when Dubai felt the sting of the economic downturn, restaurants had to work for their customers, prices dropped and standards were raised. Though all the top restaurants may be imported brand names, the hard-working protégés of Michelin-star chefs are beginning to be recognised in their own right. Surely it’s only a matter of time before Dubai will produce world-renowned restaurants of its own.
Music & Nightlife
Dubai’s party scene has grown like a conga line throughout the past decade. Back in 2001, nightlife was dominated by beach hangout Chicago Beach Village (where the Madinat now stands), the Planetarium at Wafi and Atlantis at the Hard Rock Café. The Mina Moon and Motion beach parties were also popular before the municipality deemed them bad taste, and beachside clubbing licences were revoked.
Five years on and the scene was once again conquered by two hotspots: Trilogy and Peppermint. Yet by now Time Out’s pages were also flush with international DJs, such as Pete Tong and Tiësto. Home-grown clubs such as MIX, Zinc, M-Level and Terminal all blossomed, offering an increasingly diverse roster from chart-friendly R&B and cover-band fodder to breakbeat. Later, around 2007, clubs such as the cultish iBO (formerly Terminal) and The Apartment threw more genres (even drum’n’bass!) into the mix, and 360° opened in 2005, to become one of the world’s best bars. By 2009 Dubai’s beach clubbing scene had taken off like a shamal; with Nasimi revolutionising everything, Barasti expanding into beach club nights and XL Beach Club also riding the wave this year.
As for live music? From Sting in 2001 to repeat visits from (‘safe’) legends Elton John, Bryan Adams and Shakira over the past decade, today it’s not uncommon for Dubai to invite edgier acts, such as N.E.R.D and the late Amy Winehouse.
Dubai’s shopping scene 10 years ago was concentrated around Old Dubai, which, at the time, was the built-up hub of the city. Deira City Centre was the hottest option for shoppers (there were plenty of bargains around, although most of our favourite chain stores had yet to arrive), and both Al Ghurair Centre and BurJuman (without Saks) were good destinations.
Fast-forward 10 years and the city is spoiled for choice. Not only do we have more than 10 impressive malls at our disposal (including The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates and the themed Ibn Battuta), but there are a number of standalone boutiques stocking hard-to-find brands. Our favourite international chain stores and designers are commonplace and the city is getting a taste for all things vintage, with a small but developing pre-loved scene (think Garderobe and Bambah).
While there was already a healthy spa scene in Dubai by 2001, these were mainly within the confines of five-star hotels. One of the key spots was the Caracalla Spa and Health Club at Le Royal Méridien, which opened in 2000. Today the hotel and its spa are still popular with visiting celebrities, particularly English footballers, looking to escape the media glare.
In the past two years we’ve seen the number of express nail shops and spa chains leap, with an ever-growing raft of outlets such as the popular SensAsia appearing in malls around town. As a result, pampering and grooming have been solidified as everyday essentials rather than rare treats.
It will be little surprise to hear that Dubai’s most popular film release in 2001 was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, tying in nicely with the 2011 release of the final instalment in the franchise. It seems the city’s taste for fantasy films has gone full circle in 10 years, as 2001’s second highest-grossing entry was Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy Returns, with comedy action caper Rush Hour 2 in third place and blockbuster Pearl Harbor in fourth.
This year’s most popular film – so far, at least – is Transformers: Dark of the Moon, followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Fast Five, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. They’re all big blockbuster sequels.
The star-studded Dubai sporting scene has grown in the past decade, sprouting from a seed of high-profile one-off events. The Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament and the Dubai Tennis Championships were well under way 10 years ago, but both were then thought of as money-spinners for second-tier stars. It wasn’t until 2001, and the first appearance of Tiger Woods, that the golfing world took notice. Tiger finished as runner-up that year, but won in 2006 and 2008. Meanwhile, Roger Federer cemented the Dubai Tennis Championships as a bona-fide competition by attending and winning the event four times from 2003 to 2007, preceding his 2005 victory with a practice match against Andre Agassi on the Burj Al Arab helipad.
Tennis and golf are still going strong in 2011, while newer tournaments such as the FINA World Swimming Championships (which came to Dubai in 2010), the strengthening of local soccer leagues through overseas buy-ins, and the world-class International Cricket Council’s stadium in Dubai Sports City (finished in 2009) are bringing more sports stars our way.
Although it’s still developing, Dubai’s art scene has come a long way since 2001. Back then, the place to go to seek out the arts was the Bastakiya area in Old Dubai. Renovations to restore the area began in 2001 and it wasn’t until 2003 that the area’s first art gallery, XVA Gallery, opened. Then 2007 saw the first Art Dubai fair, which has now grown to 81 exhibitors.
Today, more established artists are commonly displayed in the ritzy galleries of DIFC, while the industrial area of Al Quoz, particularly Al Serkal Avenue with its spacious warehouses, has become the go-to spot to view underground and emerging as well as established artists. •