Taste of Dubai highlights

Dubai’s annual food fest is back, offering a host of celeb chefs and signature dishes at bargain prices. Daisy Carrington explains

Gary Rhodes
Gary Rhodes
Vineet Bhatia
Vineet Bhatia
Yiannis Baxevanis
Yiannis Baxevanis
Giorgio Locatelli
Giorgio Locatelli
The Wharf
The Wharf
James Martin
James Martin

For those not familiar with the event, Taste of Dubai is the foodie must-do of the year. More than a dozen of the city’s top restaurants set up stalls to provide bite-sized portions of their signature dishes, while cooking enthusiasts can watch Michelin-starred chefs demonstrate their techniques at the Tefal Chef’s Theatre. For a more hands-on approach, visitors can take a class at The Philips Cookery School, where they will be given their own cooking station and ingredients, plus direction from a top chef. It all takes place from March 17-20 at Media City – see www.tasteofdubaifestival.com and read on for the lowdown.

The chefs

Gary Rhodes
Fans of nouvelle British cuisine should have no trouble recognising Gary Rhodes: he of the spiky haircut (and, more recently, Strictly Come Dancing) fame. The force behind venerable restaurant Rhodes Mezzanine, he arguably makes the best bread-and-butter pudding ever. On Friday evening he’ll be demonstrating his signature style at the Tefal Chef’s Theatre. Get there early to guarantee a seat.

Vineet Bhatia
There’s a reason Vineet Bhatia is the first Indian chef to win a Michelin star: his cooking is exceptional. Need evidence? Just book a table at Indego, the fine-dining Indian restaurant at Grosvenor House. Inventor of the chocolate samosa, Bhatia is one of the most innovative chefs in the field. To see him behind the scenes, head to the Tefal Chef’s Theatre on Thursday and Friday evenings.

Yiannis Baxevanis
The boisterous Greek chef is head honcho at Elia, one of the city’s first Greek restaurants. He’s playing a big part in this year’s festival, teaching two classes in Greek cookery at The Philips Cookery School, and giving two presentations at the Tefal Chef’s Theatre – one on Thursday night, the other during the day on Friday.

Giorgio Locatelli
Considered by many to be the best Italian chef in the UK, Giorgio Locatelli will be teaching Italian cooking at The Philips Cookery School. What better way to sample food from his Dubai restaurant, Ronda Locatelli? Participants are guaranteed a dose of his charming personality and exquisite pasta.

The restaurants

Sezzam: This international restaurant, located at the foot of Mall of the Emirates, is a Taste of Dubai newcomer. Expect some pan-Asian goodies, including hammour steamed in a banana leaf.

Iz: The Grand Hyatt Indian restaurant was the first in Dubai to introduce the concept of tapas to the world of curry. Known for delicious, small sharing portions, visitors can dine on bite-sized tandoori.

The Wharf: Set on the decks overlooking the tranquil waters of Mina A’ Salam and the Arabian Gulf, The Wharf is Dubai’s newest (if not only) gastropub. Check in for ribs.

Zheng He’s: A perennial favourite with Chinese and Western expats, the high-end Zheng He’s – situated on the water in the Madinat – serves fancy Chinese fare. Cool down with a dessert of chilled lemongrass jelly.

Awtar: Though not a newcomer to Dubai, this marks Awtar’s first year at Taste of Dubai. The Grand Hyatt’s signature Lebanese restaurant is serving up some mezze favourites.

Taste of Dubai is on March 17-20. Tickets for adults start at Dhs80 for advanced booking, Dhs100 on the door. Kids’ tickets are Dhs40 in advance, Dhs50 on the door. An adult premium ticket, which includes entry and Dhs100 worth of food vouchers, is Dhs165 in advance, Dhs175 on the door. VIP tickets, including fast track entry, two complimentary drinks, Dhs150 worth of food vouchers and VIP seating, are Dhs290 in advance, Dhs300 on the door. To book, visit www.tasteofdubai.com

The celebrity

Famed chef, TV personality and all-round good looker James Martin is returning to Taste of Dubai. He talks to us about the festival, holding a world record and his tan
So, you’re back out here for Taste of Dubai. Are you excited?
I always look forward to the festival. But really, I’m mainly out here because the weather’s so horrific in the UK. My house is 2ft deep in snow at the moment, so it was a tough decision: I either come out to my place on the Palm Jumeirah or freeze to death in Hampshire. I’m the chef with a tan. Anyway, it’s a good place to work on my book.

So you actually write your own books? We thought celebrity chefs used ghost writers.
I do write my own books, I can testify to that. I started at 8am yesterday and didn’t finish until 11pm. It’s true, some chefs don’t write their own books. If you know the chef, you can tell by the way they word things, but that’s all I’ll say about that.

You’ve been coming to Taste of Dubai for years. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in Dubai’s food scene?

The hot food location has changed. It used to be just off the Palm. Now it’s down by the Burj Khalifa.

Speaking of the Burj Khalifa, it’s broken a world record, and so have you.

The tallest building in the world doesn’t equate to the fastest chopper of carrots, if that’s what you’re referring to. But I suppose it’s the small things that matter.

What are your favourite food trends at the moment?
I hate food trends. I can’t stand them. I’ve always been about local food, but that’s difficult in Dubai. What I really don’t like is molecular gastronomy – that whole smelling salt and looking at a picture of the sea while eating fish and chips to a soundtrack of the ocean type of thing.

Um, how oddly specific. In that case, which restaurant serves the best fish and chips?
Fish and chips are always better in a fish and chip shop, because that’s what they do for a living. If you go north in the UK, up the coast, the fish and chips are fantastic.
James Martin hosts the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen in the UK. He will be presenting at Taste of Dubai

Best bites

With more than 50 dishes on offer, it’s difficult to know what to try. Here are a few of our picks
Iz’s hammour tikka

Zheng He’s deep-fried prawns with wasabi mayonnaise and mango salsa

Indego’s chocolate samosa

The Wharf’s slow-braised wagyu short ribs with crushed potatoes, parsnips and caramelised shallots

Rivington Grill’s sticky toffee pudding

Rhodes Mezzanine’s white tomato soup

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