With the two Gordon Ramsay-trained chefs no longer at the helm of Table 9 in the city, Penelope Walsh meets the British duo, Scott Price and Nick Alvis, and learns more about what the future holds for them.
Nick and Scott, an established creative partnership in Dubai since 2011, are moving on to pastures new. After almost two years at the helm of the much lauded Table 9 by Nick and Scott in Deira’s Hilton Dubai Creek, collecting accolades along the way (including Highly Commended awards from Time Out Dubai in the Newcomer and the British category) the pair are preparing to embark on a new culinary challenge in the city.
‘It was a long thought-out thing for the both of us. We made the decision in April 2013, so it’s been a long time, and a long lead up,’ Scott Price says.
‘Honestly, we’ve been there a long time, and you have to bang the drum as loud as possible and continuously to get people to come, regardless of how good you are. Also, it’s not our own business. That’s the main reason. If you want to grow as a chef, you want to be able to change what you want to change and make the experience you want to give. We wanted our own place, and to get there, the only option was to leave, as much as that hurt,’ he adds.
The pair concede that they were limited in changing the physical space at the restaurant. ‘We inherited the restaurant [it was previously British chef Gordon Ramsay’s Verre], it was already there, we could only change so much. We were limited in that the ideas we had for Table 9 had to fit around what was already there,’ Scott says. ‘The restaurant had been refurbed 18 months before. They had spent a lot of money and they were a little reluctant to change it,’ says Nick Alvis. Scott agrees, adding: ‘They didn’t anticipate Gordon leaving.’
‘I don’t regret leaving, but I’m sad, still very sad about leaving something we worked so hard on,’ Nick says, and the expression on their faces tells you that they are not exaggerating when they use the word ‘horrible’.
Although their own close working relationship is well-known, there is a sense that the two chefs feel great affection for the entire staff at Table 9, using the word ‘family’ and dubbing restaurant manager Viktorija Paplauskiene (who they will be taking with them), as ‘so much more than just a team member’.
It was when Nick and Scott realised they were ready ‘to do something fresh’ that they came in contact with the CEO of the Albawady Group, who in turn, was keen on developing the Spinneys brand. A partnership began with Nick and Scott advising Spinneys on developing own-brand products such as bakery items. From this, Nick and Scott began creating from scratch a new concept for a casual bistro for the Albawady Group. The first outlet, called The Taste Kitchen, is now due to open in the Silicon Oasis Mall in April 2014, with plans to expand it to further outlets across Dubai, with three sites already lined up.
‘We are developing the concept for them, from the ground up. That was interesting, we’d never worked on something from scratch like that before. It is exciting to talk about something, come up with a whole concept and then bring it to life,’ Scott tells us. And Nick adds that dealing with architects and designers was a fascinating learning curve.
The new concept promises to be a relaxed venture, light, airy and welcoming, with a modern urban design and juice bar attached. The menu will have a light and healthy focus, and Nick talks us through one of the dishes they have developed: ‘We are going to take local baby chickens, butterfly them out and char grill them, and serve that with a fresh, raw salad and a light vinaigrette. Our cuisine and how we cook has started changing quite a lot, we’re using a lot of raw herbs and raw vegetables, keeping things fresh and full of flavour but not heavy.’
The chefs’ culinary journey together actually began nearly a decade ago with a growing camaraderie and friendship in the kitchen of Gordon Ramsay at Claridges. ‘It was really hard. Seventeen hour days were relentless. Gordon only had a few restaurants at the time and he was there every day,’ Scott recalls. ‘We both had the same attitude. We both worked really hard there. You’ve got to get stuck in and prove your worth. I think people were quite scared that Nick and I would be running the kitchen.’
As Nick and Scott regularly shared the same days off, they were increasingly spent together, chatting in a pub in Pollen Street in London. Incidentally, this is now the site where fellow Gordon Ramsay protégé, Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton’s restaurant Pollen Street Social now stands. While the pair joke that off-duty topics such as football were still the regular order of the day, Nick says that their futures as chefs also began to come up: ‘I was always like that. All I wanted to talk about in my spare time, whether with friends or family was chefs, food and restaurants.’
‘When Verre was being refurbished, I had no menus and no staff. I rang Nick and said, look we can pretty much do whatever we want out here. We just wanted to open a restaurant. At a lot of places in Dubai, it’s the highest in the world, or there’s a fountain out the window. We didn’t have any of those things. We had our knowledge and experience. We wanted to focus on good food, service, value for money and hoped that was enough to bring people in and keep them coming back.
‘It was scary. The last night of Verre, I remember walking around the restaurant thinking, this is it. When you’ve got Gordon Ramsay’s name above the door, people are going to come, but when it’s not there...’ Scott trails off. But they did bring in the punters, and gained public affection for the restaurant in Dubai.
While it the time has come to move on from their first venture in the emirate, in the pipeline for Nick and Scott are plans ‘further down the line’ to open their own restaurant concept in Dubai and they are currently looking for a site. ‘We want to do it properly, we don’t want to rush it,’ Scott says. ‘We’ve worked really hard in our lives and to wait another eight months to a year is not going to damage what we are doing: to
get what we want, exactly what we want and in the right location.’
The right location, however, is still under discussion. ‘We’ve worked in locations that are hard to get customers to come to,’ Scott adds, but Nick doesn’t quite agree: ‘For me, everyone laughs when I say this, but
I used to like being in the Creek. I love the fact that people travel and make that effort, drive all the way up Sheikh Zayed Road and moan about it, in order to come and spend the evening with us.’
Scott on the other hand, says that he would be rather keen to open on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard: ‘There is quite a lot going on in the food scene and it’s nice to have that healthy competition.’
Also up for debate is a new addition to service – lunch, which Scott tells us they have never done before in Dubai. ‘He’s doing lunch! I’m doing dinner,’ Nick jokes.
Already on the menu, however, will be the same food ethics, respect for sustainability and local sourcing, seen at Table 9, which both deem a given. ‘It’s very important. I remember when Gordon served horse meat at Ascot, someone dumped a massive pile of manure outside the front door of Claridges. It makes you very aware,’ explains Scott. ‘It does also help in writing menus, because we want our food to be reasonably priced. Having a knowledge of what’s good locally, such as the vegetables we use, helps,’ Nick points out.
Also likely to appear on the menu are some of the most famous signature dishes from Table 9. It is a shame, they say, to have worked so hard in creating these recipes, only to give them up, adding that they will be particularly keen to use the crispy hen’s egg again.
That’s the past, present and fairly immediate future for Nick and Scott, but since Dubai is a notoriously transient place, where most people arrive with a time limit already in their head, will the chefs really be building their foreseeable future here? ‘We don’t even discuss it do we?
It’s a place where opportunities just keep coming our way,’ Nick counters and Scott agrees that moving away is off the table: ‘We’ve both worked in Michelin-star kitchens in London. And we have asked ourselves: do we want a Michelin star? And it is nice that you don’t have the pressure of what it brings. You can change the menu and change a dish. In London the first thought is, what would Michelin think of it? Here, it is all about what the guests think of it. We’ve created a good base for ourselves, a good reputation. We want to finish what we’ve started.’