26 Jan 2016
3 min read
The land of opportunity or is it just an enigma? Antioco Piras talks about his love/hate relationship with Dubai’s fine dining scene…

Dubai leaves you thinking, wondering and questioning. Is this city one person’s dream that just doesn’t quite work for the rest of us? From whichever angle you view it its exterior is shiny, gold and glittery, yet if you scratch the surface it is often flawed and lacking in attention to detail.

An example is in the finishing’s of some of the luxury hotel properties. Compared with say the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria property in Italy, which is opulent and oozes Italian class, with exceptional finishes, the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah lets itself down in the finer details (note, the cheap sliding entrance door!). I just don’t get it. Why go all out and make the biggest and grandest gestures to then not follow through on the small details.

Having said that, and as much as I find this lack of attention to detail frustrating, I love this place. Whenever I leave I’m already thinking about when my next trip will be. It feels like a city of prospects—the new land of opportunity.

As a foodie with somewhat of a penchant for fine dining and Michelin-standard restaurants, in my opinion, Dubai offers very little and even the chefs and restaurants here already that veer towards fine dining in their primary restaurants, have had to adapt to the marketplace in order to survive.

Pierre Gagnaire, Heinz Beck and Yannick Alléno’s restaurants in Dubai are often half empty, yet Le Petite Masion, Zuma and La Cantine are usually packed. The latter restaurants all offer consistently great food and, particularly with Zuma, the atmosphere is also incredible, but the real top end fine-dining restaurants just seem to really struggle here.

As the co-founder of FOUR, we decided to launch FOUR Middle East last year. There were two reasons behind our decision to take the brand into this new market. Firstly, I personally love this part of the world, but more importantly, FOUR is a pioneer and with that we aim to promote the fine-dining restaurant sector in this region by celebrating those chefs and restaurants with a growing presence here.

One shining example of Dubai and the Middle East’s potential is at the newly opened Palazzo Versace hotel. Just like FOUR, the hotel’s general manager, Patrick Robineau, shares this same forward-thinking vision.

I recently had the pleasure of staying at the hotel and, unlike some of the other top-end hotels in the city, every last details has been thoughtfully finished in search of the owners’ quest for perfection. But then Robineau is no stranger to luxury, having previously been the F&B director atAtlantis, The PalmDubai, for many years, while Palazzo Versace’s general manager, Heinrich Morio,was previously at the helm of the iconicBurjAlArab.

What is perhaps most refreshing about the Palazzo Versace Dubai is Robineau’s vision to showcase some of the world’s greatest chefs at the hotel’s Enigma restaurant. Opening earlier this month, a different chef takes over the restaurant every three months, starting with Spain’s three-Michelin-starred Quique Dacosta.

Quique is already impressing the diners of Dubai—including me—with his fresh and Mediterranean-inspired take on fine dining, delivering courses such as his exquisite foie gras dish, which is layered with a gel of elderflower, tiny lychee meringues and lychee granita, finished with delicately placed rose petals.

This dish now comfortably sits within my top 10 dishes of all time. Dacosta’s 12-course menu at Enigma mixes some of his classics, such as the edible rose dish, with some news ones that have been specifically created for the Enigma experience.

What do I think of Enigma? I love it! It’s a refreshing edition to the city’s fine-dining scene that will be sure to shake things up, taking diners on a journey from Spain to Sweden (hint, hint!) to Peru and the rest of the world, while some of the greatest chefs guide you through the journey.