Having opened less than a year ago, CLAY Dubai is setting a new standard for cultural dining experiences in the United Arab Emirates. FOUR speaks with CLAY Dubai’s General Manager, Hillary Mathema, to discover more about this stellar new addition to the city’s blooming culinary circuit.
Tell us a little bit about the history of CLAY Dubai – when was it founded, and what was the inspiration behind creating the space?
Almost two years since the award-winning CLAY opened its radiant doors in Manama, Bahrain, this evocative restaurant journeyed to new lands. In its true spirit, CLAY chose exploration, risk, delight, and discovery, to open a new location on Bluewaters Island, Dubai, in January 2022.
What about the restaurant’s menu – what is the style of cuisine served, and what are some dishes guests can expect?
The CLAY menu offers guests the opportunity to encounter Nikkei for its flavours and culture, a Japanese-Peruvian cuisine melting hearts across the globe. This is food inspired by the elements and ignited by two cultures which came together to create something remarkable. CLAY’s kitchen combines classic ingredients and intricate techniques to create dishes that are simultaneously diverse and intriguing, familiar yet unknown. With an extensive wine list of the Old and New World, and cocktails that infuse tastes from Tokyo to Lima, CLAY celebrates creation and its forever muse, collaboration.
If you had to pick a favourite dish or drink from the menu, what would it be and why?
The cebiche platter is, indeed, my favourite dish on the menu; it offers the opportunity to taste our cebiches and experience the wide range of flavours and textures. I would definitely enjoy this with our take on the Pisco Sour, which has a velvety texture and an aromatic presence of basil.
Where does the passion for Japanese-Peruvian cuisine stem from, and why did the team want to focus on this type of dining?
The passion stems from two culturally rich and bio-diverse cultures, which, when brought together, create unimaginable flavours from fresh and unique ingredients artistically paired. This cuisine is playful, serious and healthy, and this provides a marvellous dining experience for our guests.
Are the dishes on the menu ever changed? If so, how do new dishes come about?
We have not changed menu items per se. However, when new items are introduced to celebrate special occasions such as National Ceviche Day, this process involves our Head Chef and me developing an idea around that and using this inspiration to create dishes that embrace the occasion. For this particular theme, we decided to introduce ceviches that are unique to Peru’s key regions.
Tell us a bit more about the chef and the kitchen brigade and how they bring the restaurant’s culinary ethos to life…
Jolbi Huacho, Head Chef of CLAY, is Peruvian and leads his team in a collaborative manner involving his 3 sous chefs in the day-to-day running of the massive operation. Quality and experience are at the core of the kitchen; this is evident through the commodities that the chef and his team source and in the way that the dishes are plated: artistic and storytelling, if I may say.
What about the interior of the restaurant – what is the aesthetic like, and why was it designed this way?
Like its sister restaurant, CLAY Dubai was designed by a renowned interior architect. The space is set to inspire! Rich marble, elemental textures, eccentric and magnetic patterns, and artistic centrepieces make for a lush, electric, and Instagrammable interior. The design also captures elements of Japan and Peru to bring Nikkei to life.
What are some of the emotions and memories that you hope diners will leave with after being at CLAY Dubai, and how does the restaurant aim to foster these?
Some of the emotions and memories we hope our guests can take with them are belonging, adventure, love and health. We aim to foster these through genuine service, the ambience, the music and the culinary experience.
What, if any, is the significance of the restaurant’s name?
Our name, drawn from clay food pots in Peruvian fires, inspires the main dining area. Peruvian-Japanese cuisine lives here. In the late 19th century, Japan’s diaspora combined Peruvian ingredients with Japanese techniques to produce a style of food called Nikkei. That heritage is embodied in CLAY.
In your eyes, how does CLAY stand out compared to other restaurants in the city, and what elements make it an exceptional dining venue?
The service is heartfelt, the team is multicultural and with that comes a social setting to get to know other people and their cultures. We express the same interest in our guests, and this often leaves guests feeling warm and welcomed to the restaurant after enjoying a beautiful meal.
Are there any events or changes happening to CLAY Dubai that guests can look forward to in the future?
Most certainly, Ash lounge in Clay will host a monthly event, Nomikai, which will see us host international DJs on a monthly basis. Let’s not forget New Year’s Eve celebrations are around the corner, too.