Dining in Dubai: What To Expect in 2014

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Some thoughts on highlights and lowlights in the year ahead:

Openings will continue full steam ahead. Four Seasons is due around towards the end of the year, and there’s whispers of Zuma/Petit Maison owners are going in with something big. The group are having a huge 2014 in the UAE, with their Abu Dhabi venture in Sowwah Square also set for completion. Palazzo Versace might finally open at some stage this year too, but I’m not holding my breath. Waldorf Astoria are coming to the Palm, and Sofitel are opening Downtown. Greg Malouf will probably open as discussed above – who knows where. Sass cafe will be a big one in the DIFC over the next month or so.

Closings. There’s going to be lots of them. Eventually. It’s just going to take the owners a while before they realise the market is saturated and there’s no way they can pull themselves out of the red. I’m wondering who is going to eat at all these fine dining restaurants on the Palm, personally. But unfortunately they and others supported by international bucks will stay, and might just suck your favourite chefs and concepts away as they constantly refurb and rebrand. Some of your favourites will no longer be there by the end of 2014, so if you like what someone’s doing, get your butt in there and support them.

Areas of growth. Look to districts like Al Quoz, which is getting edgier by the second, and will become Dubai’s Soho, albeit dry as the desert it sits next to. Another spot to watch is the Jumeirah/Umm Suqeim foreshore, which in the preparation for Expo 2020 is undergoing a gigantic uphaul. Fishing harbours, souqs, new beach parks and street food all planned. There’s already some reasonable action in Umm Suqeim 1 with the lovely Seaview (mid-priced fish market restaurant) at the Fishing Harbour 1, and Lebaneesh and some other food-carts including dutch panckaes and snowcones at Kite Beach. Hopefully JLT will chuff along, but I’m unsure many new openings will be sustainable. Downtown will continue to expand, and finally destroy all pretenses the Dubai Marina and Mina Seyahi areas have of being the hub of Dubai’s Dining scene. And they have parking.

Popups. These will get bigger and better this year. The smarter of Dubai’s venues have already realised that a brand name only carries interest for so long, and the best way to inject more excitement into a forgotten venue is another big name. I’m expecting more week-long visits and plenty of very tired jet-setting celebrity chefs to shake hands with. Hopefully Lime and Tonic will continue with their secret dinners, and maybe something like Dinner Club No. 57 will start up in Dubai? Apparently there’s also a vintage food truck for hire. Tomas Reger – will you rent it and park it outside my place please?

Events. Taste of Dubai should pull its socks up this year, but probably won’t. Dubai Food Carnival is the one to watch for, and you’ll probably even catch me in a feisty discussion there at some point. Gulfood follows it and is even bigger than ever – now you have five days in Feb where it will be impossible to get around Trade Centre Roundabout in less than 45 minutes. The Specialty Food festival will bring a little refinement in November. Markets will get bigger and better this year. After the successful expansion of the Ripe market into the Courtyard and Safa Park, expect more, possibly in Abu Dhabi too. The Farmers Market is still the prize – let’s hope they can keep it going a little longer this year, and maybe consider an inside expansion when it warms up.

Media. Respect for Bloggers. Of course, I’m a little biased… Many of Dubai’s food bloggers are now leaving the sidelines and heading mainstream. Did you know that quite a few of the articles you read in the National Eats, Gourmet, BBC Good Food ME, Caterer Middle East and other traditional media are now written by bloggers you will find also contributing to Fooderati Arabia? Not only that, blogs are becoming more respected for their impartial, timely, and relevant reviews, over and above what you will find in a monthly publication, Tripadvisor and more. I’ve been out with Foodiva while she’s been fan-mobbed. Unfortunately I’m not quite a celebrity yet, but I’ll keep wearing my Jacki-O glasses just in case. (Oh, and it’s a secret, but we might just get together and release an online Dubai food magazine of our own. Shhhh……)

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