Meet Gary Rhodes…is he cooking up another restaurant?
Dubai; It’s been interviews galore for FooDiva these days. And at Taste of Dubai I caught up with Gary Rhodes, yes you read right, the ever so charming Brit chef with two restaurants in Dubai; Rhodes Mezzanine at Grosvenor House and Rhodes Twenty10 at Royal Meridien. Now will he open more? Read on to find out…
1. You are renowned for reinventing traditional British classic dishes. How do you adapt your menu for non-Brit customers in Dubai? Predominantly I want to feature great British classics, but at the same time I give them a slightly different edge and style, never losing the original concept but with a new personality and character. At the end of the day, there are restaurants in Dubai for all, with such a big variety of food. And you can see that here at Taste of Dubai. Walk around, goodness me there’s so many different varieties of cuisine. So am hoping that our restaurants, in particular Rhodes Mezzanine becomes renowned for those British dishes, but very much with a French influence.
At the moment, am looking to get my teeth into something a little bit more exciting and am doing some research into Arabic cuisine – what I want to do with that, is exactly what I have done with British food. There are so many great Arabic classic dishes. I have too much respect for original concepts, but I want to add elegance to them, a new more silky finish to some of these dishes where those flavours become even more apparent and easily identified. And with that, give them that little British-French twist but hoping that anybody can perhaps come along and see this is a nice, new way of eating our [Arabic] great foods. It’s not something that happens overnight because I don’t like playing with food. I want to make sure that rather than abuse food, I need to get it absolutely spot on and right before I feature it. For instance just something very simple at the moment and there’s nothing that different about it, but am working on getting the flavours right – an Arabic lamb burger. Because I am changing the menu in Rhodes Twenty10 this year, and I am going to be doing this little feature because that burger has become so, so popular, I want to do a larger range of burgers; duck, American classic, our current burger, and an Arabic style, but with that I am going to look at the spices that have been used. I can take the meatballs, something like kofta style, but with the right relishes and accompaniments that again show it off, so that it’s like eating a more refined kofta. So that’s one little idea and many more to come.
2. What produce do you buy locally? The only produce we really source here are salad items and herbs from a local supplier. But otherwise the rest are sourced from Australia, Italy, France, UK, and beef from the US.
3. You’ve always made it clear that despite umpteen restaurants around the world, books and TV appearances, you are still a hands-on cook – how do you manage to still cook in your kitchens? People have been talking to me today asking if I am here on a holiday. Am saying what? Now that’s not my style. When you have your name on the door, I never claim to be the chef that is cooking there every day because I can’t be. I have Paul and Omar who have both been working with me for many years now. I want them to be renowned as the head chefs for each of their restaurants. When I am here, am here for a reason, and that is to go into the kitchen to put fresh inspiration into the team. I want to introduce new dishes, and I also want to make sure they are keeping everything absolutely refined. That’s very important to me. And it’s about detail in food. In London, I do less cooking than here in Dubai – whereas here am cooking on a daily basis. You will never see me leave here with a tan!
4. You recently retained your Michelin star for Rhodes 24 and W1. Clearly this supports the development of Brand Gary Rhodes. Tokyo has more Michelin star restaurants than Paris – isn’t it about time Michelin rating came to the UAE? I believe that Michelin without any shadow of a doubt will have to come to the UAE. We are in a central point of the world, and we have chefs from all over the world that are, or are opening restaurants. Pierre Gagnaire, Gordon Ramsay are here, The Ivy are coming – there’s endless great, great chefs from around the world that are joining us. And I think Abu Dhabi, will become as big, if not bigger long term. And that’s just two cities alone, there’s so many more in the UAE. I think it’s so important that they [Michelin] come and recognise the quality of the food. Long term and it will take many, many years, but whose to say that in twenty years that Dubai doesn’t become the culinary capital of the world? There’s too many great chefs now that deserve to be recognised, there’s no question about it, there’s great food here. Even chefs I have never heard of, have served some great food to me.
5. On that note, what is your favourite restaurant here other than yours of course? If I am going to be a little bit biased, it’s not one of mine, but it’s in Grosvenor House, Indego. Vineet [the chef], I love dearly, and I always enjoy what I want to eat – you go in late at night and eat something tasty, you’re in heaven. Having said that, there’s a great friend and chef here, who took my wife and I to Pier Chic. Loved it, because it wasn’t just the food which was tasty, some very simple fish, nicely cooked. I really enjoyed it because you’re in wonderful surroundings…lovely romantic touch…the sun coming down. I just thought it was wonderful, not just the food on the plate, a great event, so that’s a favourite.
6. Have you had to adapt your dishes, ingredients, or your prices given rising food costs? That’s the great thing about the company I am involved with. Pam Wilby [GM of Royal Meridien and Grosvenor House] I think is an inspiration. She is an incredible, incredible lady and she soon recognised and realised a couple of years ago with the financial climate of the UAE, in particular in Dubai, that we respond immediately. And I got contacted in London, that we are going to be reducing our prices but she wanted the menus to stay the same. So we had to cut some of our gross profit, but the point is that she wanted the guest to know that we are looking after them, and I admire that so much. There’s not many people in the UK that would have that strength. So we have maintained that, and we want to try and maintain the level of our food but by introducing some new dishes recently, and a huge menu change in May. I am going to be changing probably 80% of both restaurants’ menus, so will be here for quite a trip. Am so excited with the new dishes I will be featuring. I want to try and see if we can bring those prices down just that little bit more. It’s not about buying cheaper ingredients, I will never do that to the guest. The most important thing is that we are serving them the ultimate we possibly can, but we are prepared to swallow that little bit harder and take it. I would rather have a full restaurant like that, than a half empty one, just by making a few extra dirhams.
7. What’s your favourite dish from your two Dubai menus? Difficult one…the dishes I am most proud of is the white tomato soup at Rhodes Mezzanine. It is an amuse bouche, but it’s become a top feature of the menu. I took it off once, and there was virtually a riot as you can imagine. So I put it back on. If a guest requests it as a starter, we will give it to them. The bread and butter pudding because I’ve been making that for twenty years or more. But I love the lobster omelette thermidor, it’s heaven, wonderful. And that was looking at a classic French dish, nothing British about this one. I took the concept of that, and it’s turned into a little flat omelette with softly poached lobster, thermidor sauce on top, enriched with lobster bisque reduction, and a little bit of sauce hollandaise. With a trickle of roast lobster oil, it’s a sensation. For Rhodes Twenty10, the burger is very popular – am very happy with that dish. I generally like our sharing plates, I wanted that restaurant to allow the guest to create their own meal, and once guests start they absolutely love it.
8. Are we likely to see any more of your restaurants opening here in Dubai, the rest of the UAE and the region as a whole? If so, what concepts and when? Keep watching! [he smiles]. I am not even going to give you a hint. The smile probably tells you enough. That’s why I am studying Arabic cuisine, IF I do something again, it’s going to have an Arabic taste, the menu will almost become controversial, but exciting!
9. And finally Gary, anything else you’d like to add for FooDiva readers? I have fallen in love with the Middle East, I adore Dubai so much, I love the great warmth and positive thinking of everybody. There’s never a negative, no matter what situation, everybody pulls together as a full team and one big family to create something better. Quite rare to find that back home.
Gotta love him back, no? Well FooDiva friends, let’s see what Gary has in store for us this year. In the meantime, you can still catch him at Taste of Dubai today. I can certainly vouch for Mezzanine’s white tomato soup, it has to go down as one of Dubai’s most memorable dishes – I am that annoying guest that requests it as a starter. And also Twenty10’s fillet steak burger, forget the bun, it’s served on roast confit potato and topped with seared fois gras – if you missed my review, click here to read. And if you’re in the mood for cooking, click here to download all of Gary’s Taste recipes.
For a round-up of what to eat at Taste, check out my fellow foodie blogger’s post, I live in a Frying Pan.
Rhodes Mezzanine: Open dinner only (closed Sunday). T: +971 4 3998888.
Rhodes Twenty10: Open dinner only (closed Monday). T: +971 4 3995555.