Top 10 restaurant and food trends for 2015 – UAE

Restaurant and food trends UAE - Q'bara

A modern Middle Eastern feast at Q’bara

New research by Euromonitor International shows there are currently 6,021 F&B outlets in the UAE, with another staggering 19,000 expected to open by 2019. I hope every single one of these establishments will be propped up by sound investment and a backbone of market research that will drive concept development and location – otherwise they will not survive beyond a couple of years, let alone Expo 2020. With that in mind, here are my crystal ball musings on the top 10 trends the UAE’s restaurant and food scene is heading towards next year. I should really sell this post.

1. Relevant restaurants

New restaurant concepts will be geared towards connection and relevance whether that’s for business travellers, holidaymakers or residents. It’s all about nourishing neighbourhood eateries managed by restaurateurs not hoteliers, serving food that the customer base demands. Acknowledging diners’ nationalities is key – as an example, British food is hugely popular in Dubai given the high demographic of British residents and travellers to the region.

Imports and celeb chef restaurants aren’t leaving our shores just yet though (evident from the list below), but they will pay tribute to local food culture taking inspiration from our destination – for instance Pierre Gagnaire serving a camel milk pannacotta and duck liver hummus. Balancing innovation with traditional cooking is also important as summed up by Chef Joan Roca in a recent FooDiva interview, There is a mix; there is a balance between creativity and basics. Creativity is what attracts people to go to the restaurant, while the basics, the dishes of the region are what keeps people happy.”

Confirmed licensed restaurant openings for 2015 (as more are revealed I will update this list):

Abu Dhabi:

  • Asia de Cuba at St Regis Abu Dhabi – January 2015. 
  • Nurai’s Terrace at Zaya Nurai Island Abu Dhabi, off Saadiyat island – January 2015.
  • Catch, a seafood restaurant at St Regis Abu Dhabi beach club – January 2015.
  • Dai Pai Dong, a Chinese restaurant at Rosewood Abu Dhabi – February 2015.
  • The Sportsman’s Arms at Zayed Sports City Abu Dhabi – April 2015.

Dubai:

  • Junoon, the Indian restaurant of Michelin New York fame, at Shangri-La Dubai – end December 2014/ January 2015.
  • Japanese restaurant, Benshi at Marriott Jadaf Dubai – end December 2014/ January 2015.
  • Nusret, the Turkish steakhouse (same family as La Petite Maison, Zuma and Coya) at Four Seasons Resort Dubai – January 2015.
  • Al Dhiyafa Grand Kitchen at Habtoor Grand Dubai – January 2015.
  • Catch, a US-based seafood restaurant (different to the home-grown Abu Dhabi concept above) at Fairmont Sheikh Zayed – early 2015.
  • Asia de Cuba at Emirates Financial Towers – March 2015.
  • La Residence, a French brasserie at Raffles Dubai – March 2015. Note; Solo Bistronomia, a home-grown Italian restaurant opens in the same hotel this month (replacing Fire & Ice).
  • A Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant at Four Seasons Resort Dubai – March/ April 2015.
  • Jason Atherton’s Marina Social at the new Intercontinental Dubai Marina – June 2015.
  • Crab Tavern at Media One hotel – June 2015.
  • Spirito, a Brazilian churrascaria at Media One hotel – July 2015.
  • Asian restaurant import from London, Novikov at the Sheraton Grand Hotel Tower 2, Sheikh Zayed, Dubai – date TBC.

2. Food trucks

The convoy has already started with municipality laws changing. We now have Ghaf Kitchen’s retro Citroen van, Salt’s burger truck, Jake’s bagel burger van, the Emirati kitchen truck Meylas, plus hotels like Vida parking food trucks on the sidewalk. Jumeirah is rolling one out next year, literally. Expect more from these caterers. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s Food Festivals in February (more on that later) will see one facet dedicated to food trucks.

3. Alternative dining

Dining experiences are taking on a more personalised, spontaneous and immediate approach. Pop-ups at secret locations and progressive dine around experiences will gain momentum. Even the large hotel chains are taking advantage with Starwood rolling out a series of secret pop-ups. Dine arounds are my shameless plug for FooDiva’s ‘Fun is the New Fine Dining’ experience taking in five top-end restaurants all in one evening.

4. New-style cafés

Home-based artisans, in particular Emiratis, selling their concoctions via Instagram and Facebook will take a leap of faith and open their own retail establishments. Pastry shops, bakeries and tea shops will become more prolific as a mainstream alternative to the traditional café experience.

5. Sustainability

Food sustainability moves up the agenda for both consumers and restaurants. The debate will continue on the benefits of local versus organic produce, but either way working with UAE farms is on the rise. The use of hydroponics in growing vegetables and fruit, traceability, seasonality and ethics will become even more important in the buying process. BBC Good Food Middle East has, for the first time, introduced an Awards category for sustainable dining, a reflection of the growing importance of this subject. I personally still need to delve deeper into the ongoing hammour issue to understand what exactly is overfished. It appears not everything is – some data is available, but it’s not conclusive.

6. Local v. global ingredients

Camel milk is gaining momentum both locally and internationally given its health benefits with half the fat of cow’s milk, and triple the Vitamin C content. Local Arabic ‘gahwah’ coffee will perhaps also become more prevalent on menus around the world. And as for global ingredients coming here – if you never managed to pronounce quinoa correctly (kin-wah) don’t worry, thankfully what I think is one of the most over-rated, bland super foods is out – only to be replaced with a couple of plants, kaniwa and teff. If anything, pronounciation won’t be a problem.

7. What cuisine?

Whilst the trend for fusion and exotic, adventurous cuisine will continue, diners are looking for dishes they can trust, with health top of mind more than ever. Simplicity is key, but still with a twist and taste. You’re probably sick to death hearing about Peruvian cuisine which is now a little passé in food capitals like London. Whilst we’ve had the odd Peruvian peppering on South American menus, we now, finally, have a dedicated Peruvian restaurant in Dubai with the opening of London import, Coya at the Four Seasons this month – the same folks that brought us La Petite Maison and Zuma. Last but not least, there’s tremendous potential for Emirati cuisine to come out of hiding and share the limelight with the more popular and much-marketed Levantine cooking.

8. A tipple or two

Given the alcohol restrictions here in the UAE and the reliance on the two main importers, we’re always followers in this category. I expect to see more bars with a focus on one spirit – gin and whisky in particular. And I am surprised we’ve yet to see dedicated champagne (and caviar) bars filter through here – I live in hope.

9. Food festivals galore

Abu Dhabi follows Dubai’s lead creating its own Food Festival as a marketing platform for a stream of food events, and surprise surprise it’s also in February 2015 (5-21st). Dubai’s runs from 6-28th February. Quite why we can’t have one UAE Food Festival is beyond me, but then again that begs the ongoing question of a unified UAE Tourism Board. Interestingly, both festivals will focus on showcasing Emirati cuisine, whilst also bringing a convoy of food trucks to each emirate.

10. New technology

It goes without writing that social media is impacting dining out decisions more than ever. The one channel to watch is Instagram where food influencers’ photos and critique now act as a menu for diners to choose from when ordering in a restaurant. Restaurants may as well throw away menus and project a wall of hashtagged Instagram snaps. Diners are using apps more than ever to decide on where to eat – whether that’s the Entertainer’s two for one offers, Lime & Tonic’s unusual experiences, or Roundmenu’s booking tool.

Before I sign off, here are the two most solid references to global food trends, plus one regional insight that I have come across. Plenty of food for thought.

  • A Forbes article analyses restaurant consultants’ Baum & Whiteman’s highly comprehensive trends report.
  • Fine Dining Lovers shares a culinary ad agency’s predictions. 
  • The ProChef ME solicits predictions from chefs in the region.

What do you reckon? Any more key trends or predictions for the UAE that are worth mentioning?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

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29 Responses to “Top 10 restaurant and food trends for 2015 – UAE”

  1. The Man in the White Hat December 11, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Can I put my hand up – more in expectation than hope – for a trend that I’d like to see come to an _end_…

    “Sharing concepts” where the “food will arrive when it’s ready”.

    Some restaurant cuisines and styles – Spanish tapas restaurants, for example – are perfectly suited to sharing concepts, but I can’t help shake the nagging feeling that here in Dubai the increased popularity of the sharing concept stems from it providing an easy means for some restaurants to address a lack of skill and experience below the head chef level. By announcing “food will arrive when it’s ready” you instantly bypass the need to plate up a range of dishes simultaneously for a table of two or more diners. The apparent result is an increasing number of restaurants where the sharing concept seems to be a poor fit for the actual menu, and/or where it’s never properly explained to the customers. So this is one trend that often seems like catering laziness rather than actually fitting the concept to the food, and I’d really like to see its moment pass. Unless, perhaps, serrano ham and a decent glass of manzanilla sherry are involved (in which case I might not be inclined to share….)

    On the plus side, the trend towas local and sustainable ingredients strikes me as a real positive. There are always going to be limits to what chefs and restaurants can do here – the fact that we live in a desert is unavoidable – but that there’s an increasing move to do more within those limits is really encouraging. I can’t help but notice that there have been more chefs floating around the organic market on the terrace this year since it re-opened a couple of weeks ago.

    And I like quinoa 🙁

    • FooDiva December 11, 2014 at 11:48 am

      Agree 100% Mr White Hat – a sign of pure laziness on the kitchen’s part. With increased awareness of the local farm scene, we’ll see more of the trade using local produce. Desert aside, the struggle is for the chefs to convince their procurements departments to change suppliers…especially when the supply is not consistent throughout the year. Whatever is left of quinoa here in the UAE is all yours. I did have a giggle a few months ago when the supermarkets ran out and there was huge uproar on social media!

  2. IshitaUnblogged December 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Superb roundup touching all pertinent points! Apart from homegrown cafes and bistros, I see a lot of unique home grown stand alone restaurants coming up too. But what I would love to see is a big group opening up a nice little restaurant right in the middle of a farm (AC and comfort intact of course) – direct farm to fork – daily changing menu – go pick up your own vegetables, hand it over to the team in the kitchen – let them stir up something nice… think The French Laundry?

    • IshitaUnblogged December 11, 2014 at 11:18 am

      19,000 expected to open by 2019 did you say?

    • FooDiva December 11, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Thanks 🙂 Now that would be lovely Ishita, and I understand Baker & Spice is in discussions with some of the farms to pull this one off. Shame there won’t be vino 😉 That figure is indeed what EuroMonitor is quoting.

      • IshitaUnblogged December 11, 2014 at 3:51 pm

        That would be interesting… reminds me slightly of my Zighy Bay experience.

  3. Dave Reeder December 11, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Interesting how Jason Atherton’s place seems to recede into the distance! And no mention of Neil Perry’s proposed ‘Spice Temple’ in Kempinski MOE which was promised ‘early 2015’ back in September? When I interviewed Richard Sandoval recently, he thought there could be room for a couple of restaurants from him in Abu Dhabi, but no time frame yet. And we still have the promise of Michael Caines, remember… Plus Silvena Rowe’s main restaurant should be open by January here in Dubai.

    As for quinoa, news this week is that local farmers are being encouraged to grow it here, as apparently it can survive both the lack of water and the high saline growing conditions. That could be a very interesting move.

    Thanks for the magazine plug, but can I be pedantic and point out it’s The Pro Chef ME? Thanks.

  4. FooDiva December 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Neil Perry’s restaurant has been scrapped! Wrong location to be honest…The list is for restaurants serving alcohol, hence Silvena’s is not included.

    Well the quinoa is all yours, I won’t be rushing to buy it!

    You are pedantic, but I have changed it 😉

    • IshitaUnblogged December 11, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      I feel like I eavesdropped and like a school kid am happy that someone else too got a mini spanking from Dave!

  5. Sally - My Custard Pie December 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    I mentioned only yesterday that it is difficult to get statistics about how many restaurants there are in Dubai. I quoted over 4000 on Trip Advisor but your stats seem more realistic, reliable and interesting. That many new launches? Wow!

    I think it’s interesting that there is a sustainability award in the BBC Good Food Awards but think it shouldn’t be a popular vote of perceived sustainability. There should be some standard for measuring the reality of the practices of the many who now claim “local, seasonal and ‘farm to fork’. Thanks for the link on this bit.
    And I vote for a sherry bar 🙂

    • Dave Reeder December 11, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Oh yes, a sherry bar would be great!

    • FooDiva December 11, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I hear you Sally. My understanding is that the judging committee has vetted the nominees based on set criteria. I’d quite like a sherry bar too, but I have a feeling even with Mr White Hat and Reeder’s custom we might be in the minority 😉

      • Dave Reeder December 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm

        Time to make a start this evening on the bottle of fino in the cupboard…

  6. Mira December 12, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Hi FooDiva,

    I’m writing to you on behalf of my juice bar here in Abu Dhabi called Nectar. We are a made-to-order healthy juice bar. We are located within the wellness centre, Bodytree Studio (www.bodytreestudio.com) and I have been reaching out to local bloggers like yourself to invite you to come out and see what the buzz at Nectar is all about. Have a stalker sneak peek at our instagram page @lifeisnectar and let me know if you are interested in getting some additional information about us…

    Thanks! Mira

  7. Thomas December 18, 2014 at 7:33 am

    Well done

    • FooDiva December 18, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Thank you Thomas, especially as you’re probably more privy to what’s trending than me!

  8. Malin December 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Fab article Samantha – as always! Food trucks,aaaah bless, and yet more famous names on the Dubai food-scene. Cannot wait coming back to Dubai next year!!

    • FooDiva December 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Thanks so much Malin. Well hopefully my predictions will come true so you can enjoy them 🙂

  9. Stephen Meredith January 19, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Excellent article – very informative – thank you !

  10. Hiba Ali February 24, 2015 at 10:38 am

    This is certainly a good news for all food lovers in Dubai. Thanks for sharing such an insightful article!

    With more parking food trucks, tourists and locals can enjoy lip-smacking food on the go. I love street food myself and have it almost daily and I am excited to eat from new outlets in Dubai.

    • FooDiva March 2, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Thanks Hiba. Up until now Dubai hasn’t really offered much in terms of true street food, so I hope that will change with more licensing of food trucks.

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