Top 10 restaurant and food trends for 2015 – UAE
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):
- 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.
- 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.
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?