Top 10 restaurant and food trends for 2016 – UAE

Quique Dacosta - Enigma at Palazzo Versace Dubai

A Quique Dacosta dish for Enigma at Palazzo Versace

Apparently the UAE has the highest number of food and beverage outlets, per capita, in the world. Furthermore, despite last year’s announcement revealing the expected growth of restaurants and cafes in the build-up to 2020, the UAE remains a follower rather than an instigator of global food and restaurant trends. The dining scene is maturing but slowly. We are still copying the rest of the world – evident as we reflect on last year and identify trends that will get bigger. So with that in mind, here’s FooDiva’s 2016 round-up of the top 10 restaurant and food trends in the UAE.

1. Transplants v. local restaurants

This year’s restaurant openings are a balanced mix of imported brands and celeb chef transplants with locally developed concepts. Where the latter are home-grown, mostly restaurateurs are helming these eateries (not hoteliers), who are finding clever ways to operate licensed establishments whilst not having to enter a revolving hotel door. Moving forward, I’d like to see home-grown dominate and overpower the imports; that’s the only way the UAE’s restaurant scene will be taken seriously on the global dining map.

Confirmed new licensed restaurant openings for 2016

Dubai:

  • Play, chef Reif’s (ex-Zuma) Asian-Med concept at the H Hotel – opened 1st January
  • Enigma, a rolling concept restaurant at Palazzo Versace that will change its chef (from a Michelin-starred restaurant) and cuisine four times a year – 10th January
  • Cocktail Kitchen, a modern European restaurant and cocktail bar at the Armada Bluebay hotel in JLT – 15th January
  • Mayta, a Peruvian import at the Capital Club, DIFC – January
  • Spice & Ice, an Indian molecular gastronomy concept at Movenpick JLT – January
  • The Collective, the new all-day dining concept replacing Market Cafe at Grand Hyatt Dubai – February
  • Miss Lily’s, a Jamaican restaurant transplanted from New York to the Sheraton Grand Sheikh Zayed – March/ April
  • Beef & Bass, by the creative folks behind Q’bara and Fume opening in the same Sheraton hotel – April
  • Cipriani, the Italian import at DIFC – April
  • Sosa by chef Angelo de Sosa at the Al Habtoor City Atrium – April
  • Mix by Alain Ducasse at Kempinski Palm Jumeirah – September
  • All’onda, a New York transplant at the same Kempinski – September/ October
  • The W and Westin hotels in the Al Habtoor development on the Sheikh Zayed open this year with six new restaurant openings – concepts and opening dates TBA.

Abu Dhabi:

  • Bu Trinity, a pan-Latin home-grown concept at World Trade Centre mall – February
  • Roberto’s expands into Galleria, Al Maryah island – February/ March

Ras Al Khaimah:

  • Marina Muse, a seafood gastropub at Al Hamra Marina Yacht Club – January

Note – please let us know of any other licensed establishments confirmed to open this year, and we will update this list.

2. Cuisine of choice

Better late than never but Peruvian cuisine has finally taken off here in Dubai with six restaurants now dedicated to this particular slice of South America, and one more on the cards this year, maybe two. I may be slightly biased but Greek cuisine has been catapulted into the limelight with a string of restaurants and delis now open with more expected this year. Interestingly Jamaican fare makes its mark in 2016 with the opening of Lily’s. I hope we will see more Caribbean influences, in the same vein as I would like Korean fare to move from small, unlicensed joints to the fine, fun dining arena.

3. Chef rotation

The only innovation this year that the UAE, Dubai specifically, is instigating rather than following is where a restaurant’s concept revolves around a three-month rotation of chefs from Michelin and World’s 50 Best restaurants around the world. Yes there is Gelinaz, but Dubai is doing it differently. In the first instance, Dubai’s Palazzo Versace hotel sees avant-garde Spanish chef Quique Dacosta open Enigma restaurant on the 10th January (until 12th April). In a country that struggles with achieving consistency on both a food and service level, will a change in chef four times a year not hinder its performance? Hats off if Enigma can pull off this concept.

4. Food trucks

It’s food truck central now in the UAE. With the set-up of Roundup, an umbrella organisation that nurtures food truck businesses, a dozen imported and locally developed concepts are currently roaming our streets. In addition, another ten independently operated trucks are either already dishing out street food, or will ‘roll out’ this year. And next month Dubai will host a food truck event with 15 international food trucks docking our shores for a weekend.

5. Progressive dining

Hotels with a vast spread of restaurants (let’s face it there are many) are constantly challenged in driving F&B revenue both from in-house guests and residents so are having to be very creative with their marketing. We will see them introduce progressive dining experiences tucking into a different course at each restaurant. And FooDiva’s own dine around concept continues with monthly consumer experiences, as well as tailored industry and corporate events (I hope you don’t mind the shameless plug).

6. All foods local

Sourcing produce, specifically veggies (and to a lesser extent fruit) harvested locally, i.e. in the UAE, not across the Arab world is becoming so mainstream that it’s almost a given for restaurants…and if not, questions are raised. Certified organic farms and farmers markets aside, a number of independent shops have or will open this year, selling all things local.

7. Food waste no more

One boutique hotel chain of two hotels in Dubai is doing something a little bit different and rather admirable on the sustainability front. Manzil and Vida Downtown Dubai’s chef Spencer Lee Black and his kitchen team are minimising food wastage by saving up to 50kg a day in a variety of ways – by not serving hot meals on buffets, just ‘made to order’; a ‘nose to tail’ menu in one restaurant that uses the whole animal; and sharing menus when catering for large events. His goal is zero waste at both properties by completely cutting back on buffets, and by using a composter to recycle organic foods. I sincerely hope more hotels and restaurants will follow his lead this year. Any takers?

8. Restaurants chez nous

The UAE is a country of convenience, and now we no longer need to leave our villas and sky-rise apartment dwellings to feast on restaurant fare. The biggest game changer on the technology front this year is the advent of services delivering food to our homes from upscale restaurants and hotels like Deliveroo, plus one that has mimicked FooDiva’s branding, Foodora. And let’s not forget the craze for chefs for hire that will continue – all bookable online.

9. Groceries to the door

On that note, online grocery shopping has finally arrived here with Choitrams offering a full service, Geant’s is slightly more limited, whilst Carrefour and Hyper Panda are set to launch this year. No word from the Spinneys and Waitrose group though which I find rather surprising. I for one have swopped the latter as my supermarket of choice with Choitram’s because I can shop from the comfort of my home. Surely it’s a loss in revenue for them. How about you?

10. Drink

It’s a gin-tastic year. Sadly I am not even a fan of this spirit (Pimm’s aside) but looks like I will have to learn to embrace it, from gin-focused cocktail lists to dedicated gin bars and lounges around town. The French fizz of choice is also finally finding its home here with bars focused on champagne (and the odd oyster). That’s where you’ll find me.


If you’re on the look out for global trends, just google ‘restaurants trends 2016’ for umpteen round-ups. And if you missed it, here are FooDiva’s 35 favourite Dubai restaurants.

What are your crystal ball musings for this year’s restaurant scene?

Here’s to a happy, healthy and delicious year 🙂

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

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24 Responses to “Top 10 restaurant and food trends for 2016 – UAE”

  1. Sally - My Custard Pie January 6, 2016 at 10:44 am

    I’ll be your reporter on the ground for gin! Happy New Year and thanks for such an informative snapshot.

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Be my guest Sally. Perhaps you can mix me a concoction that I may actually enjoy 😉

  2. Krysia January 6, 2016 at 11:02 am

    Great post. I’m always eager to find out about new restuarant openings and try them out. Here’s hoping some of the wine lists are at reasonable, well reasonable for Dubai anyway!

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:16 am

      Thanks Krysia. More affordable wine lists is on my personal wish list too, but somehow I doubt it 🙁 Interestingly, Bistro des Arts has introduced the traditional French concept of ficelle, where you only pay for what you drink. So you can order select bottles of wine and if only drink 2/3 of it you just pay for that.

  3. GeordieArmani January 6, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    Happy New Year Foodiva, look forward to catching up soon. Great review, I agree about Enigma I feel it will be a hinderance as it takes time for a kitchen to work as a team. Love Gin 🙂

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Interestingly the hotel’s GM commented on my Instagram post to reassure me that there is already a team in place working with chef number two. Must be very costly! Anyhow proof will be in the pudding 😉

  4. Sumati January 6, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Interesting. Was hoping to see something about vegetarian food on this list ?

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:21 am

      I’ll leave that one to your area of expertise Sumati 😉 There will always be a place for vegetarian cuisine, and veggie-friendly menus – hence why I don’t see as a new trend per se. Have you tried Chef Tomas Reger’s new venture Intersect by Lexus? Vegetables are a huge focus on him with many starters solely using veggies.

      • Sumati Menda January 7, 2016 at 12:04 pm

        I haven’t actually! Been meaning to check it out though! 🙂 Thanks for sharing xx

  5. Johann Z January 6, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    Very informative as usual – the ‘new openings’ section will be very useful and it would be great if you could issue an update, say every 3 months, as and when you get info about openings in the months to come. Best wishes for a very happy and successful New Year.

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:22 am

      Thanks Johann. The idea is that it will be become a rolling update as new restaurants confirm their opening dates.

  6. IshitaUnblogged January 6, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    Fabulous and elaborate round up. I wanted to add Korean to this list as well – think it will take over Peruvian. Also mixed collaborations (plugging myself in!) in the kitchen. I am intrigues with Enigma though. And also waiting for a home grown concept to export out of Dubai – Qbara perhaps? Or Omnia as Silvena tells us?

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Ishita. I’d love to see more of what you did with Atul…perhaps working with other Indian chefs here too? 😉 Q’bara is on the cards for London in the same site that Okku was meant to take, but I don’t have any confirmation. Don’t know anything about Silvena going international…

  7. Kelly January 7, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Interesting and informative. I do like nr 7 about recycling food and not presenting hot dishes on buffets but taking orders instead
    Regarding nr 9, shopping on line, this is not my idea of food shopping as I like to see/check what I am buying
    but I guess this is ideal for busy people.

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:27 am

      My plan is to roll out a food wastage campaign later this year (and tie it in with Ramadan) with the aim of getting hotels/ restaurants on board. I hear you with grocery shopping, but when working full time and evenings/ weekends, it’s hard to squeeze in supermarket shopping sometimes.

  8. SJ January 7, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Can’t wait to start reviewing! 😀

    • FooDiva January 7, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Great SJ. I have some other restaurants already open ripe for you to review 😉

  9. ARN February 6, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Everyone,

    You should definitely try out Gourmet 11. They are a new location based food delivery service, serving delicious Gourmet Food @ http://www.gourmet11.com.

    They have a daily rotating menu, First time users get AED 30 off and if you refer friends you get additional AED 15 per referral!

    They have started delivering in Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City and Knowledge Village.

  10. Dominik MJ March 20, 2016 at 9:27 pm

    I do feel, that Dubai has a big lack of integrity, when it comes to F&B.

    Unfortunately everything in the UAE seems to come done to profits – I cannot really feel the “love” here – the love for hospitality, the love for ingredients, cooking, cuisine!

    One example are the food trucks. First: until now, still there is no reasonable law in sight, which would make a food truck a real food truck. I don’t see the different concepts roaming Dubai – which is a shame!
    Second (still at the food trucks), I tried now several food trucks, and have to report, that there are very few standouts. Nobody really could point with convincing flavours, an undiluted concept, very personal cuisine. Rather all food trucks seem to be the wheel-translated forms of brick & mortar restaurant concepts, opened by big companies, which have: profits in mind, and not integrity.

  11. Luis April 25, 2016 at 12:43 am

    What about Sosa restaurnate in Dubai ? With the Mexican style ?

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