While December is undoubtedly celebrated as a season of festivity in most of the world, here in the UAE it holds a special significance. Beyond Christmas, mega sales in malls, New Year’s Eve and schools being closed, the beautiful weather sees millions of visitors fly in to visit family and friends, shop, party, explore and — of course — eat.
Whether highly frequented family favourites or fine dining destinations, it’s a competitive space for restaurants operating in the UAE. “Around 1,100 new restaurant concepts open in the UAE every year,” Robert Brozin, Co-founder of Nando’s, tells GN Focus at the opening of his newest outlet in Dubai Mall. He references share of stomach, a concept that speaks to the need for eateries to recognise they are competing for precious real estate in customers’ tummies on a daily basis.
Around 1,100 new restaurant concepts open in the UAE every year. Eateries need to recognise they are competing for precious real estate in customers’ tummies on a daily basis
For Fernando Duarte, co-founder of Nando’s, the festive season is a time of celebration, happiness, togetherness and family. What role do restaurants play here? “They create the environment, making it conducive to bring happiness to families, friends and occasions,” he says.
Everyone comes together, crossing cultures and boundaries and bonding by celebrating the year gone by and the year ahead. The central part of this experience and celebration comes back to food, which of course only adds to the joy for me as a chef.
Margarita Vaamonde-Beggs, Head Chef at MasterChef, the TV Experience, explains: “Everyone comes together, crossing cultures and boundaries and bonding by celebrating the year gone by and the year ahead. The central part of this experience and celebration comes back to food, which of course only adds to the joy for me as a chef.”
Roast turkey, cranberry and bread sauce. These may be viewed as classic Christmas recipes, but how do chefs and restaurants walk the line between staying true to the old school and responding to more contemporary taste trends?
“Incorporating traditionally festive ingredients and flavours into a festive menu is a must,” says Vaamonde-Beggs. “However, how one gets creative is a challenge a chef can embrace and really help a venue stand out.” She cites the example of gingerbread: “Typically considered part of the dessert, not the main course.” The chef’s venison saddle, a main, has a dark Irish hops and gingerbread demi-glace.
“Orange is another flavour I closely associate with the festive season. I’ve utilised it in the turkey breast ballotine with orange-scented mashed potatoes — it might sound unusual, but it is truly an incredible pairing.”
While Lendl Pereira, Chef de Cuisine at Lexington Grill, Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, acknowledges the traditional festive menu focus on roasted meats and glazed vegetables, he believes UAE F&B trends are spurring more innovative menus in the country.
The UAE is witnessing a steady increase in the demand for dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free and Paleo food options with the beautiful warm flavours of the festive season.
“The UAE is witnessing a steady increase in the demand for dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free and Paleo food options with the beautiful warm flavours of the festive season,” he says. “There is also an increase in customers wanting to eat less meat in addition to a growing demand that festive food options be sourced through sustainable methods.
“The F&B sector is currently facing an exciting challenge of not only offering festive menus but also providing a dining experience that diners will want to keep going back to. This can include a breath-taking festive ambience, live performances and cooking classes, to name a few.”
While Nando’s wouldn’t confirm any festive themes for the UAE, the South African chicken chain has been busy Yuletide-ing it up in markets such as the UK, where it’s selling a peri-peri gravy this month.
“Our new product development team is always at work,” says Brozin, adding that the team is also exploring meatless products in response to consumer trends towards veganism as well as ambitions to grow in markets such as India.
Christopher Kinsley, Chef de Cuisine at Sarood Hospitality, which operates Pierchic, The Duck Hook and numerous other restaurant brands across Dubai, says, “Gluten-free, vegan and organic ingredients aren’t just trends but lifestyle choices that have grown more popular in recent years, largely as customers become more health conscious and opt to make healthier dining choices.”
Gluten-free, vegan and organic ingredients aren’t just trends but lifestyle choices that have grown more popular in recent years, largely as customers become more health conscious and opt to make healthier dining choices.
Vaamonde-Beggs says, “It’s extremely important as a chef to keep up to date with market trends and ensure we stay ahead of the curve. When an ingredient’s popularity increases in the market, it’s a real opportunity for chefs to get creative with how those items fit into the restaurant’s existing menu and food culture.”
Pereira offers a tasty example of a festive dish that fits in with contemporary trends: “It could be a simple beautiful salad dressed with a spiced cranberries and pomegranate molasses, floral vinaigrette, roasted stuffed acorn squash with the wholesomeness of wild rice medley, pecan stuffed dates, rosemary and lavender-roasted celeriac.”
As we move into 2020, the means of creating and sustaining awareness for restaurants continue their shift to social. “A picture does speak a thousand words making social media one of the easiest ways (especially Instagram) to reach our audiences, and definitely one of the best ways to keep up with market trends,” explains Kinsley.
“We use social media to see what our customers want and through online engagement, we take into consideration their interests and preferences when crafting our menus and offerings.
“We believe that the key to running a successful restaurant is to know what your customers want, give them a pleasant experience and encourage them to post about it. Your customers are your best marketeers, with word of mouth being the most powerful marketing tool.”