Dubai Food Festival 2021 is celebrating ‘Made in Dubai’ entrepreneurs, and has shortlisted homegrown eateries built by visionaries who have given the city unique menus, cafes, restaurants and dining concepts.
These selected eateries have been born and bred in Dubai by Emirati, international and globetrotter chefs (chefs who have travelled widely), who have demonstrated exemplary entrepreneurial and culinary skills.
With more than 200 nationalities in Dubai, it is no surprise that the list includes eateries that serve cuisine from all over the world, some with Emirati adaptation. Not only this, these food entrepreneurs have also contributed to Dubai’s rapid hospitality growth and development.
At the helm of this growth are Emiratis who are paving the way for homegrown concepts with a fresh take on world cuisines. From Ahmed Saleh and Adnan Al Ali, two Emiratis who make Japanese inspired seafood to modern Emirati cafes like Mitts & Trays by Amna Al Hashemi the list celebrates both, traditional Emirati hospitality and Dubai’s multicultural diversity.
This list also includes expat entrepreneurs from the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas who have brought in their local cuisine and prepared unique concepts in their own restaurants, giving diners in Dubai a wide variety of food to choose from.
Another category of entrepreneurs in the ‘Made in Dubai’ list includes gourmet globetrotters like Joey Ghazal, Nick Alvis and Scott Price, and Reif Othman all of who provide an international flavour to Dubai’s diners.
List of Cafes
Arabian Tea House
Emirati Ali Al Rais established the brand after travelling for 20 years around the world. First opened in 1997, Arabian Tea House remains an oasis of peace and calm where tourists and locals come to enjoy the local Emirati cuisines that take them on a journey back to the city’s past.
Mitts & Trays
Founded by Emirati Amna Al Hashemi, a baking enthusiast, the brand conjures up memories of unforgettable meals, carefully conceived and always with a personal touch.
The Espresso Lab
As a child, Ibrahim H. Al Mallouhi would sit beside his grandmother while she roasted coffee and then help serve guests the freshly-prepared brew. Later, Ibrahim pursued an education in sourcing, producing and selling speciality coffee and travelling to work with coffee farmers. A vision for a café of his own took shape and in 2012 in the form of Espresso Lab.
It started when two entrepreneurs, Ahmed Kazim and Justin Joseph, noticed a gap in the market for the most consumed hot beverage in the region, “Karak Chai”. They travelled to the tea estates in Darjeeling, India and the streets of Kolkata to understand what makes the perfect cup of Chai. After hundreds of cups of Chai at the street vendors, known as “chaiwalas” they returned to reintroduce tea drinking culture to Dubai.
The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill
Founder & Managing Partner Montreal Gastropreneur, Joey Ghazal, founded The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill in 2015, Dubai’s first homegrown New England seaside brasserie. Inspired by the summers he spent vacationing on the East Coast, Joey transformed an undesirable garage location at the edge of Dubai's coastline into a city hot spot.
folly by Nick & Scott
In the ten years that they have spent in Dubai, longtime friends and colleagues Nick Alvis and Scott Price have played a pivotal role in shaping and developing the region’s dining scene. Following the launch of two successful prior restaurant ventures, the duo created and launched Folly from scratch in 2017.
Owned and created by Jordanian chef Salam Dakkak, Bait Maryam is popular for delivering authentic homestyle Levantine cuisine based on her mother Maryam’s recipes from the divine lands of ‘Belad Al Sham’ to the modern and cosmopolitan city of Dubai.
Serial entrepreneur Samer S. Hamadeh opened anime-inspired haunt Akiba Dori in the wake of other successful dining concepts in the city, from Stereo Arcade to Couqley. Having launched music, film and entertainment ventures, his current focus on all things culinary means he is set to expand Akiba Dori across the UAE and internationally.
Casual Eating out
After opening her first restaurant Switch in 2008, Deem AlBassam developed a passion for creating dishes that were both delicious and visually appealing. She joined forces with her friend Amal Al Marri in 2013 and launched SALT, a pop-up burger van that catapulted them into the limelight. Since then, the duo has launched successful ventures including Parker’s, Grind, Public and Somewhere.
Pitfire Pizza Dubai
Husband and wife team Bill and Michele Johnson turned followed their passion for pizza. Since their arrival in Dubai in 2007, the pair have craved an authentic taste of their New York home – a slice of pie. They started testing dough techniques in their garage in 2010, and inspired by their early experiments, launched Pitfire Pizza four years later.
The Mattar Farm
Hattem Mattar is the world’s first Arab pit master and founder of Dubai’s only artisanal smokehouse, The Mattar Farm. The famous chef and his live fire menus have popped up all over the country and has even represented the UAE at The Smithsonian and at the world’s largest BBQ festival in Brazil. For a project that started on a farm, Mattar puts the spotlight on local produce and livestock, and praises third culture cuisine.
Steve Flawith has built Pickl mushroom with seven outlets opening in quick succession since its launch in 2019. A self-confessed burger lover, Flawith wanted to lead the resurgence of simple cooking, executed flawlessly. As a home-grown Dubai brand, he believes the community plays a pivotal role in shaping Pickl’s unfolding narrative.
Omar Shihab, the Dubai-born-and-bred Jordanian visionary behind BOCA, was keen to represent the UAE’s rich biological habitats, farm produce and ocean bounty in the restaurant’s concept. He wanted to erase the notion that we live in a ‘barren’ land while reiterating the country’s abundance.
REIF Japanese Kushiyaki
Reif Othman is a Dubai-based Singaporean chef whose clever twists on Far Eastern dishes – with a nod to French and Italian cuisine fundamentals – have garnered many awards. In 2019, he launched his first homegrown outlet Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, and a second restaurant, Kushi by Reif was opened in June 2020, making him one of the few restaurateurs to expand operations during the pandemic.