Deciding whether or not to go to Taste of Dubai is like one of those dinner-table family arguments. For some, Taste of Dubai is a gastronomic delight, with several of the city’s top restaurants offering taster portions of their finest dishes on a lovely family day out. On the other side are those who take the view that the gargantuan gorge-fest is closer to a rip-off by restaurants eager to maximise profit on tiny morsels of pedestrian fare at a noisy, crowded venue.
But being a family newspaper and all (sorry!) we’re here to keep the peace, so whatever your opinion, you’ll be glad to know that plates this year start at Dh15! There’s plenty of room at the picnic table for everyone at the 10th edition of the annual blow-out, then, and we can all agree to disagree — preferably under a blue sky over a sharing plate and a nice tall glass of something very chilled indeed.
So grab your plastic forks and read on for our list of the unmissable action this ToD.
1. Michel Roux Jr
The classiest chef to ever emerge from the MasterChef kitchens has to be Michel Roux Jr, and the Michelin-starred chef heads to the Dubai Media City venue this year to cook up a storm for those pretending they’re at Taste to learn something. At his Taste debut, he’ll be whipping up an elegant plate of roast pigeon with peaches, turnips and sage in the Electrolux Chef’s Theatre at 8.30pm on Thursday and at various times over the weekend. This former accountant (truth!) is also very approachable, so catch him afterwards with any questions about tricky French unpronounceables.
Affair du Coeur: He can’t truly be French if he isn’t having an extramarital affair, and true enough, Roux Jr’s secret plaisir is butter. Yet another reason to rate him!
2. Mohammad Orfali and Tarek Ibrahim
Think your felafel game’s fantastic? Walk the talk at the Pyrex and Noor Cooking Challenge, where TV’s Ibrahim and Orfali will swoop down to judge the crunch. You can choose your judge: there’s also Eric Lanlard, Aldo Zilli, Gary Rhodes, Tim Anderson and Joshua Stanzl (Check the Taste website for details). Contestants must sign up 30 minutes before the start of each challenge. They then get half an hour to prove their mettle before the chef comes along to taste and rate. Winners get covered in glory plus the chance to cook the dish that impressed Gary Rhodes for endless dinner parties afterwards.
Cautionary warning: Don’t try something you haven’t cooked before — it’ll leave you quite literally steaming. Your best chance of winning is a dish you’ve cooked many times before… but leave your overconfidence at home.
3. Billy Ocean!
Yes, we know, but at late-night karaoke sessions there’s Suddenly. And Caribbean Queen. Did I hear you humming No more love on the run…? It’s been so long since the Trinidadian Brit had a hit that (1983, Time to Move On, No 81 in the Netherlands), that his music taps right into our current love for throwbacks to the eighties. Oversized shoulders are trending again this spring, why not Billy Ocean? He hits the stage on Thursday, in keeping with Taste tradition for reheated items from the back of the fridge. Last year was Boney M.
Fun factoid: The East London native has only had one UK No 1, although he’s topped the singles charts three times in the US and four times in Canada. It’s always Canada.
4. Zahra Abdalla
Love hanging with celebs but aren’t sure enough of your shawarma to take it into a contest? Sign up to cook with the self-described modern-day Bedouin. Abdalla, who’s part Iranian and part Sudanese, is a blogger who demystifies Arabic and Iranian food, and will double up as a partner chef for a series of half-hour sessions in the Make Life Delicious with Electrolux workshops. Along with Tim Anderson, Paolo Pettenuzzo and the crew from Dubai’s International Centre for Culinary Arts, she’ll answer your questions and explain the finer points of fesenjan.
Also interesting: Grab a class with Tim Anderson, the youngest-ever MasterChef UK winner. Now 26, he runs one of the hottest new hipster hangouts in London, the Japanese soul food restaurant Nanban.
5. Reza Mahammad and Jenny Morris
If there’s one act you need to catch, it’s these cheeky chefs, who are pairing up for a demonstration again this year. As per the Taste website, they’re tag-teaming in the Electrolux demo kitchen every afternoon for an hour, which is nowhere near enough for us to get our fill. Seeing how much fun we had when they teamed up last time (it involved double entendre and audience participation), we’re raring to watch them in action again this year. Someone get them a TV show! Oh wait, they already did. Well now’s your chance to see the Giggling Gourmet and her Prince of Spices live.
Curious question: Last year Reza and Jenny hosted a three-day pop-up restaurant at Taste called Giggle and Spice, described as a precursor to a more permanent venue. Ask them about it, will you?
A total of 22 restaurants are serving up eclectic eats and small samples from their menus over the ToD weekend. Several new ones have jumped onto the food truck, so if you’ve been meaning to start crossing things off your Zomato wishlist, now’s the time to see if you like these places enough to spend some serious money.
On the menu this year are newbies Ramusake, Weslodge, the Big Easy Bar and Grill, Burger and Lobster, Cook Hall, Sonamu, Namu, Lucky Voice and Spice&Ice, among others. Plus there’s some old favourites: Carnival by Tresind, Carluccios, Teatro, Olea, Fratelli La Bufala, The Gramercy and Cucina.
We couldn’t get their menus in advance to advise what you should be trying, so tweet tabloid! with the details (or post on our FB page) afterwards and tell us what you hated. Or loved.
Also make it a point to walk around the brand stalls. ToD is where you can often check out new products before they’re launched or buy food-related gifts. We had a happy time with some Lynchburg natives last year, as well as trying activated charcoal drinks for the first time (Yes, we lead rather sheltered lives here). Holland House mini pancakes, Organic Foods & Cafe and Green Tea X50 look promising, and you’ll want to stop by the Gulf News stand for a copy of our @Brunch guide!
Odd choices: In addition, Careem is handy to avoid the taxi scrum afterwards, Sensodyne promises to remind you to brush away all those debris, and deVere Acuma will be on hand to explain the co-relation between overeating and retirement accounts. We think.
Taste of Dubai takes place at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre from Thursday, March 9, to Saturday, March 11. Timings: 4pm to midnight today and noon onwards tomorrow and the day after. Standard tickets are available at the door, priced Dh175 today (including two drinks and the concert) and Dh90 for the next two days. VIP Tickets include limited food and drink vouchers and begin at Dh260.
For more details, go to Tasteofdubaifestival.com