Vineet Bhatia was among the first international chefs to open a restaurant in Dubai. His Indego by Vineet in the city’s Grosvenor House Hotel has been in operation since 2005.
The Michelin-starred chef now owns many restaurants in countries across the region, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar. He tells Bloomberg’s chief food critic, Richard Vines, that the Dubai dining scene has recently undergone a shake-up, making way for openings from chefs based in the city as well as big international names.
The culinary stars from abroad include British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, whose third outpost of Dinner is due to launch in early 2020, and Massimo Bottura, who opened Torno Subito, his first restaurant outside his home country of Italy, at the W Dubai–the Palm in February.
How has the dining scene changed?
I’ve been here since 2005, and things were very different then. It’s been entirely transformed, and I am proud to have been part of that. At one time, Dubai was all about chefs from overseas. What’s so exciting now is that chefs who have worked in Dubai for years are opening their own restaurants.
What’s it like to operate restaurants in the region?
It used to be difficult sourcing produce—everything had to be flown in. But now more things are grown in the region, and there’s no problem getting things like spices. At the same time, Dubai is very business-friendly. It is straightforward hiring people and getting visas. In other parts of the region it can be more difficult, especially in terms of visas.
How healthy is the restaurant scene?
The last two years were quite tough, and some of the big boys from London closed down. But things seem to be coming back on track. There’s a lot of buzz and activity, particularly in Dubai, with hotels opening and chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Massimo Bottura opening restaurants. Abu Dhabi has good restaurants, too, but with less fanfare. It’s more restrained.
Do you have any concerns?
There are some very large and luxurious restaurants opening, and they are going to have to be expensive. How are you going to pull in something like 250 diners when the prices are so high? These days, people want value for money. It’s not enough to have a big name. There is a lot of choice, especially in Dubai. With all the new [spots] opening up, it’s easy to go somewhere else.
Any tips for Dubai dining, apart from the big names?
Bu Qtair is fantastic for fish. It used to be just a quiet shack on the beach until Anthony Bourdain popped in, and—hallelujah!—everything changed. But it is still just a canteen where you queue and pick up your food. The food is delicious.
3 Fils. This is a simple restaurant in Jumeirah Fishing Village. You queue for a seat, and it’s not even licensed, but the food is divine. It’s a Singapore chef, Akmal Anuar, and the menu is a mix of Asian dishes, including Japanese. It’s simple and inexpensive. The best place to sit is at the counter.
Raju Omlet. This is a very casual Indian chain, with three sites in Dubai. They do street food with a lot of egg dishes. The food is very good, and I love it. I can go every week if I am in town.