Dubai is establishing itself as one of the world’s leading gastronomic hubs, home to celebrity chefs, global and local brands, and even food trucks, which are collectively pulling in the crowds and the big bucks.
News that British chef Gordon Ramsay will make a return to Dubai next month with the launch of his Bread Street Kitchen restaurant at Atlantis The Palm, comes as no surprise.
Dubai is fast emerging as one of the world’s top gastronomic hubs, boasting a high concentration of outlets bearing the name of celebrity and Michelin-star chefs from across the globe.
Ramsay, who first entered the Dubai food and beverage market with Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek in 2001, will open his casual Bread Street Kitchen outlet at Atlantis on October 23 and is reportedly in talks to open a fine-dining restaurant in the city too.
The Brit will join a long list of high-profile chefs who are cashing in on Dubai’s lucrative F&B sector, the growth of which is being driven by high-spending visitors and residents alike.
British chefs have been quick off the mark with the likes of Gary Rhodes (Rhodes Mezzanine and Rhodes Twenty10), Jamie Oliver (Jamie’s Italian) and Ramsay’s protégé, Jason Atherton (Marina Social), getting a foot in the door early on in the game.
Established favourites also include French chef Pierre Gagnaire (Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire), Indian chefs Sanjeev Kapoor (Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor) and Atul Kochhar (Rang Mahal) and world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who continues to redefine Japanese cuisine in Dubai with Nobu, the concept he co-founded in New York with Hollywood great Robert De Niro.
Dubai’s Italian contingent includes Giorgio Locatelli (Ronda Locatelli), as well as Antonio Carluccio, whose accessible casual dining chain Carluccio’s is a big hit at several locations across the city.
Meanwhile, Russian chef Arkady Novikov, who counts Russian President Valdimir Putin as a regular at his 50 restaurants across Moscow, is also making waves in Dubai with his new eponymous outlet, Novikov at Sheraton Grand Hotel.
It represents the restaurateur’s first Middle East venture and came about after Novikov’s personal and business contacts repeatedly alerted him to the opportunities presented by Dubai’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
F&B accounts for at least 37 percent of total hotel revenues across the Middle East, which is currently the highest rate of any market worldwide, and it is growing by between five and 10 percent per year, according to STR Global.
In Dubai, hotel F&B revenues totalled US$2.7 billion in 2013, more than half of total room revenue for the period ($4.5 billion) and with the cost of servicing F&B the lowest worldwide at 58.5 percent (compared to 75 percent in Europe), profits accrued from this sector are also hitting a global high.
Today there are more than 6,021 F&B outlets UAE wide, but this figure is set to quadruple to more than 25,000 by 2019 according to Euromonitor International, which has forecast that 19,000 new outlets will flood the market over the next four years.
Restaurant chains, which in the UAE account for more than one third of total F&B sales (around AED 11 billion) are driving this growth, supported by high consumer spend on dining out.
UAE residents splash-out AED841 on restaurant meals per month on average, which is the highest rate in the Middle East.
And while the world’s best-known chefs and brands are making their presence felt, locally developed F&B concepts are making their mark too.
Examples of successful independent outlets in Dubai include Riva Beach Club on Palm Jumeirah, Claw BBQ Crabshack and Grill located at Souq Al Bahar and Fümé at both Dubai Marina and Manzil Downtown Dubai, to name but a few.
“Having long favoured international culinary stars and concepts, we are beginning to see a paradigm shift of focus towards home-grown concepts and Emirati cuisine,” says Her Excellency Laila Mohammed Suhail, chief executive officer at Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE) – organiser of the Dubai Food Festival (DFF).
The second edition of this foodie extravaganza, which took place in February this year, further cemented Dubai’s reputation as a centre for gastronomy.
The 2015 theme of this 23-day festival was the Emirati-inspired ‘Made in Dubai’, with an emphasis on local cuisine, highlighting the growth of this niche F&B sector.
However, more than 200 cuisines were showcased at the event, reflecting Dubai’s multi-cultural society and the diverse nature of the city’s 600-plus restaurants.
The food truck concept was a particularly big hit at DFF 2015, a global trend the emirate was quick to emulate, with trucks circulating Dubai’s most popular neighbourhoods and serving hungry office workers.
Suhail says the event highlighted Dubai’s “gastronomic credentials” and attracted thousands of residents and tourist alike.
“Looking ahead to next year’s festival, we look forward to welcoming more international visitors from outside of the region,” she says.
“The food festival provides a platform to communicate Dubai’s compelling food offer and its rise as a culinary destination, and attracting more international food tourists during the period of the festival will be part of a broader strategy to promote Dubai as a food tourism destination.”