William Sitwell travels to Dubai to launch a new food magazine, and finds some time to check out a few restaurants, too
I travelled to Dubai this week to launch a beautiful food magazine (called Food; nothing like stating the obvious) for top UAE supermarket Spinneys.
It’s a monthly magazine and shooting much of the first issue was Simon Brown, well known for his still lifes and interiors work. His ingredient shots evoke the paintings of 17th century Dutch Masters, which I thought might rather catch the eyes of those who dwell in the gleaming towers of space-age Dubai.
An exhibition of his, which starts next week at the Richard Young Gallery in London, features a year-long project photographing romantic Irish houses. Well, we might call them romantic, but the Dubai dwellers might look upon these images of houses, of rusting pipe work, of peeling paint and fading grandeur and wonder when the demolition men are coming.
Simon and I contemplated our trip in the comfort of those business cots on Emirates as we were plied with Arabic mezze, fine wine and a big screen telly. It would be a busy week of eating and schmoozing.
We got into our stride on day one by driving into the desert for a picnic. I say picnic, but this was all white tablecloths, smart chairs and fine cutlery and glassware. That’s casual al fresco in Dubai. An efficient team rustled up chilled and refreshing gazpacho with a splodge of avocado and a big prawn, before tender grilled beef on lentils and then a tall glass of fruit salad. The sun set as the candles flickered on our table and we spotted a wandering camel on the horizon.
Next day we launched our magazine (published by John Brown Media, now with sparkling new offices in Dubai) on the terrace at the Park Hyatt where we feasted on recipes inspired by our new mag: Persian-inspired, pomegranate-sprinkled grilled lamb chops, Med-type scallops and oysters by the dozen.
Bleary-eyed the following morning we took to the highway and headed for Abu Dhabi where we hooked up with Marco Pierre White, who was out inspecting his restaurant at the Fairmont hotel at Bab Al Bahr. The hotel’s address is literally ‘Between the Bridges’, which is the sort of instruction you’d give to the man leading your camel and works better than a postcode.
Marco has two establishments in the hotel, which overlooks a stretch of strangely luminescent blue water and the city’s supremely grand mosque.
He has a grill – MPW – and a Frankie’s Italian Bar and Restaurant. ‘People are happy here,’ Marco told me, ‘they seem positive and are very productive as a result.’
I didn’t eat in his grill but ate some of the most delicious food I have had in the UAE in Frankie’s. Little lamb chops with a green, herby crust cooked just ‘til pink were exceptional. There were long and luscious prawns in mayonnaise, fresh and thin naan breads and beef on skewers. Puddings were tiramisu, Eton mess and chocolate mousse. I avoided them thanks to my new dairy intolerance affectation, but my friends oohd and aahd to signal their pleasure.
We then stopped by the glorious Park Hyatt by the sea. Shown round by an exquisite human fusion of Germany and India – she bought us cool fizzy drinks too and fluffy towels – we dipped a toe in the warm sea water, before heading back to Dubai.
Supper that night was what in Dubai they call a casual pizza in a beach hut. I saw it more as dinner in a huge five star hotel. But this is Dubai and I’m learning. Bussola is a decent pizzeria by Jumeirah beach behind the Westin hotel. We glugged down bottles of Gavi and standard pizzas before I chose a tart lemon sorbet.
Gathered was the new John Brown Dubai dream team and a merry and sparkling bunch they were too, excited at the prospect of eating and writing and publishing foodie things in that great city.
But soon I was back in my Emirates cot to be fed, watered, snoozed and returned home, excited by all the things that could be achieved in magnificent Dubai, albeit – for me – to be mostly done from my little study in remote rural Northamptonshire.