Burj Al Arab's 'aquarium' restaurant welcomes Michelin-star chef
We caught up with Nathan Outlaw over lunch...to hear about the new menu and new 'accessible' prices
Change is afoot at Burj Al Arab and the watchword is 'accessibility'.
After sitting pretty as one of Dubai's star tourist attractions for over 15 years, the 7-star hotel is now reworking its image as a dining and leisure destination for people who actually live in Dubai. As such, 'Gold on 27', a stunning new bar will be up and running come April, right next to the already notable Skyview lounge; and the luxury 10,000 square meter North Deck, which will house 32 private cabanas, two pools and a few hundred sun beds, is to open its doors by early May.
But one of the biggest transformations the Burj will see is the revamping of Al Mahara, its fine dining seafood restaurant.
Known as one of the city's best seafood restaurants, Al Mahara, which translates to 'the oyster shell' in Arabic, also happens to be one of Dubai's most expensive restaurants, period. Dinner for two can easily set you back AED 2,000 at the very minimum (excluding bevs), and bills like that mean Al Mahara is a restaurant experience diners don't get to enjoy very often. Understandably, the team at the Burj want that to change so that Al Mahara becomes a place people return to time and time again.
Looking to maintain the high quality of its offerings whilst moving away from its reputation for astronomical prices, Al Mahara is partnering with one of Britain’s brightest culinary stars. Chef Nathan Outlaw, whose self-titled restaurant is the only specialised fish restaurant in the UK to hold any Michelin stars, comes from the ‘less is more’ school of thought. His menus are brief, his ingredients are locally and responsibly sourced and he wants his patrons to enjoy their food without fuss. Describing his culinary style he told us, 'I like to let the fish speak for itself’.
Which it did, as we tucked into his trademark scallop tartare ‘tartar’ (or was it tartare 'tartare'? or 'tartar' tartare?) – a divine construction of delicate scallops in an equally delicate tartar sauce, topped with crunchy ‘exploded’ capers and elevated by a hint of acidity from pickled beetroot and apples. And we were floored by his crispy oysters as well – perched atop a warm mayo that’s been let down with chicken stock (we were sceptical, but it was yum), complemented by a cucumber chutney and a dash of caviar.
Once we established that Outlaw could deliver deliciousness on a plate – and he literally did deliver it, handing us our courses himself then talking us through each dish – we began to wonder what the collaboration between this odd-couple might actually look like. After all, the opulent Burj Al Arab is a far cry from the simple seaside cottages that house his restaurants in Cornwall.
What we know for sure in terms of Al Mahara's new look once it reopens in September is that the subterranean interior is being opened up to allow natural light to filter through. But its mesmerising curated aquarium will still be at the heart of the restaurant, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
And in terms of the important stuff (i.e...the food) the complex French-influenced fare, which relied heavily on not so-locally available ingredients, will take on a more simplified British slant. Sustainably sourced ingredients from the region will be at the fore, with Chef Nathan promising to do lots of research on the regional flora and marine life and how best to serve it up.
What's most likely to encourage repeat visitors from the local environs is that the prices will be more forgiving: a four-course set menu, with six or sven choices for each course is going to be priced AED 650 for dinner and AED 450 for lunch. Couple that kind of value for some seriously haute cuisine with a breathtaking mega-aquarium view, throw some natural light into the mix, and Al Mahara is likely to attract a large regular lunch crowd come autumn.
We can also look forward to spotting Chef Nathan around town frequently as he plans on checking in with his head chef at Al Mahara every couple of months.