On a balmy day in 2017, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, walked in unannounced to 3 Fils, which was recently named the best restaurant in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region earlier this month.
3 Fils, which had opened as a 34-cover contemporary Asian-leaning restaurant in November 2016 at the picturesque Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, was a hidden gem that had caught the fancy of Sheikh Hamdan long before the gourmets started making a beeline for it.
And time and tide, which stops for none, has proved that the Crown Prince of Dubai’s impromptu choice was on the money.
Soon, tennis ace Roger Federer — the winner of 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles — picked his spot on a whim at the restaurant on a trip to play the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Tournament, which, incidentally, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Though 3 Fils has been the one-stop destination for several rich and famous, the bold and the beautiful, on their successive visits to Dubai, perhaps, the standalone restaurant has struck a big chord with its patrons because of its even-handed approach, whose cosy interior and rustic harbour setting have weaned many away from the luxuriant settings of five-star properties that dot the emirate.
3 Fils has caught the gourmets’ imagination for its sumptuous food, no-reservation policy, laid-back spirit and a quaint waterside setting.
So, how did the homegrown Emirati brand, powered by Ahmed Abdul Hakim Saleh, beat iconic franchises, such as Japan’s Zuma, to win the prestigious 50 Best Restaurants Award?
Well, it’s a paean to the Arabic tradition of beiti beita, which loosely translates to our home is your home.
Saleh, who holds a diploma from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management University that is run by the Jumeirah Group and Dubai Holding, had made his initial foray into the food and beverage (F&B) industry in 2010, when he opened a restaurant that largely served traditional Middle Eastern and Emirati food.
He holds undergraduate and master's degrees from the UK and American universities, as well.
Saleh, CEO of The Lab Holding, which also runs the Brix restaurant’s three outlets in Dubai, cloud kitchens and also invests in startups, had started the venture with his Emirati partner, Adnan Al Ali, in 2016.
An inveterate traveller, Saleh visited around 55 countries before he opened 3 Fils. He is deeply impressed by East Asia, and more significantly, Japan.
“What I like most about Japan is the commitment and the dedication, and their attention to detail. The kind of ingredients to use, which make it one of the most sophisticated cuisines in the world. Their supply chain management is simply awesome. The Japanese put a lot of emphasis on quality,” he said.
Saleh’s market research showed — even though he confessed that he had opened 3 Fils “without any business plan in place” — that there was a great demand for an Asian-leaning cuisine with an accent on Japanese food.
The research findings prompted him to come up with a “disruptive model”.
3 Fils has come a long way since inception, despite Dubai’s competitive food and beverage (F&B) landscape.
Now, it has the capacity to seat around 120 people, with a staff of over 90 from more than 10 nationalities, a contrastto those early days of a tiny eight-member team.
Saleh’s disarming candour lays bare the restaurant’s success.
He hastened to add: “No matter our guest’s attire, our home is your home and the doors will always be open for us in the true spirit of our Arab tradition.”
Saleh explained the restaurant’s name 3 Fils is a homegrown take on the English idiomatic expression — two cents worth of opinion.
And it’s a word play on two cents worth of opinion by the two Emirati partners and the Singaporean-born chef Akmal Anuar and the long-time head chef of the famed Iggy’s, who had started the venture as a labour of love and has since moved on to 11 Woodfire.
However, when the team accepted the award in Abu Dhabi on February 7 — with the self-effacing and proud Saleh watching from the sidelines — they acknowledged his contribution and gave him a shoutout on stage.
Saleh considered his quality-focused menu as the unique selling proposition of 3 Fils and refused to pick his favourite.
The ingredients — sourced from across the world — make a flavourful impact.
For instance, tuna is sourced from Japan, wagyu beef from Japan and Australia, salmon from Norway and octopus from Australia.
Executive Chef Shun Shiroma, the former head chef of Tsuta — the first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant in Tokyo — is someone whose expertise is coming in handy at 3 Fils.
Sous Chef Freddy Mutombo Kazadi, who belongs to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is creating the magic in tandem with Shiroma.
The chefs’ recommendations include: otoro nigiri with foie gras — otoro is the fatty belly of tuna, which has an almost sweet flavour and a rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture (the best otoro comes from maguro or bluefish tuna); wagyu sando — a crisp cutlet of premium Japanese beef and paired with a tangy, spicy, sweet homemade Katsu sauce; dragon roll — usually filled with shrimp tempura and cucumber and comes with a delicious avocado topping; and uni bowl, which is made from the edible portion of spiny sea urchin, a Japanese delicacy.
The word-of-mouth publicity has stood 3 Fils in good stead as its patrons are growing by leaps and bounds.
Buoyed by the success, Saleh plans to open a 12-seater rooftop sushi bar at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour soon. However, entry will be only by reservation.
He humbly attributed the success to the team.
“I’m immensely proud of my team and make us feel more responsible. I’m thankful to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for bringing the best to Dubai. The emirate’s transformation because of the visionary leadership of His Highness has made all of us to dream big and believe in his adage that nothing is impossible,” he added.
Spoiler alert: What constitutes ‘best’ has been compiled on the basis of a carefully chosen list of the well-travelled gourmets and a computation of their votes.
The list is based on personal experiences and cannot be considered definitive by any stretch of imagination.
Mena's 50 Best Restaurants is a celebration of the best places to eat across 19 countries in the Mena region.
The concept, which is the brainchild of the 50 Best Organisation, made its Mena debut this year.
The list reflects the best restaurant experiences by a group of 250 voters, which comprised anonymous restaurant experts.
The award was announced in Abu Dhabi on February 7.
It celebrated the region’s gastronomy and provided diners around the globe with local insight and culinary recommendations.
The 50 Best Organisation’s Academy comprises 250 members, who are experts on Mena gastronomy.
None of the employees of any of the sponsors associated with the awards, including the main sponsor, votes or has any influence over the results.
In a bid to provide a fair representation of the Mena region, the Academy was divided into six separate voting regions such as the Kingdom of Voting is strictly confidential before the list announcement
The primary rules of voting were:
Panellists were allowed to vote for seven restaurants, at least one of which must be outside the country where they are based
Voters must have eaten in the restaurants they nominate over the past 24 months
Voters are not permitted to vote for restaurants they own or have a financial interest in
Nominations must be made for the restaurant, not for the restaurateur or the chef
Panellists submit their choices in order of preference in a bid to prevent a tie
Altogether, 19 countries in the region such as the UAE, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen were eligible for the award for the MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants.
3 Fils, Dubai, UAE
2. Zuma, Dubai, UAE
3. OCD Restaurant, Tel Aviv, Israel
4. Trèsind Studio, Dubai, UAE (also won Art of Hospitality Award; see box)
5. Sachi, Cairo, Egypt
6. Orfali Bros, Dubai, UAE
7. Fakhreldin, Amman, Jordan
8. LPM Restaurant & Bar, Dubai, UAE
9. George & John, Tel Aviv, Israel
10. Gaia Dubai, UAE
11. II Borro Tuscan Bistro, Dubai, UAE
12. Baron, Beirut, Lebanon
13. Coya, Dubai, UAE
14. HaBasta, Tel Aviv, Israel
15. Myazu, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
16. Reif Kushiyaki, Dubai, UAE
17. Animar, Tel Aviv, Israel
18. Trèsind, Dubai, UAE (see box)
19. Kazoku, Cairo, Egypt
20. Mimi Kakushi, Dubai, UAE
21. Liza, Beirut, Lebanon
22. Em Sherif, Beirut, Lebanon
23. Lows, Dubai, UAE (also won the Sustainable Restaurant Award)
24. Pescado, Ashdod, Israel
25. Hakkasan, Abu Dhabi, UAE
26. La Grande Table Marocaine, Marrakesh, Morocco
27. 13C Bar in the Back, Amman, Jordan
28. Tawlet, Mar Mikhael, Beirut, Lebanon
29. Amazonico, Dubai, UAE
30. Marble, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
31. Mirai, Manama, Bahrain
32. Iloli, Casablanca, Morocco
33. BB Social Dining, Dubai, UAE
34. Coya, Abu Dhabi, UAE
35. Indochine, Dubai, UAE
36. Cut by Wolfgang Puck, Doha, Qatar
37. Porterhouse, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
38. Zooba, Cairo, Egypt
39. Fusions by Tala, Manama, Bahrain
40. Milgo Milbar, Tel Aviv, Israel
41. Sufra, Amman, Jordan
42. LPM Restaurant & Cafe, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
43. White Robata, Kuwait City, Kuwait
44. Hoseki, Dubai, UAE
45. Izakaya, Cairo, Egypt
46. La Closerie, La Marsa, Tunisia
47. Clap, Beirut, Lebanon
48. Butcher & Still, Abu Dhabi, UAE
49. Plus61, Marrakesh, Morocco
50. Tokyo, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Indian chef Himanshu Saini has put Trèsind Studio and Trèsind on the global culinary map.
Earlier, Saini was ranked 75 on The Best Chef Awards, winning Restaurant of the Year by the FACT magazine for the second year running and collaborating with many of the world’s most acclaimed chef talents both in Dubai and across Europe. He is the highest-ranked chef in the Middle East.
Saini had commenced his career under chef Manish Mehrotra of award-winning Indian Accent fame in Delhi.
His distinctive style is a mélange of global ingredients and modern cooking techniques with traditional Indian elements.
“Today, we’ve celebrated success as a team and we celebrate the struggles and we celebrate the hardships that brought us to this triumph,” he said.
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