'The Dubai dream': Michelin star winner chef Jason Atherton credits city for his success

As the third edition of the guide was launched, Dubai became home to 19 Michelin starred restaurants


Nasreen Abdulla

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Chef Jason Atherton
Chef Jason Atherton

Published: Sun 7 Jul 2024, 6:34 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Jul 2024, 9:06 PM

When Chef Jason Atherton first arrived in Dubai in 2001, the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina were distant dreams. Instead, the most happening place was Deira, where he served as head chef of Verre, a restaurant by Gordon Ramsay, for several years. On Thursday, his eatery Row on 45 achieved two Michelin stars, just 10 months after its opening. He called it his 'Dubai dream' and said he was shaking when his name was called out.

“I cannot explain what that feeling was,” he said. “It was just very special. It was very emotional for me and my wife. The closest feeling I felt to that was when I held all my daughters for the very first time.”

He said he was a bit surprised when his restaurant was not in list of a one-star restaurant. “I have held a Michelin star for 20 years, so I know that you are not invited if you haven’t won anything,” he said. “So even when our restaurant was not in the list of one-star restaurants, I knew that we had won something. I was just hoping it was not a lifetime achievement award or something like that,” he chuckled.

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Dubai story

It was in Dubai that Jason met his now-wife Irrha Atherton. “She is from the Philippines and like me, she had migrated here to earn a better life for herself and her family,” he said. “We fell in love and got married in Jebel Ali. We made Dubai our home and we just love it here. I still have friends from back then and we both just love this city."

After parting ways with Gordon Ramsay in 2010, Jason set up his own company and opened several restaurants across the world. He was then invited by the Intercontinental to open a restaurant in Dubai. His outlet Marina Social, a casual dining spot focusing on British classics, has been part of the city’s culinary scene for six years now.

However, according to him it was only after the Michelin guide came to Dubai that the city became a much more serious foodie destination. “People started travelling to Dubai from different parts of the world to come and eat that food,” he said. “And people didn’t just want the Michelin food or fancy food. Dubai was making its mark with ethnic food. You name a cuisine and you can get it here.”

Calling Dubai a "phenomenon", he said the city taught him a lot of lessons. "It is literally the city of dreams," he said. "If you make it in Dubai, you can make serious waves. If you work hard and you do good things, the city will reward you. That is the beautiful thing about Dubai."

The road to Row on 45

As the food scene in the UAE began to heat up, Jason decided it was time to focus on branching out in Dubai. “We met with Pam Wilby from Grosvenor House, who said that they were shutting down the nightclub and invited us to look at it,” he said. He loved the premise so much that he decided to bring his City Social restaurant from London to Dubai in February 2023.

At the same time, he began working on an experiential fine dining restaurant on the top floor of the hotel. Row on 45 serves up a 17-course tasting menu priced at Dh1,145 per person and only caters up to 22 guests per day.

However, he says his goal was not to get listed on the Michelin guide. “When I opened it, I didn’t want to put the team under the pressure of a Michelin star because that then becomes the focal goal,” he said. “The goal was to open a restaurant to cook the finest food possible and keep every single diner happy.”

Michelin Guide

As the third edition of the guide was launched, Dubai became home to 19 Michelin starred restaurants. Eighteen eateries were awarded the Bib Gourmand for serving quality food at affordable prices.

Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM) said the third edition was a reason to “celebrate” and commended the winners. “We extend our congratulations to all the restaurateurs, chefs and other talent involved in their respective successes,” he said. “Dubai’s culinary scene continues to be a key pillar of the wider offerings that are making it one of the best cities to visit, live and work in, with diverse gastronomic offerings catering to all tastes and budgets for our visitors and residents.”

In his speech, Vice President of MENA Michelin, Harkesh Jaggi, commended Dubai for its “diverse, distinct and thriving” food scene, adding that the guide further strengthened the position of the emirate as an international gastronomy hub.


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