Are restaurants with celebrity chefs worth the hype?
UAE's influencers voice their opinions
Not all celebrity chef restaurants are created equal - however, there are some who really put their heart and soul in crafting a menu that is well-balanced and delicious, while also presenting a bit of their personality with every dish. Of course, on the flip side, there aren't many celebrities that live in the same town or country where those restaurants are located - and so they are only lending their name to an already existing concept. This is great for hotels that house these restaurants, as it's an opportunity to attract new customers on the strength of the celebrities' personal branding. You'll even find influencers partnering with existing outlets or hotels to bring in fusion menus or a special dish, which obviously attract their fans. A great example of this is "Salt Bae" - even I can't deny that, after watching his viral videos, I wanted to run to his restaurant!
Historically, celebrity chef restaurants tend to start off strong but then their popularity dips because the chefs themselves are never around, so for the customer, the novelty wears off. That being said, I have found that, at least in the UAE, most celebrity chefs do live and work around here. There are also many chefs who fly in often to ensure that they are present. This ensures continued development of their menu and quality control.
Marina Social by British chef Jason Atherton, Morimoto Dubai by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto from Japan, and Bleu Blanc by David Myers are some of my favourite restaurants in Dubai. They have yet to disappoint me and are not only consistently innovating but driving home the concept of good food that is also well-presented.
(Lisa Kwatenma is one half of the foodie couple behind the blog www.wherethefoodtho.tumblr.com. Keep up with their adventures on @Wherethefoodtho.)
When it comes to the international dining scene, I'd give a resounding 'yes' to dining at a restaurant fronted by a celebrity chef. As an advocate of fine dining, I have had the pleasure of eating at some of world's top restaurants and can confirm that the likes of Dinner by Heston or Ministry Of Crab live up to the hype. There's a reason these restaurants are held in high regard. Chefs like Virgilio Martínez, Massimo Bottura and Gaggan Anand have redefined the way we experience food.
Yet, my stance changes slightly when looking at the F&B industry in the UAE. In many cases, the celebrity chef represents nothing more than a recognised name to hang above the door. There are exceptions with the likes of Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes and Gordon Ramsay vying for attention. Tom Aikens is setting a precedent at the Abu Dhabi edition where he fronts three restaurants, making almost bi-monthly visits, greeting customers and, in our experience, actually cooking.
The opening of Peruvian hotspot Lima marked an exciting time for the industry with Virgilio Martínez bringing his acclaimed food to the Middle East. Yet, no matter how good the final menu, there is a distinct feeling that Dubai diners have been provided a somewhat diluted vision. Perhaps due to the difficulties in sourcing niche ingredients, such as algae or potatoes grown high the Andes mountains. The scope of celebrity is also a factor - how can one person focus on so many establishments?
Saying that, on a recent trip to London, we were lucky enough to secure reservations at Dinner By Heston and although celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal may not be cooking on a daily basis ,the quality remains evident.
In recent years, we've had a string of celebrity chef openings from Massimo Bottura (Torno Subito), Gordon Ramsay (Hell's Kitchen), Alain Ducasse (Mix by Alain Ducasse), Pierre Gagnaire (Pierre's Bar and Bistro) and José Avillez (Tasca). Yet, the final product varies greatly. I still believe eating at the restaurant of a celebrity chef is worth the hype, considering my recent dining experiences at Akira Back Dubai and Morimoto Dubai. But I recommend you do your research. Or wait until your next trip.
(David Tapley is the founder of fine dining and luxury blog www.outandaboutuae.net. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @outandaboutuae.)