Comment: Middle East not ready for Michelin

Aidan Keane explains why the region is not ready for F&B ratings

Keane Brands founder and creative director Aidan Keane.
Keane Brands founder and creative director Aidan Keane.

Our columnist tells us why he thinks the Middle East is emphatically not ready for international F&B ratings such as the Michelin guides

We have recently finished designing a restaurant. Nothing new in that ... happens every few weeks, but what is different is that the restaurant I am referring to has serious aspirations for Michelin star status. That was the way of thinking right from the start. It was a guiding principle throughout the design stages and is still very much the mission now that it is open and operational.

The restaurant I am referring to is called Manchester House and is as funky and casual as fine dining gets. The restaurant is very chic in a designer-type way. It is big, open and minimal with this giant kitchen, slap-bang in the middle of proceedings.

A kitchen that you actually walk through to get to your seat, a kitchen and team run by the outstanding talent of Aiden Byrne, the youngest person ever to be awarded a Michelin star, at just 23 years old!

So, we know a bit about the world of Michelin stars and who they are awarded to. I have eaten in many Michelin-starred places and am never not amazed at the detail, humour and genius they produce. Utterly, utterly incredible. Truly.

Thing is, I cannot see one working brilliantly in the Middle East region and I’ll tell you why. You need very large populations to operate Michelin star-style restaurants. Large numbers of people that live and work in a particular place.

Let’s take Dubai. Whilst aspirations are sky high, the actual population is low. Many people are in transit, passing through and as a result, the eating need is very different to that of a resident; faster, casual, a far more informal occasion is needed.

Somewhere to sit and talk, to concentrate on the company they are with as opposed to the content of their plate.

Strange, that this informality is also matched by the eating habits of the local market too. From what I see daily, the locals in this region are very laid-back people who enjoy informality and the easy life. It has to be because of the climate, but regardless, over formality is not a phrase you would naturally apply to the local or indeed expat communities here.

The formality of fine dining works well, as a rule where there is a mature and sophisticated eating out market. New York, London, Paris, the usual suspects. Places where there is either a long and cultured tradition of eating out, or a huge resident population or both. You need a dining culture in order for this style of fancy, fabulous dining to thrive.

I am absolutely not convinced the time is now for the Michelin star to shine in the region. But hey, things change here fast! Bon appetit!

Aidan Keane is the larger-than-life founder and creative director of Keane Brands, one of the world’s specialist design houses based in London, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

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