Cuisine Focus: British

Chefs in the region discuss British cuisine's challenges and popularity

A roast dinner from Reform Social & Grill.
A roast dinner from Reform Social & Grill.

How popular is British cuisine in this region?

Tristin Farmer, chef patron, Marina Social: It has developed a lot in the last few years, and the expansion of it internationally is incredible. The Middle East is the perfect example. The number of British expats is high here and [meeting] that need creates an opportunity for brands like us. It has become very popular.

Ryan Waddell, executive chef, Reform Social & Grill: British cuisine is at its strongest in Dubai — more so than other areas in the GCC. Over the past 12-18 months there has been an influx of celebrity chefs, with Jason Atherton and Tom Aikens opening venues; Gordon Ramsay’s return with Bread Street Kitchen; Nathan Outlaw’s Al Mahara; and Gary Rhodes still having much success. At Reform, we are seeing continued growth — our full English breakfast and weekend roast sales increase on a weekly basis.

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Alex Mobsby, chef de cuisine, Geales Dubai: I firmly believe British cuisine is popular within this region, not just for British people but for people that have a genuine interest in food.

Anthony Reilly, head chef, Senara: If you look at some British restaurants in the region, the amount of footfall, social media interest and revenue they generate is second to none. Brits are very proud of their heritage so any opportunity to dine in a British restaurant is appealing, as it is for other nationalities to try some of our famous dishes.

Manuel Palancares, head chef, Pots, Pans & Boards: Wi would say that British-Mediterranean cuisine is extremely popular and becoming increasingly so among non-British communities. We serve guests hailing from a range of nationalities at the restaurant.

What trends have you noticed in British cuisine?

Darren Velvick, chef patron, The Croft: : More casual style, less formal; offering a great selection of craft beers and gin; and serving foods in trays and printed plates to bring back nostalgia for the expats. When I was visualising The Croft, I wanted to make it a home from home, somewhere the Brits can feel that they are in the UK.

Farmer: I can see there is a mix between British cuisine and other cuisines. Our menu is British-Mediterranean and that allow us to have a more playful approach in our dishes. Also, food is becoming lighter— less heavy braised — and the atmosphere is changing from formal to more casual.

Waddell: Healthy eating and increased vegetarian options. I think street food is huge in the UK, especially in London. Also, restaurant menus are getting smaller and taking time to specialise more with specific foods.

Mobsby: Going back to basics — many top chefs are not so focused on the complexity of the dish but on being honest and using fresh ingredients. Doing the basics really well and giving people that nostalgic feeling.

Reilly: It’s all about doing something different to a classic; chefs are taking dishes from old recipe books that only your grandmother would have and putting their twist on it to create something new.

Palancares: In the last two years, British cuisine has seen more chefs willing to represent their food in a more contemporary and passionate way. We have seen the opening of Jason Atherton’s Marina Social, and Gordon Ramsay’s Dubai comeback with Bread Street Kitchen. Not forgetting our own Pots, Pans & Boards by Tom Aikens — all key contributors in elevating the presence of British cuisine here.

Are there any challenges for chefs with British cuisine?

Velvick: If anything, the cost of importing British products. Even in the supermarket you pay more than double the price you would in the UK. The issue is — and sometimes I do this as well — comparing prices with back home using a currency converter. That’s when you hear 'How Much?’ To keep costs down, I buy as much local organic produce as possible; supporting local farmers is good value and the product is getting better year-on-year.

Farmer: My main challenge is trying to get the local UK products into our kitchen. Some are available and some are not. That is when we have to be ready to improvise and adapt, which we have always done with success — and it’s fun at the same time.

Waddell: Sourcing the correct products can be difficult, especially as British chefs prefer to use British ingredients. At Reform we are lucky to receive great Scottish seafood, but there is still a limitation to beef and lamb products, as what is on the market is very expensive. There are a lot of specialist items that we can’t get, like white sprouting broccoli or red kale.

Mobsby: Trying to make something in the same way as a guest may have had the dish in the past; I like to think of British cuisine as nostalgic and I like to help guests re-live memories.

Reilly: The Menus of most British restaurants in Dubai look pretty much the same. The challenge is creating dishes that are unique and yet nostalgic to your customer base while also appealing to a variety of cultures and really showing off the lesser-known British classics.

Palancares: Lots of people wrongly associate British food with not having a diverse and quality cuisine. There is a great tradition, products and diversity in the UK. For example, cheddar is associated with the cheap imitation sitting on fast food burgers and few people know Britain has some of the best farmed cheeses in the world — more than 700 kinds, which is 100 more than France.

How’s the supply stream?

Waddell: All our dishes can be produced with items that are readily available, therefore we just have to adapt. Australian beef is favoured by most chefs who can’t afford to pay UK prices for beef. We also build our menus by taking the supply chain into account and avoiding items we know will be an issue with quality, due to the transportation when importing.

Reilly: It’s tough to come from the UK, where you have so much quality produce on your doorstep for a good price, to create dishes with produce that is a few days old due to importing and more expensive. We are lucky that we have great suppliers who understand the need for quality British produce so it takes away the sting a little.

Palancares: Compared to a few years ago, it’s very easy nowadays to get any product you desire in Dubai. We have amazing suppliers that provide us with the best Britain has to offer. When I arrived in Dubai it was impossible to get real Maris Pipers or King Edward potatoes — now the most qualitative of their kind are the base for our smooth mashed potato or our amazing triple cooked chips.

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