From bazaar to five-star

From bazaar to five-star

Winsor Dobbin dons his napkin for the culinary flavor of the month the United Arab Emirates.

American star chef Charlie Trotter is working the room while his kitchen brigade plates up dishes like Japanese sea bream with sake sorbet and shiso langoustine with butter clams and Iberico ham and grilled venison tenderloins with dates and pomegranates. Trotter that hails from Chicago has created a 7 course degustation menu paired with 5 vintages of fine bordeaux ranging from 1995 to 2004 from the renowned Chateau Palmer.

This is not the the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival or Sydney International Food Festival  it is Gourmet Abu Dhabi .

The capital of the United Arab Emirates is an incongruous setting for such a feast. More than 75% of the Emirates' population are Muslims that adhere to Sharia law several of the guests are dressed in the flowing robes that are traditional for the Emirati. They are not able to enjoy the fine wine because the consumption of alcohol is largely frowned upon. The only exception is in hotels and clubs where expatriates and visitors are free to imbibe as they dine. Restaurants that are not part of a hotel are not allowed to serve alcohol.

The local Five star hotels hosted Gourmet Abu Dhabi that aims to be one of the world's great gourmet festivals attracting wine and food lovers from around the world. The festival Michelin chefs Alain Passard from L'Arpege in Paris Annie Feolde from Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence and Can Fabes in Barcelona from Santi Santamaria.

Other chefs in the line up including Alain Soliveres from Taillevent in Paris, Yves MattagneHeinz Beck and Lee Keung along with Australia's Curtis Stone that cooked a relaxed dinner for an appreciative expat audience.

Oriol Balaguer formerly of the world's top restaurant elBulli conducted pastry classes while 6 of the world's leading wine producers were invited to showcase their best vintages Australia's Leeuwin Estate featured alongside the likes of Chateau Angelus,Chateau Palmer, Chateau Cos d'Estournel, Tenuta San Guido and Alvaro Palacios. No expense was spared and a similarly stellar line up is promised for the 2nd Gourmet Abu Dhabi to be held from February 5 to 19. Highlights will include degustation dinners a raft of masterclasses and gourmet safaris to a lot restaurants in the Emirates Palace Hotel a massive edifice that is something of a Disneyland for adults and the sleek new Shangri-La Hotel.

The director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority Mubarak al Muhairi sees GAD as reinforcing a growing reputation as a vibrant destination by leveraging Abu Dhabi's gastronomic strengths.

Future events will make more use of Middle Eastern and Arabian dishes which were sparsely represented the 1st year an Arabian feast night marking a notable exception. And while Emirati cuisine can be hard to find as it is usually cooked in private homes there are a lot of Gulf delights waiting to be uncovered by the epicurious traveled: visit the date souk and sample dates from all over the Middle East or feast on any number of rich pastries. The streets are dotted with pastry shops and cafes serving strong coffees.

Check out the legendary Lebanese Flower as well that serves a range of Middle Eastern dishes including what is reputedly the best chicken shawarma to be found in the region. Zawak Al Sham and Jabel Al Noor are its rivals for that honor. You will find Emirati in traditional robes known as khandouras men and black abayas women eating alongside Westerners wearing the latest fashions.

Pop into any number of hole in the-wall establishments where visitors can puff on a traditional hubbly bubbly pipe best known as a shisha or hit the high rise hotels where you can eat anything from Vietnamese and Thai cuisine to GermanSpanish, and Brazilian fare.

Le Royal Meridien is a revolving restaurant with great views of the ever changing landscape while the best place to try authentic local dishes is Al Arish at the Al Dhafrah building near the fish market although alcohol is not allowed. Diners can sample Gulf dishes ranging from biryanis and majboos chicken baked in rice to gisheed minced shark and ouzi baked lamb and spicy rice.

Gourmet Abu Dhabi is just one of a growing number of international events hosted by the economic miracle that the modern day Emirates represents from a Formula One Grand Prix to the imminent arrival of outposts of the Guggenheim museums and Louvre Abu Dhabi is racing ahead. It's all a far cry from 1962 when a report by the British ambassador in Bahrain stated: "Abu Dhabi suk bazaar is uninspiring ... they have never had to cater for more than the modest wants of a town of 4000 inhabitants whose staple diet is fish rice and dates".



Etihad Airways flies from Sydney to Abu Dhabi priced from $2393. Phone 1800 998 995.


Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri has rooms from AED 1450 ($434) as well as furnished residences and villas. The hotel complex houses CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La and the Souk at Qaryat Al Beri shopping centre. Phone +971 2 509 8888.


Gourmet Abu Dhabi 2010 is from February 5-19.


Phone (02) 8268 5504 see Australian citizens do not need a visa.

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