In case you haven’t seen it, here is the World’s 50 Best Restaurants MENA inaugural list. My congratulations to all listed.
I think anyone who knows me knows the excitement in which I anticipated this list. Knowing how hard kitchens, chefs, and service teams work and seeing their talent, dedication to the craft, and creative efforts recognized at the global level is something I’ve been waiting for since the list was announced last year.
Let’s also be clear; I’m one (opinionated) diner. My thoughts are just that — my own. I’m going to start with my biggest issue. When I look at these lists around the world, when I seek out new restaurants in a country or city I’m visiting, it literally never crosses my mind to go to a chain restaurant. While I am in no way disrespecting the work that goes on in these kitchens — their menus, their efforts, or their reputations — in my mind, the best restaurants (at least for the other regional lists and the Top 50 itself) do not have chains on them (and especially not two from the same restaurant). I have to believe that across MENA, there are enough independent or locally developed restaurants to fill a list of fifty (and, while we’re at it, maybe a better mix of women-led kitchens).
If you’re more of a visual person, I think FoodSheikh did an excellent job breaking down the details, including concepts, cuisines, and basically anything else you would like to know.
When I dine out, especially fine dining, I want to have food that I can’t have at any other restaurant. I want an experience that cannot be replicated in London, Toyko, or Cape Town. I choose to spend my money on menus and dishes not found anywhere else.
You might feel differently.
As with above, I’m not sure why a culturally diverse region with such unique heritage and culinary traditions has so many Asian concepts represented. It’s not that I don’t love many of these experiences; it’s more the seeming redundancy and overlap when there are so many other styles of cuisines available.
Moving on. Do I agree with all of the order for the UAE restaurants? I certainly do not. Did I see some venues included that made me (nearly) spit out my drink? I did. As I am not an expert for the other countries represented, I can only speak to the market I’ve been consistently dining in for the past five years. Do I think some restaurants that deserved to be on the list were left out? I absolutely do. However, yes, of course, I’m aware that the big picture win here is the list in MENA, drawing attention and focus to a region that I love seeing representation for.
As a final thought, I will say that I am pleased to know so many absolute class acts in the UAE F&B industry. While I was personally (and quite vocally disappointed) by some of the choices, all I saw were industry members holding their heads high. I think you all know who you are, and I am so proud to call you a friend (and I probably have a few things to learn from you). Even if I’m deeply insulted on your behalf, keep doing what you’re doing.
Where do we go from here? Do diners in MENA really enjoy chain dining that much? Does it ultimately come down to consistency, which is something the chain restaurants can do very well? Are we going to see even more Asian concepts show up? I guess we’ll wait and see what the impact is on the venues on the current list in the coming months. All I can do is my part of continuing traveling, dining, and exploring. I am personally (already) fascinated by next year’s list and to see which of the MENA winners show up on the World’s list in Moscow in July.
Some good things — that restaurants do not need to be licensed is something that I think is best represented in the MENA list. I also believe Chef Reif Othman being honored with the Chefs’ Choice Award is especially fitting, and it was probably my high point of the evening. Similarly, that the genuine hospitality at Tresind Studio received recognition raised up my spirits.
Of course, I would love to hear your thoughts, publicly or privately. Given the number of DMs and WhatsApps I’ve received this week, I know I’m not alone in having a lot (!) of feels on the subject. I have to believe that next year the list will look different, and I know which venues I will continue to patron, champion, and look forward to my next meal from.
I feel like this is the point where I want to add a call to action, some moment of optimism, but I’m honestly stuck on what to say. Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas.
So, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
It was a very busy week for deliveries! Scalini and Valrhona sent through some delicious treats, balanced by some fresh fruit and veg courtesy of Eroego. The Kakao Guy sent a box of their February cheesecake (Neopolitan!) along with some other goodies. MMI has me set up for Galentine’s Day with three stunning roses (all on sale throughout the month of February), Vietnamese Foodies wished me a belated Happy Lunar New Year, and The Lighthouse made sure I was well taken care of. Wings & Wiches treated us to a cheeky Friday lunch, and Floozie to some cookies. #gifted
On Wednesday, I went to Nara Escape for one of the most special dinners I’ve ever attended. With a stellar lineup of six of the best chefs in the country, we enjoyed a selection of courses under the stars. Catch the epic dinner here. #invited
On Thursday, I double-dipped and head out for not one, but two events (who am I this week?). I first went to the Bougie Burger event at Spinneys, with Say Cheese ME, and then onto Waldorf DIFC and Bull & Bear for a Monkey 47 event. #invited
We had a wonderful set of home services last weekend! We’ve renewed the lease on our villa but still had a long ‘to do’ list. Enter ProLine, who sorted out the many (many!) lights of the Springs (including going to pick them up for us) as well as an overdue cleaning of our air conditioning. Use code COURTNEY10 to save, and there are annual packages available. #collab
Check out my recap of our Farm to Table experience in France last summer. (I always enjoy working with the professional Sopexa team.)
I also wrote for Travel Curator.
Trader Joe’s best cheese. The Kitchn
In other list news, GQ Middle East released its Top 50 restaurants. GQ
Going to stay away from vanilla flavoring now. (Thanks, Liam?) NatGeo
Talk to me about vegan caviar. Eater
Equally interested in the pasta and the hat. Da Enzo
Why do we like sour food? The Atlantic
At the junction of food and romance novels. Bustle
I definitely have a case of popcorn brain. Draditi
This looks like a fun weekend treat. The Kitchn
The Sims + eating. NYT
A dating app I can get on board with. Food & Wine
Want to touch the cheese. Dieline
Let’s talk about representation. The Kitchn
Next week is Gulfood! I’ll be hosting two days (14th and 16th), so come and say hello if you plan on attending. I’ll be reuniting with the Estonia team for a meal at Bulgari, and I think I’m also heading to Tamoka for lunch.
If you enjoy this newsletter and want to support me, consider sharing this newsletter on social media, ordering from these restaurants, purchasing my books (or these novels), or buying me coffee. Archives of the Weekly A to Z can be found here.