As a fiercely independent rating organization that protects the identities of its inspectors as if they were state secrets, the Michelin Guide has become a universally respected benchmark for restaurants around the world. Five years ago, its inspectors began surreptitiously monitoring Dubai’s culinary scene. As Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, recently told Business Traveler Middle East, the same inspector never visits a restaurant twice in order to protect his identity. However, a restaurant’s final rating is also never determined by a single inspector.
“We have different inspectors visiting the same restaurant multiple times. The decision to award this restaurant a star is always a team decision based on feedback from several inspectors,” explains Poullennec. “What’s important to us is these inspectors’ knowledge of different types of cuisines, and so they travel the world to sample different cuisines and remain open-minded. For example, French inspectors will not only contribute to the French Michelin Guide, but will also be involved in visiting and contributing to Michelin guides in destinations in Asia, the United States and now the Middle East,” he says, adding that each Michelin inspector, on average, makes 300 meals in the field every year.
Michelin now offers a guide to some forty destinations around the world, some cover an entire country, as is the case of France, others focus on a particular city like a Michelin Guide for New York. The question then arises, why did Michelin take so long to get to Dubai? “Our inspectors have been following the evolution of the culinary landscape over the past few years in Dubai. It is due to the dynamism and diversity of its cuisine, but also due to a strong increase in the quality of its offer, that we have decided to move forward with the first guide to Dubai”, notes Poulennec.
Michelin recommended a total of 69 restaurants in its inaugural Dubai edition revealed last month. However, only 11 of them have received the coveted Michelin star. Of these, nine earned a single star and two received two stars.
A star is awarded to restaurants that Michelin considers to be those that offer “quality cuisine, which is worth the detour”. The nine restaurants in Dubai that have won a single star each are: Al Muntaha, 11 Woodfire, Armani Ristorante, Hakkasan, Höseki, Ossiano, Tasca by José Avillez, Torno Subito and Trèsind Studio.
The two restaurants in Dubai that have received two stars each and are therefore classified by Michelin as restaurants with “exceptional cuisine, worth a detour” are Il Ristorante – Niko Romito and Stay by Yannick Alléno. None of Dubai’s restaurants received three stars this year, denoting a restaurant with “exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special detour”.
As Poullennec explains, there are around 15,000 restaurants in the world that have been recommended by the Michelin Guide in all of its international editions. Of these, only around 3,200 have at least one star, while there are only 134 restaurants in the world with three stars. The judging criteria assesses five key criteria including quality of ingredients, harmony of flavors, mastery of techniques, the personality of the chef as expressed in the kitchen and – perhaps most important of all – constancy over time and across time. the whole menu.
While Dubai has yet to secure its elusive three-star restaurant, one of the restaurants selected by the guide has earned a green star. Lowe by Kate Christou and Jesse Blake is the only restaurant in Dubai to have received a Green Star in the inaugural edition. Lowe’s kitchen team, according to Michelin, practice nose-to-tail cooking and source their ingredients as locally as possible. Lowe’s also strives to achieve zero food waste, where its “Waste Not” dinners feature eight to ten dishes of potential waste, saved over the previous months. “The Green Star concept was introduced in 2020. We have less than 500 restaurants worldwide with a Green Star. We want to spotlight restaurants that are at the forefront of a sustainable approach to fine dining. These restaurants put sustainability at the heart of everything they do and are a true inspiration to their peers and customers. We have as consistent an approach to evaluating restaurants for a green star as we do for a Michelin star. Our inspectors base their decisions on a Green Star on research as well as a restaurant meal. These restaurants have an impact that goes beyond the restaurant industry.
Another category you’ll find in this year’s Dubai guide is Bib Gourmand, a category that, as Poullennec puts it, is “all about value for money.” In the case of Dubai, there were 14 restaurants where the average price of a gourmet meal was 250 Dhs. These include Folly, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, Bait Maryam, Indya de Vineet, Fi’Lia and Al Khayma.
While the Michelin Guide is widely celebrated, there are also criticisms of it from some that it puts undue pressure on chefs and restaurants to operate at full capacity nonstop. But Poullennec ignores the criticism, adding that the guide is ultimately at the service of the end customer, and that Michelin must do justice to the customer by updating it objectively each year without bending in any way to restoration.
“Winning a Michelin star changes the lives of chefs and their teams. Of course, with a star, you can’t take it for granted. Every year we have a new guide and the restaurants have to defend their star because this restaurant is ultimately a recommendation that we make to a consumer. We push restaurants to raise the bar and stay consistent,” he says.
The Michelin Guide continues its international expansion, with the confirmation of the launch of the new edition in Istanbul in October. However, Poullennec also hints at further expansion of the guide to the Middle East. “I have no specific announcements to make at this stage, but no doubt all [major] destinations in the Middle East will be covered by the guide in the years to come. We started our [Middle East] selection with Dubai because Dubai is a mature, dynamic, diverse and rapidly growing culinary destination in the region. The latest results from the Dubai Michelin Guide show this very clearly.