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Chef Jason Atherton sees Dubai as hotspot for restaurant openings

Jason Atherton Supplied
Jason Atherton is enamoured with Dubai's growth as an international F&B centre
  • Celebrity restaurateur opens City Social at Grosvenor House
  • Michelin Guide to the UAE helps Dubai as fine dining hub
  • British chef sees growth potential in Saudi Arabia

When British restaurateur and celebrity chef Jason Atherton was searching for the location of his latest business venture, Dubai was a no-brainer.

He met and married his wife Irha in the emirate and is quick to describe Dubai as “like a second home to me”.

The launch of City Social, which opened its doors earlier this month on the 43rd floor of Grosvenor House in Dubai Marina, was also the obvious choice from a business point of view. 

He told AGBI: “I’ve had some of the best moments of my career here. What makes the city appealing is the sheer growth that Dubai has achieved over the past 22 years, and especially the dining scene.  

“There used to be only one or two restaurants which stood out but when restaurants like Zuma, LPM Restaurant & Bar and Buddha-Bar opened they changed everything.

“Great restaurant designs are everywhere now, there are new venues opening every week that have turned Dubai into a truly international city.” 

City Social in Dubai Marina has views of the Gulf. Picture: Supplied

Atherton, who left a job with Gordon Ramsay in 2010 to launch his own restaurant company, added: “The level of produce you’re able to procure in Dubai makes it one of the top five cities in the world – something that’s crucial for high-level food and beverage [F&B] operations and restaurateurs.”

As well as City Social, Atherton is behind 7 Tales, a Japanese-inspired speakeasy bar located one floor above his new restaurant. He also plans to launch another project in Dubai soon.

“There are few cities around the world that could probably keep up with Dubai,” he said.

“The people here work hard and settle for nothing but the best. They’re used to a high calibre of F&B venues popping up every week. Restaurateurs must go that extra mile to ensure their venue has longevity and can win the hearts of the residents and visitors.”

Atherton believes the launch of the Michelin guide in the UAE last year will help keep standards high.

“It’s crucial for Dubai’s growth as a foodie destination, and an important tool for customers who will use it to pick some of the best places in town,” he said.

“People will now arrive at Dubai airport and check the Michelin app to plan their holiday around which hotspots they want to visit.”

Atherton, 51, has won three Michelin stars and runs 15 restaurants in locations including Dubai, London, Jeddah, Shanghai, Mykonos, Cebu and Saint Moritz.

Of Dubai’s recent move to suspend the 30 percent tax on alcohol, he said: “Alcohol is expensive and cutting the tax will increase tourism and encourage consumers to drink better-quality labels.”

Food security is high on Atherton’s agenda with the UAE’s hot climate meaning it has to import a lot of its food requirements. He is interested in getting involved in vertical farming initiatives in the future.

“Vertical farming is the future of urban cities,” he said. “I have investigated it for many of my restaurants, but right now I am focused on opening the new venue.”

Open kitchen at the latest dining experience at Grosvenor House Dubai Marina

He added that Saudi Arabia offers “huge potential”, having opened the Maraya Social restaurant in the tourism hotspot of AlUla.

“I see Saudi Arabia as a growth area,” he said. “I’m excited to see how the country will continue to grow.”

For now though, Atherton is focusing on the new projects in Dubai which have taken the best part of two years to come to fruition and have created about 70 jobs.

He’s keen to have fun with his menus in Dubai. “A favourite signature dish of mine from our new venue is the City Social Ice Cream Game,” he said.

“You will receive five mystery flavours of ice cream. If all flavours are guessed correctly, we will give you a complimentary mystery prize. It’s something fun that adds some excitement to your meal.”

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