enigma ɪˈnɪɡmə/ noun
Something new and exciting has hit the shores of Dubai, a new restaurant called Enigma with an interesting dining concept or should we say a “multi-sensory journey” which opened just last week at Palazzo Versace a newly opened hotel and resort in Cultural Village. For those not in the know, Cultural Village is on the opposite of Dubai Creek from Festival City, and whilst there’s a lot of sand and building surrounding the hotel at the moment, there are some big plans taking shape to make this a new area of Dubai to explore.
The theme of Enigma is that the dining concept will change every three months, not just in terms of a new menu or a different themed menu, but actually the Chef will change every three months. These aren’t just any Chefs, this years’s line up will include four Chefs from the World’s Finest Fifty Restaurants each with their own Michelin starred restaurant credentials (Michelin stars belong to the restaurant and not the Chef).
The first Chef to start the dining story was Chef Quique Dacosta who owns a three Michelin star restaurant, Quique Dacosta Restaurant in Valencia, Spain. The theme of the restaurant is very much about story telling (the untold story) and about Enigma (mystery) and the whole concept starts and ends with a level of the unknown, a mystery and a sense of a journey that’s difficult to put into words, but is delightful, sensual and of course an Emigma. Chef Quique’s menu, or should I say story is titled Vanguard.
The Enigma website is suitable vague about exactly what the story of your dinning experience at Enigma will be and gives little away apart from the credentials of the Chef and a bit about that they are trying to achieve. On entering the restaurants guests are asked to share a little of their experience if they want to but not too much so as not to spoil the experience for others. There’s no menu, instead staff deliver dishes to the table in a very co-ordinated system sometimes one dish at a time, sometimes more. The dishes are playful, clever, visually stunning and hit your senses in a number of different ways, perhaps a bit ‘whacky’ or shall we say Avantgarde. There’s some drama and some unexpected twists and turns over dinner too, which again I won’t share as I want you to experience them as we did, waiting to expect the unexpected !
As you would expect, a lot of attention has been put into every dish, each with it’s own story in terms of ingredients and concept. Each dish is cleverly and artfully plated, flavours are intense and rich, colours and textures are in abundance and the variety of textures involved in the dishes demonstrate, as you would expect from a menu at this level, some incredible techniques and finesse. I’m told that the staff spend a significant amount of time preparing for service and their preparation is almost done in silence, such is the level of concentration needed for this level of cooking.
We visited on the fifth day of service, having missed the opening night because of some transport issues, and we lucky enough to chat to Quique as he roamed the restaurant and chatted to guests, albeit it through an interpreter, he was relaxed and full of smiles, eager to meet guests and to hear their feedback and dare I say had tons of charisma in an enigmatic way.
We loved most of the dishes with one or two standing out as absolute favourites and ones we would have liked double the portion as a standalone dish. One dish was not to either of our taste and we asked for this to be removed which the staff did with a smile, explaining that it’s all part of the experience. On a plus point, no menu means we tried some dishes that typically we would not order had we read a menu ourselves, on the minus point, the dish we didn’t like left us feeling a little queasy just for a short time.
Service is impeccable, swift and attentive and the staff are extremely knowledgeable and delighted to talk about the whole experience of Enigma.
As for dish names and explanations, I’m going to keep that to myself, to keep the Enigma theme going, just make sure you only eat the edible parts of each dish …
More details, and table reservations can be made on the Enigma website. The menu is available for 81 more days (and counting) and then there will be a new story with a new Chef. The team are setting off next week to start planning the second part of this year’s story and a little bird whispered to me the location of their next trip and to say I’m excited is a completely understatement !!
Enigma is open six days a week, every evening from 6:30 – 10:30pm.
Top Tip : make sure you get therefore before time so you can enjoy some clever cocktails on the terrace.
Madrid Fusion – Manila
But my story doesn’t end here, you see I had met Quique before briefly whilst attending Madrid Fusion which was held in Manila in the Philippines last year. Quique was one of the first presenters on stage and his story of A Thousand Faces of Rice had enthralled me, even though I’m a non rice eater.
“Quique Dacosta has a great respect for Raw Products and Material which he believes are the essence, the source of all virtues” – Madrid Fusion, 2015
Over the three days of the Conference, I kept seeing Quique around the convention centre and had dinner at a few of the same restaurants as him, hosted by the Filipino Celebrity Chefs who were part of Madrid Fusion. From memory he was also present at dinner we all had at the Presidents Palace. Whilst the Spanish Chefs were entertaining, knowledgeable and hugely inspirational almost none of them spoke English and sadly Spanish was never a language I learned, so I never really got to chat to him or the other Spanish Chefs which is a shame as the opportunity to dine with so many Chefs with such high credentials happens rarely.
Shows such as Madrid Fusion and even the British Cookery Shows like MasterChef etc give us an insight into the level of thought, dedication, passion, innovation, reinvention, perhaps a tinge of madness … and complicated techniques which go into producing plates of Michelin star food, indeed some of the Chefs said they work with scientists when developing dishes as much as they work with their team and ingredients.
Madrid Fusion Manila is happening again this year on 7-9th April 2016, it’s a range of Chef Presentations and Demonstrations, Trade Shows, Tastings and a fantastic showcase of Filipino cuisine. This year looks to be bigger and better than last year, with Chefs from the Philippines, Spain, Japan, Peru, Hong Kong etc.
Madrid Fusion Manila 7-9th April, SMX Convention Centre, Manila
Disclaimer : I was a guest of Enigma, with no obligation to write, all opinions are my own based on my experience. All images are taken by me. I was also a guest at Madrid Fusion Manila in 2015 hosted by the Philippine Tourist Authority.