The most bizarre dinner in Dubai

EDGAR eats the strangest meal in the city, served by waiters wearing bull heads.

Robert Chilton March 13, 2016

When it comes to food in Dubai you hear a lot about ‘concepts.’ Often it’s just a fancy way of dressing up a simple idea or menu. But where the word truly applies right now is at Enigma, a restaurant that is doing something never done before in the world.

The compact restaurant at the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Al Jadaf is hosting four guest chefs per year, all taken from the prestigious San Pellegrino list of the world’s best 50 restaurants.

Currently in residence until April 12 is Spaniard Quique Dacosta who has named his luxury pop-up food concept Vanguard. Following him will be Swedish chef Björn Frantzén from April 20. 

Part chef, part botanist, Dacosta’s restaurant in the town of Denia in Alicante on the south-east coast of Spain has three Michelin stars and sits at number 39 in San Pellegrino’s top 50. He received his first star in 2002 and his third in 2012. The restaurant, named after himself, is currently closed as Dacosta brings his daring menu to Dubai.

His food has been described as ‘techno emotional Spanish’ by the San Pellegrino food experts. He chooses to call it ‘independent and free’, ‘post avant-garde’ and – perhaps most accurately of all – ‘really weird.’

EDGAR arrived and was led onto the terrace for what we were told would not merely be dinner, but an ‘experience’. They weren’t kidding. Descriptions of drinks were written on cards and displayed on bendy metal stalks by waiters wearing black gloves.

Some nibbles arrived that were all about Dacosta’s memories of the sea. A small plate of refrigerated black pebbles looked like decoration but, actually, it was revealed, one of them was edible. Better choose carefully then, or we’d be facing an expensive and painful trip to the dentist.

After some gentle prodding one of the pebbles cracked to reveal a yellow truffle cheese cream that tasted pungent and overpowering. The coast was represented by savoury meringues shaped into starfish and coral. 

Black rectangular blocks bordering on a charcoal texture were flavoured with a whiff of squid ink and presented on a mini BBQ to signify – well – we’re not sure. A single rose in a vase contained in its centre a curl of shaved apple marinated in pomegranate juice, which we plucked out and ate using a pair of giant tweezers. 

Nibbles picked at, we were led into the dining room where eleven courses followed, all quite dainty and all very strange. A small grey dome of rice paste came with three blobs of what looked like bath foam. We cracked open the dome and there was a tasty octopus salad underneath. 

A small mound that resembled a garden came soon after, from which sprouted miniature mushrooms and edible flowers that pointed to Dacosta’s love of botany. Accompanying this, purely for presentation, was a wooden box crowned with a mound of moss that spewed liquid nitrogen fog – like a misty morning on the coast of Spain perhaps. 

A couple of highlights that followed were a larger plate splashed with red smears and two prawns that looked like a murder scene, and a lovely pigeon risotto under some soil type material which we scraped off. Then, suddenly, the lights went out and things got really odd.

The kitchen doors opened and four waiters emerged, all wearing white, angular bull masks that covered their heads. EDGAR’s companion whispered, “This feels like we’re in Eyes Wide Shut.”

They each carried two small dishes the size of an ashtray that were lit from underneath with a bright bulb. Sitting on top of a pile of small plastic diamonds was a lemon/orange meringue palate cleanser, which we ate like a biscuit. The bulls disappeared, the lights came on and we re-entered the real world. Finally, dessert was served on a kind of hollowed out piece of coral. A tube of thin, crispy chocolate (we think) was filled with a creamy vanilla gloop – not bad.

Shell-shocked, entertained and – to be honest – still a little hungry, EDGAR left the restaurant (via a sliding door with no handle) and walked through the grand lobby of the hotel. “Pretty weird, huh?” we muttered. “Yeah, pretty weird.” 

Enigma, Palazzo Versace Hotel. Weekdays: AED 750 per person, Thursday and Friday: AED 850 per person, food only. Wine pairing is an extra AED 600 per person.