Another one for the bucket list ticked off! A fine-dining experience in one of Dubai’s molecular gastronomy restaurants, the kind that Instagram lover’s dreams are made of. It was none other than the stunning ENIGMA at the absolutely stunning Palazzo Versace Hotel. ENIGMA’s concept borders hosting a distinct Michelin-starred chef from the world’s top restaurants every three months. No doubt, Dubai’s restaurant-goers and bloggers are over the moon with this one!
I call myself an amateur foodie. Food is exciting to me, and I probably spend far too much time thinking about it. I admit, I only know as much about the art and science of food as the mass proliferation of food websites and cable channels have schooled me on, as well as my own kitchen hit or misses over the years. Anthony Bourdain is my hero, Giada de Laurentiis is my soul sister, and I adore Ariana Bundy’s show on NatGeo — Ariana’s Persian Kitchen. I’ve only watched just about every foodie film and series on TV. I’m currently addicted to the ones on NatGeo. And yes, I’m one of those insufferable people who Instagram food. And this does not mean I have a mental illness or eating disorder. It just means that I have an appreciation of food as an art form and the way it plays into our senses in the most gratifying way.
We are now living in a time where expression through food is a mainstream cultural achievement. Celebrity Chefs strive and compete to awe us with the most tantalizing culinary creations imaginable, sanctioning adventure in our own kitchens. Executive Chefs live under pressure to continually manipulate their menus to keep foodsters coming back for more. And this makes me HAPPY!
My client can’t always attend every media invitation, so as a team member I get to fill her shoes in our tasting or marketing events. When this opp came along, I was in instant nirvana because I had read about the currently showcased 2 Michelin-starred Scandinavian chef – Björn Frantzén, who is rated 31/50 in the world of Chef stardom. He’s the first chef to come to Dubai from this region known for its plethora of fine-dining restaurants, so you know this was big for me! Especially since this slated to be my first experience of this kind and I had no inkling what Nordic cuisine tasted like.
And what an absolutely enchanting and luxurious experience it was! Anyone who is remotely interested in perfectly engineered modernist cuisine must try this at least once. Some may see these type of restaurants as ostentatious and overrated, but I already knew this was set to be not just another lovely meal at a great restaurant — but instead a theatrical event of the fifth dimension…and I was ready!
So this lone gourmand arrives via regular Dubai RTA taxi to the Palazzo Versace. I tried to schedule a Careem ride for this one, but no luck because they were all booked up. Must have been due to Ramadan rush hour time. This was my first time at the Palazzo and just wow! Opened for just a few months now, this hotel – reminiscent of a 16th century Italian Palace – is a work of art within itself with its high ceilings, landscaped gardens, white-gloved bellhops, and interiors covered in Versace prints. I felt like I had just walked into a scene at Julian Fellowes film version of Romeo & Juliet. Just dreamy!
From what I’d learned up to that point about Norwegian cuisine is that it’s influenced by the bounty of its sea and forests — things like cod, Klippfish (bacalao as we called in Puerto Rico), herring,gravlaks, Brunost, cured meats (even reigndeer!), and a whole array of foraged ingredients and exotic berries scoured from their woodlands. The restaurants décor lends to that feeling of a place where ferns peep and hide, white-stemmed birches grow…a place where ones expect to see a lurking gnome.
Little did I know that I was about to experience an ultimate visual drama and taste sensation that would give me a direct look into the soul and culture of this region.
And it went like this…
My server, Dennis, starts me off with a refreshing glass of Prosecco. A much-welcomed treat when you’ve just stepped in from intense Dubai’s heat this time of the year. I toast to the gastronomic Gods and wait for what’s to come. The menu is a tasting menu, and there is no posting about it on their website, which adds to the mystery and novelty of the whole thing. I’m presented with a lovely booklet which explains in great detail the journey I’m about to experience in its exact sequence, as well as some initial sketches of Chef Frantzén’s creations for the 12-course meal. The booklet itself serves as a perfect souvenir of the experience I was about to have.
The first starter trio comes out. The No. 1. Dennis instructs me to pop the apple & lingonberry macaroon with foie gras & chervil in my mouth like a food shot. I comply, and therein begins my journey! The pretty, little thing exploded in my mouth. I blushed because I was not sure if that’s how it was supposed to go. Dennis stands there watching for my reaction and gives me a look of reassurance, so I know I did it right. It felt like a giant pop rock (only those from by birth decade will know what that is) exploding in my mouth except with layers of sweet, tangy, and salty — creating a burst of flavor on my palate.