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19 April 2024

The bulging cost of the gourmet meal

By Adrian Murphy


(LIZ RAMOS)         


Dubai’s reputation as a world-class culinary destination could be under threat from rising petrol prices and the erosion in the value of a dollar-pegged currency.


The increase in prices of imported foodstuff and the recent rise in the cost of gas is eating into profit margins and the extra cost is likely to be passed on to customers.


But chefs and restaurateurs, who gathered in the emirate recently for Taste of Dubai – one of the biggest food industry conventions in the Middle East – say higher-than-normal price rises are necessary because they will not compromise on quality.


The Taste of Dubai brought together international chefs and culinary experts to celebrate the rapid expansion of fine dinning in Dubai.

They said customers expect to pay extra for a five-star fine-dining experience. But with a 25 per cent rise in the cost of a cylinder of gas and food imports from Europe rising by as much as 30 per cent in some cases, the profit margins are diminishing and it means Dubai’s more discerning foodies are paying the price.


In the past five years, the UAE has welcomed a litany of world-class restaurants and top quality chefs – a trend pioneered by three-star Michelin chef Gordon Ramsay, who opened Verre at Hilton Dubai Creek in 2001, followed by Gary Rhodes and Marco Pierre White in 2007.


Uwe Micheel, President of Emirates Culinary Guild, says the impact of the recent price rises on gourmet cuisine is due to a variety of factors. He says: “The biggest impact has been the exchange rate of the dirham pegged to the dollar. Everything bought from Europe is 20 per cent to 30 per cent costlier. And then due to the oil price increase, you have higher transport costs too.”


He adds that “Prices are higher than normal as the market, even when it is stable, sees a three per cent to four per cent increase. But now chefs have to find a compromise formula, which could mean 10 per cent to 15 per cent increase on certain meat and seafood dishes. Even so, prices here could still retain a competitive edge compared to other international cities.”

Annual UAE food imports are around $4 billion (Dh14.6bn), a figure expected to grow alongside the development of the economy, tourism and a surge in population, according to a recent report.

Celebrity chef Gary Rhodes was among the high-profile guests taking part in Taste of Dubai. He runs seven restaurants around the world, including Rhodes Mezzanine, which opened last year at Grosvenor House. He believes customers are willing to meet the rise in costs if quality is assured.


“I have a feeling about what is value for money – and it’s quality. And if the products used to make quality stuff warrants a rise in the price, then customers usually pay a couple of dirhams more.


“What people forget when they go to a top restaurant is the attention to detail that goes in to preparing every mouthful. From the expensive glasses, napkins and plates to the service everything is top-quality and that costs money.”


The first Taste of Dubai, organised by event management company Turret Group Middle East, saw many five-star restaurants showcase cuisine from Europe, Asia and the Americas. Mexican chef Richard Sandoval, who runs Maya at Le Royal Meridien, says the price of dishes on his menu have to be carefully managed.


“You can’t do things like the supermarkets. You absorb the costs for a certain amount of time then you increase the price. But even then you have to be reasonable to help your business and the customers,” he says.


Emirates Gas and Emarat, two Dubai-based liquid petroleum gas companies, recently increased the price of gas.


The current price of a medium-sized gas cylinder (22kg) has risen from Dh76 to Dh92, a 44kg cylinder – generally used by restaurants – will now cost Dh187 instead of the earlier price of Dh143 and the price of a small cylinder (11kg) has been increased from Dh43 to Dh53.


“The price increase has happened in relation to the international prices of crude oil,” says a spokesperson for Emarat.


“If oil prices decrease then the price of gas will come down. We are observing 50 per cent of the price loss and we are not passing all of the increase on to the customer.”


So while market prices may affect the cost of dishes on the menus of some of the cities top restaurants, the exceptional quality and taste, say the chefs, will stay the same.


In the kitchen
MATTHEW PICKOP: As the Executive Chef at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, Verre, Pickop is well aware of the rising cost of fine dining.
He says: “What affects me in Dubai is transport and availability of produce. I have full control of the price of food. I believe in reasonable pricing and I expect my customers to pay what I would. Prices of certain items such as lobsters are based on the market and these are always going to fluctuate. You just cannot keep increasing the price, you have to keep it reasonable.”


Verre’s signature dishes: Ravioli of Scottish lobster and salmon with tomato chutney and lobster velouté, Dh105. Halibut with lobster and herb risotto with lobster bisque, Dh60.


ANTONIO DE DOMINICIS: The Chef De Cuisine at La Moda Italian restaurant in Radisson SAS, Deira, believes prices will not affect quality.

He says: “Everything is increasing in price, especially products imported from Europe. As an Italian restaurant, we rely on products from Italy and these have gone up considerably. The availability of food is a problem as well. As the seasons change, we find certain items become more scarce. We are losing money and profits on a weekly basis and we could reduce the portions or replace Italian produce with local. But as an Italian chef I want to keep the quality so we will have to increase the prices of certain dishes. This is a very difficult issue and not easy to solve."


La Moda’s signature dish: Duck breast risotto with truffle and balsamic reduction, Dh70.


CHRIS GLAESSEL: Director of food and beverage at the Shangri-La Hotel Dubai, where Shang Palace is run by Executive Chinese Chef Ken Huang, says the restaurant goes through price changes regularly.

He says: “One thing is certain and that is we cannot keep fluctuating prices as the consumer should not suffer. When it comes to seasonal prices, we budget for an average. The only price increase year-on-year we take into consideration is inflation. When it comes to products’ scarcity, we have enough purchasing power to shift between suppliers to make our budget and price structure feasible.”


Shang Palace’s signature dishes: Sizzling beef with mongolian sauce, Dh70. Beijing duck cooked in front of the guest, Dh280.