Open for business: Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara

As Burj Al Arab's new restaurant opens, the Michelin-starred British chef tells EDGAR about the menu, his team and his nerves.

September 26, 2016

It was in March this year when we first met Nathan Outlaw and he told us about his upcoming restaurant at the Burj Al Arab. Back then, it didn’t even have a name. 

Now six months later, Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara is finally open, and the three-time Michelin-starred chef is about to find out what it takes to keep a restaurant successful in Dubai. 

Here he tells us about his team, the menu and that while he might have three Michelin stars safely tucked in his chef’s jacket, he will still be nervous.

When did you get the call about the Burj Al Arab?

It was in the spring of 2015, I got a phone call out of the blue from the manager of the hotel who had eaten at my restaurant in Cornwall in England. 

Your first reaction?

I thought it was a hoax. We agreed to meet in Dubai. On the plane here I wasn't sure because my food is all about ingredients and freshness. How is this possible in Dubai? But then I heard that anything is possible in Dubai. 

Are you confident you can get fresh fish in Dubai?

My first dinner in Dubai was oysters and fish from Cornwall, where I’d just come from! There are three flights a day from the UK with fresh produce.

Will you be nervous?

Yes, I will be nervous because it's an iconic hotel. The cooking word will be watching. They’ll be thinking ‘you've been successful in England, see if you can pull this off.’ 

Who’s on your team?

My chef Pete Biggs who has been working with me for 15 years and my restaurant manager Sharon who's been with me for ten years. I didn’t want to put my name above the door without having people who understand what I'm all about. 

Pete was with me when I opened my first restaurant in 2003 when I was 24. We had no money and had to cut milk cartons in half to make plastic containers for food preparation. And now I'm in the Burj Al Arab! 

Did you ask your chef mates for advice?

I know Gordon Ramsay, Tom Aikens and Jason Atherton who all have restaurants in Dubai. I talked to Heston [Blumenthal] and Jamie Oliver too. I trust Jamie, he’s a good friend.

What did he say?

He said it’s a great opportunity, embrace it, do what you do and you’ll be fine. He also spoke to me about finances and told me not to get stitched up! 

What will be on the menu?

I’ve penciled in some dishes such as my lobster risotto and tartare scallops, but I don't want to give too much away.

It’s going to be comfortable and accessible, but it won't be cheap. I’ll do four-course set menus for lunch at AED 450 and dinner at AED 650. The dishes will evolve because experimentation is what gets me out of bed. 

How would you describe your cooking style?

I cook for customers. I don't want to challenge them. You go in some restaurants these days and you think ‘how on earth do I eat that?’ My food is meant to relax people – it’s accessible fine dining. 

How does this restaurant fit in with your career plan?

I never planned for a second restaurant and now this will be my fifth. I’ve been a chef for 24 years and I still don't feel like I've got a job. 

You’re 6’5” – bending over a kitchen stove all day must be painful?

Yeah, my back and knees are not in the greatest shape. In my restaurants in England we raised the hotplate and the worktops, which is helpful. But a couple of my smaller chef colleagues were gutted. 

One of your friends described you as a ‘gentle giant’ in a newspaper article. Is that true?

Yes, my mum always said to me, ‘you're too big to throw your weight around.’ I've worked in kitchens where people shout and it's not necessary. Some people adopt that attitude and it creates a monster. I shout twice a year maximum and it’s probably because I've done something wrong. 

Nathan Outlaw will be in the kitchen from 24th September until 2nd October with Head Chef, Pete Biggs there all year round. The restaurant is open for lunch from 12:30pm to 3pm, and dinner from 7pm to 11:30pm. The set menu is priced at AED 450 for a three course lunch and AED 650 for a four course dinner.