What's cooking in Dubai: Inside the Michelin-starred restaurant Ossiano
Dubai is a pint-sized emirate that comes packed with big surprises. The Guinness Book of Records regularly features Dubai as the ‘largest, tallest, shiniest’.
For instance, this spot in the desert is home to the world’s largest natural flower garden, aptly named the Miracle Gardens. Dubai also comes with one of the world’s largest malls — Dubai Mall — which sports brand names from across the globe.
For thrill-seekers, Dubai also has the world’s fastest roller coaster. There’s also the world’s longest urban zipline that offers you a bird’s eye view of Dubai Marina, a man-made waterway that houses one of the most luxurious pieces of real estate in the World. If a mirage ever takes concrete shape, the magical phenomenon could come alive only in Dubai.
"The inspiration behind Ossiano is — as the name reflects — the ocean itself. The courses are referred to as ‘waves’ and dishes re-create sea life on your plate"
Little wonder Dubai also has a bustling food scene with something to suit every palate. There’s the deliciously gimmicky with Bombay Borough, a restaurant in Dubai that serves biryani on a golden platter complete with edible 24k gold leaves.
A plate of Royal Gold Biryani costs AED 1000 or 214 pounds, making it the World’s most expensive biryani. There’s Sonara Camp that has you drive out to the middle of a desert for an exquisite fine dining experience, under a canopy of stars.
There’s the unique Boomah Cafe where you can pet an owl, while supervised by a trainer, over a cup of tea.
There are some truly unforgettable dining experiences in Dubai. But few match up to Ossiano, at the Atlantis, The Palm Hotel. Ossiano, as the name conveys, puts you in the middle of the ocean. A grand staircase leads you to the restaurant and into the big blue.
Clear glass is the only separator between you and the sea life, and the dim lighting adds to the drama. Stingrays and colourful Nemo swim right past your table. It’s absolutely surreal. But the real surprise is on your plate.
The man behind this restaurant is Chef Gregoire Berger. He may be in his 30s but he has many awards under his belt. The Michelin Food Guide came to the Middle East in 2022 and Ossiano made the list.
In 2023, Ossiano made it to this Michelin list yet again. Not content, Ossiano has very recently made it to the extended list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2023 - Ossiano was ranked 87 on the extended list of 100 restaurants.
The inspiration behind Ossiano is — as the name reflects — the ocean itself. The courses are referred to as ‘waves’ and dishes re-create sea life on your plate. For instance, smoked salmon is shaped into a white sphere, to resemble a pearl, and served on an oyster-shaped plate.
Chef Berger is able to take any ingredient and transform it into a work of art: the humble cauliflower takes the shape of corals, and white caviar looks like water droplets on your plate.
While the sea is at the forefront, the menu also carries hints of Chef Berger’s memories, his life and travels. Ask him what inspired a particular dish and there’s always mention of far-flung places such as sunsets in South America, his wife’s Moroccan heritage, his French grandmother’s love of certain ingredients, etc.
He is able to artfully weave these global influences with the theme of the ocean. The result is a burst of flavours on your palate. The menu is seasonal and given the chef’s artistic talents, no two visits will ever be the same.
Chef Berger has worked in France, the USA, and Morocco. And we wonder what brings him to this tiny city — because anything is possible in Dubai. Truer words could not have been spoken given that this restaurant sits on an artificial man-made island in a desert.
The truly multicultural nature of the UAE — people from 200 different nationalities live and work in the country — makes this the perfect spot to dish out unique flavours.
Chef Berger first arrived in Dubai in 2014. He says of the changing food culture, “From the moment I arrived in the UAE to the onset of the pandemic, the culinary landscape has been on a journey of self-discovery. This unprecedented period tested the resilience of the restaurant industry and brought to light some of the region’s exceptional culinary ventures, including Orfali Bros.”
The Orfali Bros, much like Ossiano, has won many awards. Run by three Syrian brothers, the cuisine is inspired by the tradition blended in with inspiration from their travels.
Chef Berger continues, “Establishments like Orfali Bros demonstrated a remarkable sense of resilience and foresight. Similarly, Ossiano, amongst others, not only reinvented itself but also reshaped its culinary offering to align with Dubai’s culinary hallmarks: a fusion of exceptional cuisine, local culinary expertise, home-grown talent, and distinctive identities.”
Of the local flavour, Chef Berger says, “Many expat chefs in Dubai have incorporated interesting Middle Eastern culinary elements into their recipes as a tribute to the progressive nation that welcomed us with open arms. Ossiano introduced the decadent Chocolate Genesis, a sphere of chocolate with coffee and dates sourced from the UAE."
Ask him about his personal favourites from the region and he cites the traditional mandi. He says, “Mandi is a delightful concoction of tender, slow-cooked meat (often lamb or chicken) served atop a bed of fragrant long-grain rice, garnished with nuts, raisins, and fresh herbs.
"The meat is well marinated in a blend of aromatic spices and herbs, and then cooked together with the rice until the melange of delicious flavours comes together in perfect harmony. I guess this mouth-watering local delight is best enjoyed when you pay a visit to a local abode: seated on the floor, relishing the deliciously aromatic rice laced with succulent chunks of meat cooked to perfection.”
Even in his description, Chef Berger showcases his food philosophy — the food, setting, and experience create the flavour.
Of the many awards Ossiano has bagged, Chef Berger says, “Having been able to retain our Michelin star for a second year is not only a testament to our culinary prowess but also a stamp on our progressive fine dining concept.”
Ask him about any upcoming awards and he simply says, “Evolution and change lie at the heart of Ossiano as we are firm believers of the fact that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Kiran Mehta is a freelance writer and journalist who writes on the environment, travel, art & architecture, human interest and news features
Follow her on Twitter: @kiranmehta17