Dubai has an opportunity to create something inspiring in the world of gastronomy. Sure, there are challenges – the start-up costs for a restaurant can be crippling and must be a huge deterrent for an inexperienced operator looking to share his or her passion with the community. Because of this, grassroots start-ups need colossal investment behind them, to get projects off the ground. Hundreds of great restaurant concepts and ideas lie in a landfill of F&B dreams, some destined to live only in the minds of their creators. Which is a travesty.

David Chang’s Fuji apple kimchi or Ansel’s cronut. Mosimann’s mushroom risotto and Blumenthal’s bacon and egg ice cream. Ducasse’s baba au rhum. These are dishes that have enthralled thousands and inspired generations of chefs, amateur and professional alike. What a different world we would live in if those dishes were never created for us to experience.

Worst still – imagine New York without Balthazar, or Paris without Chateaubriand. What would Tokyo be without Sukiyabashi Jiro or London without The Ivy? What would Dubai be without… well, I guess that’s my point. What is Dubai’s dish? What restaurant legacy can Dubai truly own? Not Zuma – that belongs to Rainer and Knightsbridge. LPM belongs to Nicole Rubi and Nice, France. There are a few recent restaurants that perhaps can lay claim, but 18 months of business does not make a legacy.

So how do we support and encourage restaurant start-ups that don’t require the backing of a Russian Oligarch or the sort of money that Man City throws at mediocre left back wingers? How do we give these grass root start-ups the opportunity to shine and stand on their own merit?

The answer is clear – throw a glitzy independent restaurant award ceremony – obviously. That’s what Martin Kubler, the founder of is doing.

Jumeirah Lake Towers is home to over 200 restaurants, many of them falling into the “independent” category, who don’t have the benefit of large investments behind them. Some are tiny little establishments, with just 10-15 seats, (Pitfire has a table for two!) specializing in a particular dish or cuisine. Many are owner-operator with a few employees. (Chef New at Café Isan for example). Because of this, there is an absolute consistency and quality that is there day in and day out.

To celebrate this, JLT Dining is launching the JLT Restaurant Awards – the first micro-community awards scheme focusing just on the JLT neighbourhood. It’s a fantastic initiative, and one FoodSheikh is proud to champion.

But here’s the thing. It’s not really about the awards, in my opinion. Yes, the awards themselves are significant, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an initiative built for and supported by the community of JLT. Humble neighbourhood restaurants, smiley staff and simple service that often get lost in the fuss and froth of the fine dining world. The JLT Restaurant Awards are important, particularly to Dubai as a city. It is the start of something quite special. That’s why the awards seem secondary to the real purpose of this initiative – to provide the neighbourhood with something to rally around.

Martin says, “We want to support the local food scene and its doers and makers, mostly SMEs and family-run companies, who often struggle to make their voices heard in a city filled to the brim with restaurants.”

It reveals a sentiment that is increasingly being felt on high streets, in shopping malls and throughout retail precincts around the world – residents want to support businesses that are woven into the community rather than just exploiting a passing opportunity.

Martin says the support has been tremendous – they were lucky to get some excellent partners from the community and this is how it should be – an initiative from the neighbourhood, for the neighbourhood.

If you’ve been reading my ramblings for long enough, you know that FoodSheikh tries to celebrate the industry with refreshing, humourous and honest content. Here’s one of my first serious calls to action. Get involved with your own neighbourhoods. Reward your local pizza place, hang out at your local coffee shop and order from the family-run Chinese down the road. Show these businesses that you care.

Glastonbury music festival started in 1970 with an audience of 1,500 people. Last year, they welcomed 175,000 people to the event. The Crossfit Games started in 2007 with 70 athletes. Last year, 324,000 athletes competed worldwide. Head over to see if you can get yourself an invite to their inaugural JLT Restaurant Awards ceremony. You can tell your grandkids that you were there at the beginning.

JLT Restaurant Awards Ceremony – 27th of November, 2017 at 7 pm. Bonnington Jumeirah Lake Towers. Click here for further information and demand an invitation!


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