Tucked away in the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour in Dubai, overlooking the Persian Gulf stands 3 Fils: a casual, contemporary restaurant serving up familiar Asian fare, with a keen eye for Japanese cuisine. It has recently been named as the Best Restaurant in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region 2022, against a backdrop of festive strobe lights and anticipation.
The lavish awards ceremony — a sprawling cheese table stood on one side, while on the other, a massive ice sculpture held desserts, chocolates and sorbets — for the MENA region’s 50 Best Restaurants was held in Abu Dhabi at the Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers.
As their names were called, in classic countdown style, chefs and restaurateurs jumped up from among the audience (executing everything from a series of delighted karate chops to gentle waves) celebrating the recognition that was perhaps the first of this scale for the region.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, after its region-specific editions in Asia and Latin America, thus made a grand entrance to the region, lending a much-needed leg-up for cuisines from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen.
The week-long affair shuttled between masterclasses by world-renowned chefs such as Will Goldfarb, collaborative restaurant pop ups and moderated sessions. The list followed the decisions of 200 voters made up of anonymous restaurant experts from 19 countries across the region.
“We are now shining the brightest spotlight on a region that has perhaps not received the culinary recognition it deserves. We believe it is high time to celebrate the diversity, the range of ingredients, spices, traditions, techniques, influences and talent spread across this region,” said William Drew, director of content, MENA’s 50 Best Restaurants. On keeping the UAE capital at the centre, William said that Abu Dhabi as a culinary destination is growing: apart from an emergence of homegrown talent, the city already hosts many international chefs who bring their expertise to the table.
And the winners are
The UAE topped the list with 19 restaurants, followed by Israel with six, and Lebanon and Saudi Arabia with five. Placed at number one and named the Best Restaurant in the Middle East and North Africa 2022 was Dubai’s 3 Fils.
The restaurant, as an idea, started in 2013 and took physical form in 2016. “We were inspired by the dedication and attention to detail in Japanese culture. We travelled to over 50 countries, researching and eating our way from the smallest street vendors to memorable fine-dining restaurants, looking for the ideal direction to take,” said Ahmed Saleh, CEO of 3 Fils. They started off with a small menu and a determination to use premium ingredients that were directly sourced from Japan, Norway, Australia and the neighbouring emirates.
“We believe in mixing culture to improve and grow, clearly seen in cities such as New York, London and now Dubai,” he added.
The Japanese izakaya Zuma in Dubai, founded by Chef Rainer Becker, claimed the second spot, followed by Raz Rahav’s OCD Restaurant in Tel Aviv, known for its unusual interpretations of Israeli cuisine. Apart from the list, one of Lebanon’s most prominent food activists, Kamal Mouzawak, was awarded the Foodics Icon Award for pioneering the slow food movement in the country and Tala Bashmi from Dubai-based Fusions by Tala was named Middle East and North Africa’s Best Female Chef. The Chef’s Choice Award went to Singapore-born chef Reif Othman who had worked in Zuma and Burj Al Arab in Dubai, and now helms his own restaurant, Reif Kushiyaki.
Egypt was also well-represented with four restaurants featured in the ranking including Sachi (at number 5), making it The Best Restaurant in Egypt. Jordan also has a player in the top 10 with Fakhreldin (at number 7) in Amman named The Best Restaurant in Jordan.
(The writer was in Abu Dhabi at the invitation of the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi)