Feast, an exceptional brunch - Sheraton Grand Hotel, Dubai

With between 150-200 brunches of every ilk listed in Dubai, you know you have a challenge when you launch a new one. With most brunches morphing into one another as they offer a fairly standard range of stations and over-used concepts, coming up with a concept that is inventive while offering guests some classic brunch elements (we are creatures of habit after all) is an executive chef's metaphorical mountain that needs to be climbed and successfully negotiated. 

After trying the Sheraton Grand Hotel's Feast Friday Brunch, I am still happily reflecting on the creativity that characterised this brunch.

Four talking points from "Feast".

5 stories in one brunch
Feast is underpinned by 5 regional stories if you will. Each regional exploration has a suggested wine pairing - in itself a unique option at a brunch. The streets of Kuala Lumpur, a visit to a  North Indian village, swimming in the Irish Galway bay, a visit to a John Stone farm and finally an experience in a French chateaux provide the backdrop for this culinary narrative. I liked this. Intelligent and well conceived. 

An engaging brunch
Engagement with guests is taken to a new level here. I have often commented on the value of having chefs engage guests. That is the case here to the nth degree. Chef de Cuisine Raymond Wong could easily be mistaken for being Charlie in Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory. He talks to guests with a child-like enthusiasm. It is in his eyes. They light up as he explains one of his creations. I notice him moving around, mingling with guests, offering them a  taste of his dishes. This is one of the key elements that makes a brunch worth going to - engagement not just by waiting staff, but by chefs. He enthusiastically showed me how to take  a popular Summer treat on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and making it brunch worthy by adding a  bit of rum. He could have been mixing sand and orange juice and I would have been sold - it is the passion that enamours me. It therefore begs the question as to what you privilege more - ingredients or staff? Or, has Feast managed to create a balance between the two? I believe so.

A brunch that returns to basics - the cuisine.
In a brunch culture where drinking bottle after bottle of Champagne is the norm while guests' recollections of what they ate is a blur, it is a welcome departure when a brunch pushes bubbles to the background and tries to focus people's attention on the dishes. I am thrilled that Feast is about its name -a  feast of food. I have seen a leading hotel in Abu Dhabi remove the Champagne option from its brunch package because it wants to draw people back to the dishes . I am not sure about that, but I think the  Sheraton Grand has achieved  a balance between trying to reinvent brunch while at the same time respecting the tradition of brunch as we have it in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

The dishes
It was a brunch with so many stand-out dishes. Where to begin? The Kelly oysters are a great choice. They recall a trip I made to Dublin in December when I enjoyed the same. I feel they are under appreciated oysters because French oysters remain the oyster of choice at most brunches, but just as I feel about Irish beef, I feel that Irish oysters are fantastic. The Kelly oysters are meaty and buttery, and despite a lovely assortment of accompaniments, I think the lemon works beautifully in allowing you to get as much as possible of that natural taste. They were beautifully shucked too, making it perfect.

 Soon after finishing my oysters, Chef Raymond then came around with his Deconstructed Caprese salad and readied it table side- OMG! Tasting the principle ingredients to this classic salad really heightened my appreciation for all of them. The mozzarella foam in particular, was pure indulgence! And of course the theatrical aspect cannot be ignored. People love theatre. 

Of course I also had the foie gras - this was a manifestation, like the Deconstructed caprese before it, of Feast's vision to find a balance between changing brunch while also respecting what the masses want - memories of 10 000 Maniacs 'Candy everybody wants'. The foie gras is quite a simple dish, but the balsamic instead of some overly sweet jam lends a delicious contrasting flavour of sweet and sour, while retaining an air of sophistication. Also, the brioche is bite size, making it a perfect brunch dish. It is, after all, not a  main course!

The essence of beauty, I have learned, is simplicity. This is no more evident than in the Chicken tikka chaat (snack). While waiting for one of my dishes, I helped myself to a small cone filled with chicken tikka. Very clever and delicious, with yogurt and coriander bringing out those typical flavours. In some ways, it was recreating the convenience of the street stalls in India, with the added the fancy serving style of course. This worked brilliantly because  you can have it in an uncomplicated way while waiting for your order. 

Then of course there was the dish that really encapsulates what they are doing at Feast - the Lamb 26. Three different cuts of John Stone gras fed lamb is cooked three different ways and served with 23 garnishes. This is an exceptional dish on so many levels. I am impressed by the level to which this dish engages the guest. It is about a personalised experience that is beyond involvement by the waiter of the chef. I sat there, staring, no marvelling at what was in front of me, thinking which I would garnish have first to with my lamb and which next and so on. In the end, I tried only 14 garnishes, but that is the point of this - ' we are giving you possibilities. See what you like.

Finally, and vying for dish of the day with the lamb, the Pomegranate & Tamarind Chicken wowedPomegranate lends a sweetness to the dish while the tamarind brings  acidity, and together, they create a mouthwatering dish. Add to this that tandoori taste and chicken cooked well, oozing with moisture, and you will go back for another. 

The Verdict

An exceptional brunch that will soon make it onto every Top brunches in Dubai list. There are just so many aspects that makes it exceptional. It is never easy challenging the establishment because people become set in their ways. Give them free flowing bubbly and produce dishes which are just acceptable. That is the norm. However, this is not just a bubbly brunch and the dishes are not just acceptable. This is a food lover's brunch, where bubbly is offered, but it is merely an accompanying player. The food. I say again, it is about the food. 

The brunch is also out to educate guests at the same time and to make them  question that which they have taken for granted. The Lamb 26, presented using an afternoon tea style 3tier stand is an example of how the brain is asked to step outside of its peramaters. Executive Chef Malcolm Webster and Chef de Cuisine Raymond Wong are set on enticing and exciting diners. 

In a city absolutely spoiled for choice, Feast has positioned itself as a brunch that will get people talking, and I believe it will be sustained because Chef Malcolm and his team believe in what they are doing. Residents in outside Dubai will learn that Feast is doing so many unique things they would not have seen before, making the trek to Dubai all the more worth it. On the other hand, those in Dubai will appreciate Feast, because they know competition is so stiff, and it is a brunch that will fit perfectly into the city of superlatives, with ease! Let the Feast begin. 

The Essentials
Feast Friday Brunch
Sheraton Grand Hotel,
Sheikh Zayed Road,
Feast Friday Brunch
971 4 503 4444

Brunch including soft drinks                    AED 295
Brunch including house beverages           AED 395
Brunch including Mo√ęt & Chandon           AED 495

Brandon Stoltenkamp