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Gary Rhodes opens fine-dining cinema in Dubai



Already an established UAE restaurateur, not to mention one of the original “celebrity” chefs, the British kitchen king is now applying his Michelin-starred skills to the region’s first high-end gastronomic theatre experience – VOX Theatre by Rhodes. He explains to ShortList why we should be ditching our popcorn in favour of his superior cinema-seat offerings.

So, Gary, tell us a bit about the new concept…
Well, we just launched, and what we’re trying to do is give everyone the ultimate luxury during their cinema experience, if you like. We want people to have that little bit of exclusivity, just as they’d get when coming to a small, private cinema. Huge, beautiful adjustable leather armchairs that are coupled with our fine-dining menu.

We like the sound of it. But what sort of cuisine are we talking about? It could get messy with knives and forks in the dark…
There isn’t going to be a knife or fork situation, no. That’s just not going to happen. I got really excited when creating the menu, which will be purely finger or fork-only food. We all like to nibble our food, and the whole idea was to try and give that a new edge and quality, to match the luxury of the room itself. But it had to be simple things you like to pick up, or eat with a little fork – as you do at home, watching a movie on your own TV while eating. The food had to be clean and crisp.

That sounds a lot more sensible. Talk us through some of the menu, the burgers we spotted sound cracking…
Well, we know people in cinemas like to pick up a burger, so we’ve done lots of little sliders, so they’re easy to eat. We make our own burgers, I don’t buy them in. We have a duck burger, with duck confit running through it. That’s got a whole different edge to it; it’s rich and delicious. Or, if you want, you can have what we call the New York Deli burger, with peppered Monterey Jack Cheese and a barbecued coleslaw to go with it. It’s quite an elaborate little burger. We’ve also got a vegetarian option, which is a sweetcorn and red-pepper burger. So, we’re trying to create something for everyone.

We’re sold. Anything else you’d particularly recommend?
Lots. There’s a fois-gras Panini with truffle butter that everyone went beserk over in the tastings. It’s grilled, with plenty of truffle butter melting into it, a few rocket leaves, seared fois-gras sitting in the middle – topped off with some maple syrup vinaigrette. I think it has stood out because it’s very different, you won’t find truffle and foie-gras paninis in many places.

Another item I’m excited about is the lamb tagine fritter; we’re taking minced lamb and tagine spices, cooked slowly for several hours – making it moist and thick before we cook dates into it. We cool it, chill it, crumb and deep fry it. It’s easy to pick up and dunk into a dip. And the response has been phenomenal.

How exactly does the ordering process work?
It’s treated like an á-la-carte menu. The beauty is that if you come into our restaurant and want a little bite first before you come through, you can do that in the lounge outside the theatre. It’s the same as when you want to travel first class with an airline. You can enjoy the luxury of the lounge provided and hopefully some tasty bits and pieces before you get on the flight. That was a big part of the business we wanted to create. Alternatively, you might say: “In 30 minutes, I’d like to have my NY Deli burger.”  We make sure time is recorded and written on the cheque when it comes to the kitchen. If the guest wants it at 12:30pm, for example, we make sure that it’s all ready to go by 12:15pm so it arrives at the customer absolutely on time.

If people are ordering during the performance, are you not concerned about the distraction caused by the waiters coming in and out?
Well, my wife and I use the “gold” experience when we go to the cinema – where you order food throughout the film – and we never felt anything interfered with the experience. We were ordering things at random times, other people were as well and it didn’t make a difference at all. It’s dark and you don’t notice it. I thought that experience was clean, crisp, and I liked it. Everyone was very well rehearsed. I’ll admit, when we talked about this concept, I wanted to take the “gold” concept and add another edge to it.

What advice do you impart to staff to ensure the best service?
The great thing is that most of them have already worked in cinemas before, so that is a real help. The whole training process is something we’ve been taking on over the last couple of weeks. I really wish I’d had a couple of months with them, but we’re doing lots of tastings with dishes so they completely understand what they are serving. I want them to know each of the dishes inside out so they can deal with anything a guest wants. I don’t want them running to the kitchen and asking, I want them to recommend what’s good, what they’ve tasted. We know it’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re always pushing them to do that.

Will the menu change at all?
We will be looking at the popularity of the dishes. I hope we are going to create classics we just can’t take off the menu. One thing I’d like to do is themed menus. There are huge movies coming out, like the new Bond film Spectre that we’d like a simple little three-course menu made specially for, themed completely around Bond. We’ve also created a number of exciting mocktails too, you get the smoothies, milkshakes… you name it. It isn’t just about having a lemonade with your meal.

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Settle an office debate: what do you eat at the cinema? Are you a salted or sweet popcorn man?
Honestly, I’m not so much of a popcorn man. But I know everyone wants popcorn, so it’s something we’ve been working on – different flavours and combinations. Truffle and parmesan is one, curried popcorn, oranges and sesame are others, and finally caramelised pecan. We think the truffle and parmesan will be very popular here. It’s very tasty.

What are your cinema bugbears?
Standing in queues! I hate that! I’d much prefer not to be standing in any queue, even if it’s for your popcorn. I want my cinema trip to be a whole experience. I love to see trailers, I want to see the outtakes at the end, I love all that. I don’t believe it should be a straight in and out thing. For me, it’s a trip out. That’s why I got so excited getting involved in this.

How long has this concept been on your mind?
VOX originally came to me and asked if I was interested in getting involved with something a while ago. I thought about some of the previous experiences I’ve had in cinemas over the years and its usually just a standard menu at every single place, wherever you are in the world. I thought, no, we could really add another edge to this. If someone is coming to spend money to view the film in here, I want to completely add another dimension to what they can eat in here.

Gary On Film

My favourite foodie film is… The one with the cartoon mouse in Paris. Ratatouille? I love that! It’s a fun movie, and when you see some of those scenes that are going on in the kitchen… it just reminded me of some of the chefs I know. I found it really funny.

If I could watch one film at this new VOX THEATRE by Rhodes, it would be…The Godfather. It’s my favourite movie of all time. I absolutely love that film. One and two, definitely. Brilliant, brilliant movies. Another movie – which some people say “why’s he gone for that one?” – is Man on Fire with Denzel Washington. When I went to watch it, I was sceptical, but I was hooked from start to finish. It’s a great film.

If a movie was made of my life, I’d be played by… (Adopts posh, British Bond accent) Roger Moore? I’m trying to go down the Bond route, thinking I’m someone I’m not. But, truth be told, I’d probably have someone American. I love De Niro, so I’m going to say him. He’s done so many different styles of movies, I think he could do it. And he’s involved in restaurants, that’s the beauty of it! He knows this industry… so that’s my choice. Definitely.

VOX Theatre by Rhodes, Mall of the Emirates,

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