The king of tapas on display in Dubai

Gordon Ramsay called Omar Allibhoy the “Antonio Banderas of cooking”, and with his flowing hair, matinee idol looks and unmistakable Spanish accent, it’s a badge that is less hyperbolic than it may first appear. He’s certainly added new life to Spain’s classic tapas, which he has made his forte.

The chef, author, restaurateur and television personality was in Dubai in April to offer his insight to aspiring chefs with a series of demonstrations and masterclasses at Jones the Grocer, to whom he also bequeathed a special menu. Here, he shares some lessons in cooking and life with Shortlist.

The moment I realised I was good at cooking… was when I was about eight years old. I was asked to bring a cake to school and I spent two days building this incredible, great-looking treat that everyone – even the teachers – was amazed by.

The four dishes that revolutionised my career are… ox cheeks cooked in chocolate sauce; octopus Carpaccio with mandarin caviar; my mum’s torrijas (custardy French toast); and cod in salsa verde, all of which will be available at Jones the Grocer.

The name Omar Allibhoy is the result of… my grandfather being Indian and my father being half Indian and half Spanish. My parents have lived in Spain for over 60 years.

Have I ever been mistaken for Antonio Banderas? I wish! No, we don’t look alike at all. I had the chance to cook for him on a TV show in the UK and he is such a nice guy.

Spain has been greatly influenced by Arab cuisine… throughout history and the ingredients we use reflect that. A Moorish-inspired dish that I love is pinchos morunos, a chicken skewer with a spicy kick.

To eat like a proper Spaniard… you should share your tapas. If you order three tapas each, you get to try nine different things, which is a much more entertaining and social way of eating.

The meal I most remember… was at a party for my parents’ anniversary. It was a slow wood-fired, roasted milk-fed lamb that I ate with my family in my mum’s hometown of Burgos.

If you’re throwing a party… I’d recommend mixing and matching some cold tapas to start – I like anchovies, olives and glasses of gazpacho – and then move on to warm croquets, pardon peppers and meatballs.

The original idea when I first arrived in London was… to learn English so that I could travel the world and discover other cuisines and their origins. I’m still hoping to do that and if I do, I’m going to India, USA, Brazil, Peru, Mexico and China. I’d like to try and make it a bicycling trip to burn all the calories I’ll have consumed stuffing myself.

There are things I’ve eaten that I know I’ll never try again… but I don’t think there’s an ingredient that I’ll never try at least once. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

I have a love affair with… paella and it’s the dish I turn to when I’m looking to impress. It’s so challenging to get right so every time I cook it I try and make it the best paella I’ve ever made.

It’s so hot outside so tonight I’m making myself… a refreshing gazpacho starter and some leftovers from the chicken I cooked earlier.

Try Omar’s tapas for yourself at Jones the Grocer, Dubai, until May 3.


Jones the Grocer – Dubai
Al Safa


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