16 Jul 2019 AT 11:27 AM

Exclusive: Chef Gary Rhodes

Always striving to stay at the sharp end of the cooking industry, chef Gary Rhodes tells us about his latest venture, and discusses the dining industry in the city he now calls home…
16 Jul 2019 AT 11:27 AM

It seems such an obvious concept. Providing a three-course meal for guests to enjoy at the cinema while they watch a film. Why didn’t we think of that? Well, because we’re not Gary Rhodes, a hugely successful chef and restaurant owner with years of kitchen and dining experience behind him, a man who is always looking for a new and exciting project.

ShortList catches up with the chef shortly before the launch of his new Gold By Rhodes menu, featuring some fresh and innovative dishes, as well as a few of the old classics, which you can feast on if you head down to Theatre By Rhodes at Vox Cinemas, a luxury experience combining the worlds of fine food and film, a real treat.

“When you first open these operations and you’re having your first events, you need to be aware that habits change,” Rhodes explains. “You suddenly start to adapt to who your audience are and now we’d like to think we have the style of food to suit our public. There’s a decent variety.

It’s about trying to make sure you have a mixture because these days it’s a mixed audience.

“We’ve introduced a few new dishes, we haven’t completely changed the original menu because there are some dishes you simply can’t lose.

With our homemade New York deli burgers, we make the whole thing, and when you have something like that you can’t take it off. It’s been on since day one and continues to be one of the best sellers. But we’ve changed our habits and introduced a vegan burger, because the audience for that is getting bigger. A lot of people have tasted it and didn’t realise it was vegan. We’ve tried to offer something different. On the new menu, we’ve added dishes such as treacle tamarind crispy potato chunks with a red onion and madras curry dip, it’s absolutely delicious to eat, so it’s about trying to make sure we can please all.”

If you’re not already familiar with the concept, it’s pretty simple: you go to the cinema to watch a movie and are served a three-course meal (starter, main and dessert), which has all been cooked from scratch by Rhodes and his team. And in order to give the occasion a more personal touch, you choose exactly when you want to eat each dish.

“So many people go to see a movie and then grab a bite to eat, or vice versa, so we thought about how we could introduce it,” says Rhodes. “It’s about going to see a movie and making a complete night of it. Of course it helps with us having our lounges because people can get there early and have a drink. You might think that you want your starter while you’re sitting in the lounge. We also like to make sure you get your main course and dessert when you like, not when we’re throwing it at you. Some people want it when they sit down, others might want half an hour of the movie before they eat.

“It works quite well and nobody is rushed. We try to make it as comfortable as possible so people can hopefully enjoy a good movie and enjoy food that they know has been freshly cooked. You can just munch away, as you would do at home. We’ve all been brought up scoffing a bit of food while watching the television so we thought let’s provide that.”

Born in London, Rhodes is as proud a Brit as you are likely to meet, a chef whose work down the years has been heavily inspired by the country of his birth. He opened his first Dubai restaurant, Rhodes W1 at Grosvenor House, in 2008, before launching Rhodes Twenty10 at Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa in 2010.

A year later, he decided to put down roots in the city by making a permanent switch and the dining scene in Dubai, according to Rhodes, has evolved significantly in the time he has lived here.

“I think it’s changed quite dramatically. Eight years ago you didn’t have the quantity of restaurants you do now. There seem to be new ones popping up every other week, but at that time there were less and it was more focused on fine dining.

“Now the doors have opened a lot wider because I’ve also noticed the audience is getting younger, both in terms of coming here to work and visiting. It was more old-school a few years ago, so obviously the food needed to change to suit a different palate, a different desire and price bracket. As it’s grown there are an incredible variety to choose from, still a lot of fine dining restaurants to celebrate your wedding anniversary in, but also the kind you can go into every day, whether it be an Italian, Spanish tapas or whatever, you’ve got it all. It pleases a much greater audience today than before.”

So, having lived here for eight years, just what is it about the Dubai lifestyle that Rhodes finds so appealing?

“Apart from the good weather, I enjoy the quality here,” he says. “Dubai is a country which is continually growing and developing. I’m in no rush to move on and hopefully over the next five years it will continue to do so. Rather than commuting into London, I can just jump in a cab and be at my restaurants in ten minutes and still enjoy myself as much. It’s a comfort.”

Of course, everybody is aware of just how hard chefs work. Long hours in hot, pressurised kitchens ensure they always need to be at the top of their game, but when Rhodes himself enjoys some downtime , which of the many dining establishments across the city does he enjoy visiting?
“There are some great restaurants,” he says. “Zuma is fabulous. La Petite Maison is always full and has tasty food. I absolutely adore Buddha Bar at Grosvenor House. Because it sits on its own on the side of the building it seems to be quite independent, there’s always a good atmosphere and I enjoy the food.

“At the Westin there’s a lovely little Italian called Bussola and it’s nice during the winter months to sit outside there with a drink and have a bowl of pasta, there’s a comfort in that. A lot of these restaurants hold a great spirit and I enjoy that. There’s more to going out to eat than just the food on the table, as we all know.”