As far as restaurant openings go it’s probably fair to say Dusty’s had a few hurdles to overcome when it launched into the DIFC scene last year. Tucked away in the Al Fattan Currency House, it could easily have been overshadowed by its high-end and high-profile neighbours Clé, Sass Café and, a stone’s throw away, Café Belge.
The venue is also small. Could it be a popular happy-hour party spot and laid-back restaurant without seeming a bit squeezed? And then there is the menu.
Can one chef take on multiple cuisines – Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Latin American, British and Chinese – and win? Even though Dusty’s voluntarily set itself all of these challenges, it’s now one of the area’s most popular spots. And who doesn’t like to see the underdog rise?
Owner Dusty Tourani wanted somewhere that served all his favourite dishes in a place he’d feel comfortable in. The fact Dusty went ahead with ideas he believed in and wasn’t driven by trends in the city means this homegrown concept sums up the mix of cultures and traditions in Dubai while mirroring Dusty’s own travels and experiences.
By day it’s a deli and, on week nights, is packed out with the DIFC after-work crowd – thanks to an AED25-a-drink happy hour (5pm to 8pm) and, at this time of year, very generous summer deals. This popularity spills over into the weekends with a new aviation-themed Friday brunch, great beverage options and a decent DJ.
When we arrive just before 8pm to try out the new summer menu and step inside the small industrial-style space – low lights, varnished concrete floors and skittish black- and-white illustrations on the sloped walls and sturdy pillars – and note that it’s already lively with people.
We are seated next to a slanted window looking out onto an indoor stream. The music is pretty loud, but we go with it.
The summer menu has all the old favourites with some new updates like roasted sweet potatoes (added by customer demand) with rock salt, herb butter and fresh lime, baked aubergine, Chermoula seabass (inspired by Dusty’s travels in Morocco) and barley risotto, Dusty’s twist on a classic dish.
We are encouraged to order starters to share – a Dubai trend that did sneak through – and we opt for lobster tacos, burrata salad, Wagyu sliders and rock shrimp tempura, and immediately wonder how we will fit in our mains. Still, we keep the pace up, spurred on by the fresh flavours of our starters (for ten).
Our mains arrive and we find the table is too small to accommodate them all, but with a crispy duck salad, seafood linguine, black cod and fillet steak, and fries battling for space our waitress skilfully manoeuvres the plates to make it all fit without risk of anything toppling into our laps.
What a feast. Each dish really felt like it had been plucked from different menus in different countries, cooked by different specialised chefs to arrive all together on one table in DIFC.
Instead of being a far-reaching grab at different cuisines or reeking of all-day-dining mediocrity, it really is like tasting the best versions of your favourite dishes. A creamy biryani or New-York-style pizza would probably be pushing it. We manage to devour most of it and on a whim order the cheese platter over the trio of crème brûlée or French toast.
The menu is a big crowd pleaser with the tastes of vegetarians, meat lovers and even healthy eaters all catered for. And if you don’t believe us, Dusty has tasted every dish to make sure it’s up to standard, “We had fun trying everything first and gained a few pounds to make conscious decisions,” he says.
Being Dusty must be a tough job.
Where: Level P, Al Fattan Currency House, DIFC
Contact: +9714 354 5435