In the next installment of celebrity chefs to open a restaurant in Dubai, we welcome Chef Sean Connolly, who is setting up shop at the top of the Dubai Opera. Let’s see what Chef Sean’s website has to say about him, shall we?
One of Australia and New Zealand’s most respected and instantly recognised chefs, Sean Connolly’s wealth of experience spans the globe. From his apprentice years at the Pennine Hilton in Leeds, to a stint in the kitchens of Cunard’s prestigious QE2, Sean’s formative cooking years marked him out for great things to come. His love for food, though, had incredibly humble beginnings as it was in his Grandma Esther’s West Yorkshire kitchen that he first learnt the joy of cooking. She taught him to be generous and imaginative and, most importantly, to make the kitchen a place of fun and warmth. These traits have stayed with Sean, imbuing everything he does with his trademark, easy-going style and “can-do” approach.
So, what can diners expect? Easy, uncomplicated food in a uniquely beautiful space. Although Dubai tends to go overboard (we do love our superlatives, do we not?), things at Sean Connolly are not over complicated or too highly elevated, and this approach makes sense. As we got to chat with the chef during the evening, his background reminds me that he’s trained to produce an excellent plate and turn a table. And for the opera, with two seatings (before and after shows), as well as lunch service and late night, it is definitely in the best interest of the kitchen to produce plates with fewer, better ingredients than overdone dishes with too many elements. Furthermore, Sean has plans to return regularly (once a month) to monitor the kitchen — which is quite a journey and commitment from the Southern hemisphere. It’s also worth noting that Sean seems to have brought his infectious good nature to the service staff, who seem genuinely ready to please and interact with guests.
Coming out of the lift on the fourth floor, the interior is a show stopper, and I was unprepared for the sheer amount of space in the venue — alleged to be reminiscent of the interior of a shell. With a huge bar, soaring ceilings, outdoor space including a keyhole view of the Burj Khalifa, a private dining area and a chef’s table, there is room for the more than 300 people that can dine at once. And what of the food? That’s the main reason we visit, is it not? Fortunately, there is a lot to be excited about. While I might have arrived with expectations of refined plates, I think perhaps I was happy to enjoy delicious comfort food. All meant for sharing, we enjoyed oysters (of course!), a beautifully vibrant burrata, tomato, and strawberry salad, gnocchi with mushroom (my least favorite of the evening), soft shell crab sliders, beef tenderloin, shredded lamb (my ultimate favorite, still dreaming of this dish three days later). These were all presented with twice cooked duck fat fries (you need these in your life), home style carrots, and a simply dressed salad. Desserts were also a treat, with the star plate being a combination of caramel and popcorn. And, my apologies — I’m still waiting on the menu to get exact names and pricing on everything. In case you hadn’t already guessed it, I would happily order all the dishes again.
My only real concerns have nothing to do with the food or ambiance, but instead the parking at Dubai Opera. I’m shocked that almost a year on and it’s still difficult to get around at the site. It’s a shame that such a beautiful venue doesn’t have the basics like parking sorted out. I also wonder how such a large venue will do in the off season…
Would I return? Yes, I think this is an excellent use of space at the Dubai Opera and a wonderful addition to the portfolio. It would be a special evening to enjoy a show and meal with Sean Connolly. I’m personally going to make reservations for post-show drinks with friends for our upcoming show in September.
So, would you eat dinner before or after the show? Have you booked tickets to any of the shows this season?
A to Za’atar was a guest of Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera. Opinions are my own, just ask my husband.