Last Bite: Jason Atherton
How has Marina Social changed over its four years in Dubai?
When it was set up, the original strapline was ‘modern Mediterranean’. The reason we invented it like that was because of the climate and people eating lighter food, especially with proteins, and we wanted to enhance that with Mediterranean flavours. What I didn’t realise at the time was the demographic of Dubai Marina was predominantly British expats. When we put on dishes that had a nod to Britain, they were the most successful. As a restaurateur it’s really important to listen to guests’ feedback.
Now it’s more British does it compete with The Scene by Simon Rimmer?
I think the minute you start to worry about competing with people you start to become obsessed with someone else’s business and that’s just the road to nowhere. Ultimately the only thing you can ever change is what you do yourself. We look inwards to see what we can do better.
How often do you come to Dubai?
Four times a year I come. One of the reasons why I do that is because it’s a hub for me; it’s on the road to Shanghai, Hong Kong, so it works. And I like Dubai. I have this philosophy that I won’t open a restaurant in a city I don’t like. If I don’t enjoy my four or five days here then it’s a long four or five days away from my family, and then it becomes what’s the point? Why are you leaving your family and risking your restaurant failure in London to come out here to cook if you don’t like being here?
Do you have plans to open more concepts in the Middle East?
We’ve got our gourmet pizza restaurant Hai Cenato. I won’t do another restaurant because it’s tricky isn’t it, and I’ve only got so much time, but purely as a businessman I would love to bring Hai Cenato as a brand to the Middle East because I think it could do really well. It’s a brand that could fit into the malls. You go there and have a really amazing gourmet pizza, fantastic pasta, all made on site with that little Michelin star touch. I feel there’s a lack of those restaurants here because they are all filled with by dated chains. Hai Cenato is a very simple, very stylish concept we would like to bring to the Middle East.
What’s been your proudest moment as a chef?
Having the courage to break away and do my own thing. Standing there in the restaurant on the very first night in Pollen Street. We’d taken something like 6-7,000 bookings and it was fully booked for the first three months in the first two days. Watching a restaurant come to life that you’d sketched on a piece of paper and then all of a sudden you’re stood in the kitchen on opening night... Now it comes to customer feedback. You’ve filled it, if it comes back negative you’re finished. Every penny you’ve put into it is going down the toilet.
What would you be if you weren’t a chef?
As a complete off the wall, I’m obsessed by boxing. I’d have loved as a young kid to see if I had what it took, but as a mature adult who doesn’t want to get his face caved in every third month, it would be a [restaurant] designer. I love the process and watching it all come together.