MasterChef, the TV Experience, is a restaurant inspired by the TV series of the same name. The menu includes dishes from some of the show’s most creative stars, as well as one of its most testing challenges, The Mystery Box.
For those that have been living in a cultural bain-marie, and are unaware of the phenomenon, the recipe for MasterChef the TV programme is as follows.
A grand culinary tournament where aspiring chefs are pitted against one another, and given increasingly elaborate tasks, until, at the end of the series –one is crowned MasterChef.
The show dates back to 1990, where it first aired in the UK on the BBC. Fast forward to 2019 and the format has now spread to more than 40 countries, including hugely successful serialisation in the US and Australia. Dubai’s MasterChef, the TV Experience, is the first of its kind, and features a menu comprised of show-stopping dishes created by elite MasterChef contestants and winners.
Entering the eatery, the first thing we notice, other than a casual side glance at the fully open kitchen, is the brand’s unmistakeable circle ‘M’ logo proudly displayed on the wall.
The wait staff walk us through the menu choices with sincere enthusiasm, offering personal favourites. We spot a few dishes we remember from the various shows, the Truffle Pea Soup and Veal Prosciutto (AED 46), for example, came from memorable MasterChef UK 2008 champion, James Nathan.
Before ordering starters, we begin sifting through the main course choices. But our waiter has already started wheeling out what is probably MasterChef, the TV Experience’s most exciting addition – The Mystery Box (AED 300 for two). And who can resist the allure of the mystery box?
The idea follows one of the most popular challenges in the TV show. Contestants are provided with a box containing a number of random ingredients, from which the chef must choose a selection and create a dish from scratch. But it has to be deliberately difficult; these food items will not be as easy to put together as peas and carrots. We’re interested in finding a MasterChef, the touch of genius. No, the majority of the boxed edibles go together as well as smashed wasabi and custard.
So to the unveiling of our own mystery box. We see no sign of wasabi, but the assortment still looks fiendishly disparate. Fresh prawn; yoghurt; cashew nuts; pak choi; cured beef chorizo; pineapple; house-made pasta and curry powder. We’re permitted to choose five, and then they’re off to our chef. We select the chorizo, prawn, pasta and pak choi.
Like the show, our chef – Maria – can add seasoning from a modest spice rack. Unlike the show, she only has 45 minutes (they have 60), to think of and create a masterpiece worthy of a master chef.
Anticipation is abated by us choosing a starter. We select a sharing option, Shaun O’Neale’s Duck Leg Confit Tacos (AED 76). It’s a brave plate of fusion cuisine, taking duck confit, a flavour profile that is a quintessential element of French culinary tradition and parking it with aggressive Mexican adornment. Jalapeno sauce, pickled onions and mango salsa are added to the duck and then wrapped in a corn tortilla. Err and you upset two proud food making nations.
Thankfully, O’Neale knew exactly what he was doing when he concocted this inter-continental hybrid, one of many successes on the route to his becoming 2016 US champion. The robust flavour of the duck is forceful enough to transcend the other elements, and more than than that, is lifted by them. Its an undeniably smart substitution for what would more commonly be pulled beef in Mexico. You’re left with a rich palate-pleaser that’s sharp, fiery, faintly sweet, and constantly conjuring spirit twangs of French stew and Baja street taco.
Soon after we finish, chef Maria sends over her unique culinary creation from the Mystery Box. On brief inspection, it appears how we’d suspected it might. The prawns have been grilled and sit regally on top of charred pak choi and pasta, which has been tossed with the chorizo.
The Mystery Box describes the difference between talented professional chefs and the rest of us perfectly. They can take the contents of any cupboard, add a few sprinkles of this, flex a few career-honed techniques and the result is innovative gastronomy. We identify a few of the flavours added, but we shan’t spoil it by speculating, as the overall taste experience is holistically brilliant. A delicious Mediterranean pasta dish, with a subtle nod to South East Asia.
We must add that the service is outstanding. It’s an experience that screams impromptu date night. The staff are all warm and informative, which makes a delightful diversion from the show, where the hosts are almost exclusively mean. We love them, but they are mean.
Dubai Week dined as a guest of the restaurant. MasterChef, the TV Experience is at Millennium Place Marina. 6.30am (hotel breakfast service)-11pm. Call 04 550 8111 for bookings.