Specifically Pacific

The Aquarium restaurant at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club has not only undergone a refurbishment, but the menu has also been overhauled to feature Pacific Rim cuisine; an eclectic mix of Antipodean, Californian, Chinese and Japanese food

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By  Laura Barnes Published  June 1, 2006

|~||~||~|Seven months after Aquarium was reopened, Minnie Lai, restaurant manager, and Timothy Haacke, chef de cuisine at Aquarium, Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, have seen the popularity for the Pacific Rim restaurant grow. Both arrived just before the opening of Aquarium, when the restaurant looked more like a construction site. However, this gave them time to learn more about the local market, and train their 24-strong team. “There are a lot of seafood restaurants in Dubai but none solely dedicated to Pacific Rim cuisine, so I had to educate my team on how it differs from seafood restaurants,” comments chef Timothy. Working in Australia for eight years before coming to Dubai, Canadian-born chef Timothy has a lot of experience in Pacific Rim cuisine, which incorporates dishes from Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Ocean region, California and Mexico. In order to make sure that this line is firmly stuck to in Aquarium, chef Timothy is very particular about his menu, and remains loyal to the food and its ingredients. “I try and source all of my seafood from Australia, apart from the Chilean sea bass; not only because the quality exceeds that of other countries, but it is true to what Pacific cuisine is about,” says chef Timothy. “However, it can sometimes be hard to get hold of some types of fish here. When I worked in Australia I could source anything I wanted, it really taught me a lot about Pacific Rim food so I really want to instil that here,” he adds. Consisting of salmon, monkfish, marrons, crayfish and tuna, the menu also has an extensive oyster list, including Sydney rock oysters. However, no fish solely indigenous to Gulf waters is available. “We are trying to get people to try something new, and that is my main objective. Some diners understand this and others still ask for hammour, so we have to explain what Pacific Rim cuisine is about,” says chef Timothy. Although the bulk of fish is sourced from Australia, chef Timothy says that sometimes it can be hard to guarantee deliveries, particularly when a shipment misses its connection in Australia, meaning he has to source the fish from Europe instead. Obtaining oysters also has its problems, and there have been a number of instances when it has been impossible to get oysters from Australia due to a disease outbreak, which inevitably depleted the shellfish stock. “It isn’t ideal but there is nothing you can do about it, it’s nature. It is also difficult to get consistently good tuna, but we do what we can. I assess the market, and make sure that if something is not available from one place, I can source it from another,” comments chef Timothy. “When I first came I ordered more than I needed in order to see what sells and what was popular, so after seven months I now know how much I need. Because all the seafood is fresh there is also that added pressure. Nothing is frozen,” he adds.||**|||~||~||~|The restaurant also caters to non-fish eaters; with Australian lamb, beef, chicken and duck incorporated into the menu. As well as the usual array of vegetables, chef Timothy has also included Chinese broccoli, which is sourced from Australia. To accompany the menu, Aquarium also has an extensive wine list, which has a heavy focus on New World wines, accounting for 65% of the wine menu. The focus is mainly on Australian, New Zealand and Canadian wines, however, because the bar serves as a wine lounge as well, there has to be a number of French and other Old World wines on the list — which helps account for the 60 varieties of wine on the menu. Ranging from red, rose, white and sparkling, the front of house team had intensive training on the different wines, with suppliers holding wine tasting events and lessons prior to the opening. “Some of the staff had little knowledge about wines so it took some time to train them. However, each week we focus on a certain wine and have a description about it on a board,” comments Lai. “It is a great way of letting the staff gradually learn more about the wines on offer. If you give them descriptions of 60 different wines all at once they are not going to remember them all, so we found this works better,” she adds. Arriving three weeks before the opening, the front of house team were new to Dubai, however, they had intensive training sessions to learn not only about the UAE, but also about the cuisine of the restaurant and where it originates. As Lai studied and lived in Adelaide, South Australia, she already had an understanding of Pacific Rim cuisine. “Alongside chef we went through the different types of fish and where they originate. It is not something that can be taught at once, so it is an ongoing process. Also, with new items chef explains what they are, how it is cooked and how long it is marinated for,” says Lai. The back of house team also had to receive training before Aquarium opened. Originating from Mauritius, Malaysia, China and the Philippines, the chefs had some knowledge on seafood prior to joining the restaurant. However, chef Timothy says there were still things to be learnt. “The greatest challenge with my guys was to make sure they knew which fish had to be cooked thoroughly, and which could be cooked medium rare. They were used to cooking fish well done, so it was a learning curb. It was also hard for some of them to understand that you could have medium rare salmon or blue steak,” comments chef Timothy. “However, if there is something they are not used to or they are unsure what temperature a dish should be cooked to, then I always advise them to use a thermometer as a safety check. But after seven months they have all come a long way,” he adds. Although the restaurant has a set menu — which is set to change in September — chef Timothy has also incorporated a table d’hôte. Running for three months now, the table d’hôte is changed every 12 days, and adds an extra dimension to the outlet. Proving popular at lunchtimes and with regular diners, the menu allows chef Timothy to introduce new dishes, and at the same time, offer diners something they may not have tried before. “This type of menu is just a take on the chalk board. I really introduced it to give people more variety, and personally, I think it is a very satisfying menu. It also works out slightly less than dining off the a la carte menu,” says chef Timothy. Steering away from using a chalkboard the restaurant has a modern and trendy vibe to it, which Lai says was done in an attempt to attract an educated and youthful crowd. This is also reflected in the menu and the interior design. Designed by LW Design — who originally designed the restaurant in 1993 — they decided to keep the aquarium, which acts as a centre point for the outlet. However, LW Design gave Aquarium a more modern look by adding glass dividers and floor to ceiling muslin veils. The AED4 million (US $1 million) refurbishment also saw the kitchen revamped from what was originally a closed kitchen, to become a bespoke glass fronted show kitchen, fitted by TSSC. “In Australia 90% of kitchens are live kitchens, so it is something I am really used to. In fact, I actually prefer an open kitchen as I get to see the clientele, when they arrive, and if they are enjoying their food; it is a lot more interactive,” says chef Timothy. Although there is no direct competition for Aquarium, there are plenty of seafood restaurants in the emirate. However, once diners become more aware of Pacific Rim cuisine, chef Timothy hopes to expand the menu, and the clientele base.||**||

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