The luxury pop-up restaurant, open for just seven days, served hand-picked VIP guests
It’s known as the road to nowhere. A drive to the peak of Jebel Jais mountain climbs 6,300ft above sea level and finally arrives at the highest point in the United Arab Emirates. The 15-mile route twists and turns to the top in a series of sweeping bends. The tarmac eventually runs out at a jagged peak, affording sensational vistas over neighbouring Oman to the sea beyond.
Normally travellers carry their own mint tea and refreshments to the top, spreading rugs to sit on and admire the view. But for one week in October, Bentley created an exclusive experience for diners who like to eat with their heads in the clouds.
The Peak of Luxury was a pop-up restaurant run by renowned British chef, Colin Clague. Born on the Isle of Man, Clague was influenced by his mother’s home cooking before he moved to London to work for culinary trailblazers like Anton Mosimann, Peter Langan and Sir Terence Conran.
He helped to open the prestigious Burj Al Arab in Dubai and is now the executive chef of award-winning Japanese restaurant Zuma, in both London’s Knightsbridge and the UAE – as well as the highly praised Rüya Turkish restaurant in Dubai.
Rüya serves up traditional Anatolian cuisine rooted in Turkey’s colourful history. Rich in herbs and spices, Clague has given his dishes a modern twist that has thrilled ex-pats and locals alike. More than 20 per cent of diners are Turkish – high praise indeed.
Rüya is also hot favourite to be among the listings if and when Michelin launches its long-awaited restaurant guide to the region. “There are many rumours flying about and we hope it isn’t too long before the UAE has its own red book,” says Clague. “The standard of cooking here is exceptionally high and customers have deep pockets. That creates an atmosphere which allows chefs to be creative and innovative in their approach.”
He believes the dining experience has changed dramatically in the UAE in recent years, thanks to a changing economy creating more job opportunities for a younger generation. “They don’t want three-star Michelin food. They are much more interested in a venue that provides music and atmosphere in the package too. Chefs have had to adapt to reflect that.”
Pop-up restaurants are certainly not common in the UAE – so Clague was delighted when Bentley approached him with a new challenge that was as much a test of ingenuity as cooking. “Building a fully-equipped restaurant on top of a mountain would be difficult anywhere,” explained the 53-year-old. “It’s not just what you see front of house as a customer but setting up a fully operational kitchen too.”
Peak of Luxury catered for up to 20 guests at a time, in a purpose-build tent run by immaculately turned out staff. Pre-dinner mocktails were served on a verandah that offered a breathtaking backdrop of valleys and coastline. “Our mocktails are in honour of Bentley. The W.O is named after founder W.O. Bentley and is made from lime, elderflower syrup, soda water and apple juice. The 1919 recalls the company’s founding year and blends grapefruit juice, passionfruit syrup, pomegranate molasses and lemonade.”
Running the highest restaurant in the region, Clague was also keen to keep his standards high, despite the logistics involved. “Most of the food served in the UAE is imported because of the climate, so I had the choice of serving any style of cuisine.”
Clague, who used to work in a kitchen alongside Gordon Ramsay, opted for traditional British fare to fit in with sponsor Bentley. Seared sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding, Loch Fyne salmon and poached haddock fishcakes are not what you traditionally expect in the UAE.
“One of the key parts of my job in any restaurant is ensuring we have the best quality product to work with. I spend a lot of time travelling the world looking for that one special ingredient, be it a slice of beef, or a particular type of vegetable,” said Clague. “So with Peak of Luxury, the only real issue was the daily logistics of transporting food up a rather dangerous road in time for opening. Keeping ice cream chilled in 40C heat was also complicated.”
The idea for the pop-up came from Bentley, keen to attract well-heeled customers to an out-of-town driving experience. Jebel Jais would allow its new Continental GT and Bentayga SUV to be tested on a more demanding route. The newly-launched Continental GT has won a raft of awards since it was unveiled 12 months ago. It packs Bentley-grade lavishness into an even more sporty package.
The four-wheel drive Bentayga is the British manufacturer’s best-selling model in the Middle East. Equipped with a W12 or V8 petrol engine, plus diesel and hybrid options, the UAE is expected to be a key market for the long-awaited Supersport model due in the next couple of years.
Clague is unsure if Peak of Luxury will be opening on another mountain top in the near future but relishes the thought. “We have air conditioning but it still gets very hot in the kitchen. “I love the concept and I think any chef would enjoy it as much as the diners. Creating another menu would be fun – perhaps next time without the ice cream.”