Located in an impressive mansion in Dubai’s Jumeirah district and with a gorgeous, casual chic interior design and a fabulous, lively atmosphere, 11 Woodfire already has enough reasons to attract guests. And then we have not even mentioned the most important reason yet : the food. As the name of the restaurant might disclose, expect to enjoy the best products cooked over open fire into authentic, delectable dishes. A great barbeque with friends or family in a stunning setting…inside !
Location and Interior
11 Woodfire can be found in a beautiful, white freestanding villa on Jumeirah Beach Road, close to Mercato mall. Once you walk in, you cannot avoid being impressed by the unique, contemporary interior design. On one hand there is the rather dark, unfinished look in which metal structures, concrete and beams of the building are still visible. But with the wooden furniture, red velvet seats and blue chairs a true casual-chic environment is created. Intimate lighting is adding to that atmosphere. Just behind the entrance, you will find a bar on the left side. On the right side, over the full length of the restaurant, you notice the huge open kitchen and grill, where the team prepares the delectable dishes of Anuar. The chef himself describes the design of the restaurant as stunning but not intimidating. A description that fits reality very well.
If you are looking for a quite and formal restaurant, 11 Woodfire is not the place you need to discover. Inspired by his Malay roots and family background, the chef created a noisy restaurant where people talk loud, enjoy themselves and where there is always a lively vibe. He wanted a space where people can be themselves while enjoying his food, and where nothing is right or wrong. A concept that works very well in 11 Woodfire if you ask our opinion.
The Chef & the team
11 Woodfire is the brainchild of Singaporean Chef Akmal Anuar. Anuar grew up on the little red dot island and was not the best performing kid in school. As son of parents who were running a hawker street food stall in Singapore, from a very young age he was expected to help out the family and work in the stall. It enabled Akmal to always have pocket money and as such live the life he wanted when he was not working. But that did not prevent that he got fed up with this kind of work. Around the age of eighteen, he decided it was time to go for his own career. He got an opportunity to start cooking in a bar where the menu consisted mainly out of very casual snacks as onion rings and fried jalapeno peppers with cheese. One day in the year 2000, he was biking with a friend and they stopped near Orchard Road in Singapore for a smoke. By coincidence, this was just in front of famous fine dining restaurant Les Amis. Justin Quek, who was the chef of Les Amis at that time, came out of the restaurant dressed in a , white chef’s uniform, including a toque. Jokingly, Anuar’s biking friend teased him and said that this is how a real chef looks like, and that it is very different than someone who is frying onions in a bar. A few days later, Akmal saw an advertisement in a local newspaper, indicating that Les Amis was looking for kitchen staff. With his friend’s joke still fresh in his mind, he decided to apply for the job. He called the restaurant but nobody picked up the phone, so he decided to just go there and knock on the door. That door was opened by the maître D’ who was expecting someone for a job interview…but not Anuar of course.
The aspiring young chef decided to not take the confusion away and went in on behalf of someone else for the interview. Minutes later he was sitting in front of Chef Justin Quek, who very fast found out what happened. Justin made clear to Anuar that he had no clue for what kind of challenging job he was applying and that he definitely did not had the required experience for it. In order to make that more clear, Quek took Akmal for a tour in the busy kitchen. Convinced that the young guy would have understood that he did not fit in this environment, Quek offered him the job at a salary level almost half of what Anuar was expecting. But he pursued his new dream, accepted and two days later he started as a commis in Les Amis. It was the first time he saw asparagus, caviar, tuna belly and other refined products. Being the only person with Malaysian family background in a kitchen full of Europeans and people with Chinese roots, communication was very hard. He hardly understood any of the cooking terms that were being used. But still he got very excited from this job and he would eventually stay in the kitchen of Les Amis for two years.
From there, he joined Chef Emmanuel Stroobant in his restaurant Saint Pierre. From Stroobant, who was not only a chef but also a businessman and TV personality, he learned how to build a real image as a chef. After two years as a fireman during his national service and also working abroad for one year, Akmal went back to Singapore and joined the kitchen of Iggy’s where he would become head chef and stay for ten years. During that time, the restaurant was recognized as being the best restaurant in Asia. With this experience on his CV, Anuar got many job offers. One of them was from the Royal Meridien hotel in Dubai. He was totally not interested to move to Dubai, but the hotel offered him a free trip, together with his wife, to visit the city all expenses paid. So, he went… Impressed by the wonderful life style, including free housing, he decided to join Royal Meridien. But quite fast, he learned that the hotel interfered a lot in how he was running the restaurant. He felt that he could not cook the way he wanted to. When then also an economical crisis hit Dubai, he decided it was time to go back to Singapore. A decision he regretted. He felt he did not do justice to Dubai and moved back. This move would lead to the opening of his first, own restaurant 3 Fils. A restaurant which required him to sell his house in Singapore, to be able to fund for it. Unfortunately, the opening of the restaurant got delayed and it left Akmal without any money. The family, including three young kids, were sleeping on mattresses on the floor, in a tiny apartment. Things got very tough and the personality of the chef was really tested. But business took off and the restaurant became successful. And then COVID came… As for many restaurants, things started to go very bad again. Anuar was sitting at home doing nothing for nine months and got depressed. In October 2020, he decided it was time to take his life back in hands. He opened a restaurant called Goldfish. It was one of the first restaurants in Dubai that opened after COVID. People were desperate to eat out again and because Goldfish was one of the only options at that moment, the restaurant became a huge and instant success. From that moment, the career of Akmal as an entrepreneur took off. The success of Goldfish enabled him to open several other restaurants in Dubai. One of them being 11 Woodfire…
As the restaurant is open from noon till midnight, a lot of staff is required to run the restaurant. The kitchen team consists out of twenty people of twelve different nationalities. During the busiest parts of the day, there are eighteen people working in service.
Almost all the food that 11 Woodfire is serving, is kissed by the flame. Up to ninety-five percent of the dishes, even several of the desserts, are cooked over open fire. Oak, hickory and hay are never far away. This describes best the way Akmal is cooking. He looks for the best products and keeps them as clean and simple as possible. Seldom more than two or three ingredients appear on the plate. Anuar wanted to run a restaurant that the region can understand and appreciate. He did not want to create his own cooking style and push his guests to eat what he wants to cook. The humble chef considers his food less important than the occasion for which the guests come to his restaurant. But by doing that, he built a cooking style that guests truly love and for which they come to 11 Woodfire. Focus is on taste and quality, not necessarily on the plating style. And that is on purpose. Plating and design of the food is less important for the chef, who only wants to focus on the taste of what he is serving. Expect very tasty, smoky dishes in which seafood, meat and vegetables attract all the attention they deserve. A cooking style that in the meanwhile also was discovered by Michelin, who awarded the restaurant with one Michelin Star.
Some of the dishes we tried :
- 11 Woodfire Signature Seabass
- Bone Marrow Chocolate Dessert
Anuar and his corporate chef put a lot of effort in sourcing the right products for 11 Woodfire. Taste is the only driver in that process. Some products are found locally, such as spices and seafood. However, more than eighty-five percent of what appears on a plate in the restaurant, is imported. Beef comes from Australia, the United States or Pakistan, chicken from Oman and vegetables from Europe.
Service & Wine
In 11 Woodfire you will find a casual, laidback and easy-going atmosphere. The service is friendly and flawless and completely the opposite of formal. An approach that perfectly fits the casual-chic atmosphere of the restaurant. As the restaurant is continuously in operation from lunch time till closure around midnight, the service team is rather large with eighteen people. Style and rhythm of service are adapted to the kind of guest who is seated at the table. People who just want to grab a quick bite and prefer to eat fast without too long explanations about the food, get what they want. But guests who visit 11 Woodfire to spend a long and culinary evening, will be catered for in exactly the manner they expect.
11 Woodfire has no alcohol license, so they are not serving wine or beer. But definitely try their homemade kombuchas. The chef succeeded in creating his alcohol free version of white and red wine after long time experiments. The restaurant also has a great offering of mocktails, juices and teas.
If you are looking to spend some time in a gorgeous casual-chic environment with a fabulous, lively vibe and at the same time enjoy delectable tasty and smoky food, then you should definitely discover 11 Woodfire. Akmal Anuar is serving top quality products perfectly prepared over open fire. The best way to describe the experience is having a great barbeque with friends…indoor ! The charismatic chef has a warm and welcoming personality, and that is reflected in how he runs this amazing restaurant.