If you think about Portuguese fine dining, the first name that might come to your mind is José Avillez. His restaurant Belcanto in Lisbon got global recognition as one of the best restaurants in the world and was also awarded with two Michelin stars. For his first restaurant outside of his home county, Avillez selected desert state Dubai. The Portuguese word for a tavern is Tasca and this name was chosen for the restaurant when it opened in 2019. A name that absolutely makes sense based on the concept that José and his team have installed here. Once you start tasting the delectable dishes prepared with the very best products from the home country of the chef, you absolutely feel like in a tavern in Portugal. But then in a very good one. When you look around though, the mesmerizing views immediately remind you that you are still in the magical place which is Dubai.
Tasca is located on the sixth floor of the Mandarin Oriental Jumeira hotel in Dubai. Once you walk in, you cannot avoid being blown away by its impressive lobby with white marble floors and trees decorated with hundreds of lights. In a corridor across the lobby on the left side, you will find an elevator which has the signboard of Tasca.
On the rooftop of the hotel, you walk out of the elevator and into the restaurant, where the magical views over the Arabian Gulf, which can be seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the restaurant, will immediate attract your attention. The restaurant, which opened its doors for the first time in 2019, has a stylish and warm interior design which is classy and casual at the same time. Avillez choose for wooden tables which makes perfectly sense if you want to recreate the feeling of a Portuguese tavern. An important eye catcher is the large central open kitchen where you see the chefs preparing your food. But even more drawing your attention, is the beautiful terrace with infinity pool, overlooking the Arabian Gulf. Even on a cloudy day, as during our visit, the views are truly mesmerizing.
Tasca serves typical Portuguese flavours with a contemporary twist in a vibrant atmosphere. Every plate clearly carries the signature of José Avillez, who is known for his modern interpretation of traditional Portuguese dishes. The concept of the restaurant is sharing. All the dishes are being served in portions which can be enjoyed by all the guests sitting at the table. However, for who does not like to share, there is also a tasting menu where everyone at the table gets individual plates.
The Chef & the team
As the name discloses, the restaurant is created by famous Portuguese chef José Avillez. Avillez grew up in Cascais, near the coast in Portugal, where he studied Business Communication. He got private lessons from the key author on traditional Portuguese gastronomy, Maria de Lourdes Modesto. This inspired him to choose for a professional career in the kitchen. The chef did several internships in Portugal and abroad. Most influential was probably the one with Ferran Adrià in El Bulli. Elements of the cooking style of Adrià can still today be recognized in the food that Avillez is serving. In 2008 he became the executive chef of restaurant Tavares in Lisbon. It is here that in 2009 he got his first Michelin star.
His first own restaurant opened in 2011. His real fame, would come very shortly after that, when he opened restaurant Belcanto in 2012. Belcanto is located in the Chiado neighborhood in Lisbon. Immediately after opening, the restaurant already received its first Michelin star. Two years later, also the second star was earned. This made Avillez at that moment the first Portuguese 2 Michelin star chef. The restaurant has also been recognized as one of the best restaurants in the world. During the following years, the chef would build a true hospitality empire, which consists in the meanwhile already out of more than twenty restaurants. In addition, José works on various other projects including TV shows, books and signature wines. Together with his wife, he also created Casa Nossa – The Lake Farmhouse, a unique estate overlooking the Alqueva, which has ten rooms, delivers five-star hotel service and is rented out in full with all meals by Avillez as part of the package.
On a daily base, the kitchen of Tasca is run by Executive Chef José Barroso, who is already working for Avillez for more than twelve years. Barroso, who is originally from the North of Portugal, close to Porto, moved initially to Lisbon to join the team of José, who he considers to be a culinary genius. After working in Belcanto and also being involved in the opening of many of José’s restaurants in Portugal, he moved to Dubai after Covid to head the kitchen team of Tasca.
Even though the team is very experienced and all work already for a very long time with the chef, Avillez is still closely involved in everything what happens in Tasca. He visits the restaurant at least four times per year and has daily contact with his team via Zoom meetings. Literally during our visit, he was on the phone with the team.
The dishes that are served in Tasca are inspired by local Portuguese classics but clearly have the creative signature of Avillez. His strong focus on creating bold flavours can be recognized in every plate that comes out of the kitchen. The chef is using a lot of techniques, but only to make the product better. You cannot avoid describing the cooking style as creative and contemporary but in every dish you also taste tradition and authenticity.
And above all, every dish leads to a strong explosion of taste in your mouth. And that is what Portuguese cuisine is about in the view of Avillez. In general, the cuisine offered in Tasca is different than what you experience during a visit to Belcanto even though flavours can be recognized and some dishes of Belcanto even made it to the menu here. Also dishes from another famous restaurant of Avillez in Lisbon, Mini Bar, can be tasted here. Clearly an approach of the team to let the guests of Tasca discover what the chef is doing in his home country and as such maybe inspire them to one day also visit Portugal.
There is a strong focus on working only with the very best products. Except the wagyu meat that comes from Australia, everything is flown in straight from Portugal. Mandarin Oriental is involved in the purchasing, but the selection happens by Avillez and his team and that is clear if you see what ends up on your plate. Tasca got awarded a first Michelin star.
Some of the dishes we tried :
Service & Wine
The concept of Tasca changes throughout the day. While daytime the restaurant is bright and the amazing views over the Arabian Gulf play a leading role, during the night the experience becomes very vibrant and energetic. The service team, adapts perfectly to that ever-changing environment. The atmosphere is casual at all times, but that does not mean that the service is not sharp. The staff is friendly, attentive and makes no mistakes in delivering a service which makes you feel at home instantly. The wine list offers the largest selection of Portuguese wines in Dubai. Most regions of Portugal are covered and the team is still working on the list every day to further extend it with additional labels. Apart from the wines, we can also recommend the fabulous cocktails which are perfect if you are sitting at the edge of the pool enjoying the views.
Let there be no doubt. You should go because of the delectable food of José Avillez. The authentic, bold Portuguese flavours, created with the best products from the same country, represented in dishes of which the presentation is elevated by techniques that still refer back to the chef’s time in El Bulli, is good enough as a reason to add Tasca to your must do list during a visit to Dubai. That the restaurant is pretty, the vibe inside really vibrant and energetic, the team super friendly and attentive, and that the views on the outdoor section are simply mesmerizing only further adds to all of this. Our opinion is clear : if you go to Dubai, experience Portugal there. Go to Tasca !