José Avillez on making his first international debut in Dubai with Tasca

Portuguese chef José Avillez has made his Middle Eastern debut with the opening of Tasca at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai – representing his first international venture.

He has several restaurants in Lisbon and Porto, each with a different concept, but all expressing his passion for cuisine. Avillez is most well-known for his two Michelin-starred Belcanto in Lisbon.

Offering true flavours of Portugal, Tasca in Dubai takes inspiration from a traditional Portuguese eatery, ‘tasca’, serving genuine food and drinks but with a contemporary twist. With a menu based on a sharing concept, Tasca takes guests on a culinary journey across the rich and varied country.

Tasca is a dining destination that makes for a lively night out, combining authentic dishes, eye-catching design, and an eclectic atmosphere. The fully-immersive experience includes live demonstrations at both the bar and the kitchen as chefs and bartenders work together to develop inventive culinary and mixology creations.

Here, chef Avillez tells more…

Dubai is lacking in Portuguese restaurants, so we’re really excited to hear more about Tasca! Tell us about the restaurant and its concept…

The new restaurant Tasca, at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai is inspired by a traditional Portuguese restaurant concept – a tasca, which is a typical casual Portuguese eatery, with authentic food and drinks. However, Tasca adds a twist, because it offers a contemporary and pulsating dining experience. We’ll be serving Portuguese flavours with a contemporary twist in a vibrant setting, overlooking the sweeping ocean on one side and Dubai’s skyline on the other.

Is the menu at Tasca inspired by a certain area of Portugal, such as the Algarve’s cuisine, or is it influenced from all areas of the country?

Tasca offers rich and varied contemporary Portuguese cuisine from across the region. The menu offers some of Portugal’s best flavours and products. I believe Portugal has one of the best cuisines in the world, with the world’s best fish and seafood. Tasca offers the opportunity to savour them. It’s a unique, unmissable experience.

What attracted you to open a restaurant in Dubai?

The invitation came from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. I’m happy and proud to have received this invitation. It’s my first restaurant outside of Portugal and presents a responsibility, a challenge and an opportunity to learn, not just for me, but also for my team. Additionally, it provides me an opportunity to promote Portugal and Portuguese gastronomy, and that makes me very excited.

What are some of the traditional Portuguese dishes found on Tasca’s menu? 

Some of the traditional Portuguese dishes that can be found on Tasca’s menu are Bulhão Pato clams, Gomes de Sá codfish, Lagareiro octopus, grilled giant red shrimp, grilled blue lobster, prawns with garlic and chili, steak with an egg on top, olive oil custard pudding. They are all plated in a contemporary style but are as full-flavoured as the traditional recipes.

What in your opinion, is the must-try dish (or dishes) on the menu?

That’s a difficult choice. The menu is amazing. Tempura avocado, tuna tartare cone, giant red shrimp, steak with egg on top, and the mandarin orange.

What type of ingredients are you sourcing from Portugal for Tasca?

The ingredients we are bringing in from Portugal include giant red shrimp, blue lobster, seabass, coastal prawns and clams. I believe Portugal has the best fish and seafood in the world.

Are there any Portuguese ingredients that you’d like to have on the menu, but haven’t been able to source here?

Yes, Portuguese vegetables.

Looking at your background, how did you get started as a chef?

Looking back, I’ve had a passion for food ever since I was a child. In fact, it was actually a passion for eating. I started cooking at home when I was seven. I used to bake with my sister, and we sold the cakes to family, friends and neighbours. I went to college to study Business Communications. When I signed up for it, I wasn’t aware that my future would involve working in a kitchen, but at the end of my studies, my interest for cuisine started to grow and I had the opportunity to visit a professional kitchen. My heart began to race and I felt a whirlwind of emotions. At that moment, I realised I had found my way. After that, I went on several trips, did training courses and internships as a chef. I learned at the hand of Antoine Westermann at Fortaleza do Guincho, at Alain Ducasse’s school, in Éric Fréchon’s kitchen at the Bristol Hotel, and at the renowned El Bulli, a step that truly changed my career. It changed my life.

What trends and dining behaviours are you witnessing coming out of Lisbon at the moment?

The last 15 to 20 years have built a contemporary Lisbon. Some investments were made to present Lisbon as a multicultural European capital and the urban environment was transformed. There are significant signs of modernisation but the historic charm has been preserved. Lisbon is a seductively stylish revitalised city and is a great destination for food lovers. We have very high-quality products: wine, cheese, olive oil, meat, fish and seafood, and Portuguese cuisine is tremendously rich and varied. This has transformed Portugal’s gastronomic scenario in a very interesting way. Today we have a much more diverse offer than we had 10 years ago.

What sets Portuguese cuisine aside from other Mediterranean cuisines?

Portuguese cuisine is tremendously rich and diverse. The differentiating aspect of our cuisine has to do with the cultural exchanges that happened in our Age of Discovery. Those ingredients and techniques from other continents influenced and enriched our cuisine. In addition to that, Portugal has a wide variety of landforms, climates and soil types. Moreover, we have a long coastline, we have highlands in the north of Portugal, and the mid-coastal region consists of dunes and pine tree forests. In Southern Portugal, more specifically Alentejo, we find plains. Each region of Portugal has different, yet amazing products: cheese varieties, bread types, olive oils, produce, spices, herbs, meat, fish and shellfish. The tradition, the ingredients, and the flavours, the influences are always on my mind. I’m very proud of our amazing cuisine.

For readers looking to visit Tasca, what type of dining experience can they expect to have?

Tasca represents a casual chic Portuguese dining experience that captivates and bursts with character. The dishes are complemented by an extensive beverage list with the largest selection of Portuguese grape in the region. Innovative cocktails and mocktails capturing Portuguese tradition and trends, are also featured. The restaurant has a superb location, a lively vibe, spectacular views and amazing service.

Details: For more information about José Avillez, visit joseavillez.pt. To read more of our chef interviews, click here