Celebrity chef Sean Connolly hits the right notes at his new restaurant in Dubai Opera
Combine an iconic location with a world-renowned chef and a touch of theatrical magic, and you have the ingredients for a memorable meal. Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera is an ode to eclecticism with a menu that spans prime steak and fresh seafood. The seafresh interior marries Connolly’s love for oysters and Dubai’s own pearl diving heritage, finding the perfect home under the dhow-inspired roof of Dubai Opera.
Chef Sean Connolly reveals his thoughts on Dubai’s culinary scene, settling in and signature dishes.
First impressions count. How do you think new diners will react to your restaurant?
When people walk into my restaurant, I want them to release themselves to the fact that they are in safe hands. That we’re knowledgeable and friendly, and we’ve got really great produce. I hope that when people walk into this restaurant, they love the space. It’s that ‘welcome to my home, what can I get you?’ vibe – not too pompous, not too posh.
What are some of your favourite dishes from the menu?
Some of the special things for me are the range of oysters – we’re going to have at least five different oysters every night, sourced from around the world. We’re self-professed oyster junkies here!
We’re a steak and seafood restaurant and our lamb shoulder, dare I say, is off the hook. It really is pretty special because of the sweet, sticky sauce that goes with it. It’s also cooked for 10 to 12 hours, so it’s super tender and falls off the bone. We’ve also got a fantastic ricotta gnocchi dish, I think it’s one of our best dishes. I don’t do new menus – when people come to Sean’s restaurants, it’s for the dishes they rely on.
What are your thoughts on Dubai’s culinary scene?
Dubai is one of the most exciting cities in the world for food. It’s very competitive, very fashionable, and to stay in the market and become a market leader is not an easy task. It’s not something I take lightly.
It’s really exciting that Michelin may be coming to Dubai. Whether I’ll be worthy of a Michelin, I don’t know, but whatever happens, I’m humble and I’m happy either way. I’m here for the long-haul and to make the restaurant iconic, in an iconic building. I want it to be one of the top three or four restaurants that they should dine in when in Dubai.
How has the association with Dubai Opera inspired you?
I think the most important thing for myself and Jasper [Hope, Dubai Opera’s Chief Executive] is about making Dubai Opera accessible. If you look at the shows, it goes from Mary Poppins to Mozart. It’s such a huge variety; like my place – burgers and T-bone steaks. It’s got something for everyone. That’s been my philosophy for many years now, when it comes to my menus and cooking, and Jasper has the same philosophy with his music and entertainment.
A lot of people in Dubai, with all different budgets, can afford to come here and be touched by the theatre, touched by the dining experience.
Are there other restaurants in Dubai that have impressed you?
It’s an eclectic mix. I’ve been to fashionable restaurants here such as Coya and Zuma, and they are basically to benchmark where I'm going to sit myself. I’ve not yet found a place that works for me, as my ‘local’. There’s one restaurant I really like going to, La Serre Bistro & Boulangerie; it’s really nice.
I’m just settling in now. I really want to get to the heart of Dubai – go to the fish market and some of the organic markets. There’s a lot to see here and I’ve only just scratched the surface.
Lastly, what is the essence of Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera?
Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera is just about good times. It’s very welcoming and laidback. We’re creating an experience that you’d probably not expect being in an iconic building - it’s fish and chips and caviar, rock and roll and pop music; and that’s kind of where I am in my life at the moment.
Dubai's theatrical masterpiece.
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