Carna by Dario Cecchini is a steakhouse, as the name suggests, and the tasting area itself is decked with fine slices of meat. Claudio Cardoso, the chef’s demonstration, however, is for a vegan tartare, which consists of properly seasoned chopped tomatoes and watermelon over a sweet and acidic bread topping, similar to bruschetta.
It's rare to hear a steak chef talk about all things plant-based when surrounded by meaty cuts, from "ugly vegetables" to local farmers. Despite this, it's completely in step with worldwide trends that are altering how we think about and consume food.
Plant-based ingredients and health-promoting dishes are the centre of attention. According to a survey by The Vegan Society, more than 600,000 people signed up for Veganuary in January 2022, and one in four Britons actively cut down on animal products during the epidemic.
The numbers are stacking up, whether it's for animal welfare, personal or environmental health, or simply personal choice. We look at how steakhouses and meat-first restaurants are responding to changing times and trends as consumers throughout the world reduce their meat consumption.
Quality improvement, quantity reduction
For many conscientious carnivores, quality has become the primary port of call. The Dry Age Boutique's founder, Mirco Beutler, compares eating excellent cuts of meat — specifically dry-aged meat — to purchasing jewellery. "It's not something you buy every day; it's something you buy for a special event."
Last May, the luxury concept store launched its first UAE location at Wafi Mall, equipped with a tasting room where customers may try samples before making a purchase. With ambitions to open in Abu Dhabi this year, the shop hopes to be an educational experience for meat aficionados in the UAE.
Dry-aging is a new trend in the region that entails using precise refrigeration, UVC disinfection, and a humidity-controlled atmosphere to allow meat to mature over time. This breaks down muscle, resulting in more soft meat with a different flavour profile.
"The meat will have a little nutty flavour that is not overbearing after 30 days, which is the typical cut-off for dry ageing," adds Beutler. "After 45 to 50 days, the flavour becomes even stronger. The principle is comparable to eating blue cheese at any time between 75 and 100 days. That is, it caters to a specialised clientele."
According to him, there is a growing demand for dry-aged meat in the area. Beutler has cooperated with burger companies such as Pickl and High Joint in recent years. Customers have also inquired about home dry-aging refrigerators, particularly during the epidemic.
Despite this, there's reason to suspect that the appeal of dry-aged beef isn't translating into more meat consumption. Similarly to exquisite dark chocolate, "Dry-aged meat "is not a daily product," according to Beutler, "a small slab of which can satiate cravings just as well as a whole bar of store-bought confectionery." It's more of a toast to the reality that we're eating an animal. I believe it causes us to be more cautious in our eating habits."
Another factor for the lower consumption of dry-aged meat is its higher cost. Prices range from Dh395 for a kilogramme of Angus MS 3-4 to Dh2,225 for rare cuts such 9+ Wagyu and Japanese A5 at The Dry Aged Boutique.
Meat-focused restaurants' vegetarian menus
Beefbar has locations all around the world, as well as a famous clientele. It is the first time the business has reopened within the same city, with its latest outlet in Jumeirah Al Naseem (it was previously operating from DIFC until 2019).
"Given the enormous number of foreign cities we are present in, I felt it was vital for the brand to be located in Dubai again." To keep modern, our brand has developed throughout time."
A streamlined menu is an important aspect of this progression. The steak portion is smaller, but there is a wide variety of international street cuisine, as well as a wok, barbeque, and steam section.
Carna by Dario Cecchini is another paradise for meat lovers that recently added a vegetarian menu, with dishes like roasted beet salad with goat's cheese, grilled lettuce salad with truffle honey, mushroom steak with rosemary, roasted garlic, and olive oil, cauliflower steak with roasted eggplant puree and piquillo pepper salad, beetroot tortellini, truffle cannoli, and a grilled vegetable platter. All of these dishes are delicious, and they may persuade the ordinary carnivore to put down the steak knife and try some vegetables as well.
Initiatives and ingredients that is innovative
Cecchini prides himself on being a sustainable butcher who understands the gravity of ending an animal's life, so it's only right that he's determined to make sure it's not in vain.
That is why he follows the "nose-to-tail" cooking approach, in which no part of the animal is wasted.
"Unfortunately, today's meat market is divided into better-known cuts and lesser-known cuts, with fillet, steaks, and prime rib being by far the most popular," he explains. "However, rather than being predicated on a difference in quality, lesser-known cuts can be just as wonderful; we simply lack information, and there are less and fewer artisan butchers with the skills to teach how to use each cut properly."
So, at Carna, you'll find fine cuts alongside meals like marinated grilled beef heart skewers and Il Bollito di Dario, which features less common cuts like veal tongue, beef cheek, and veal belly that are all slow-cooked.
Cecchini just opened Il Macello di Bolgheri, a new restaurant on the Tuscan coast that serves 11 meals made entirely of cattle forequarter. "There is no T-bone steak, no ribeye steak." We serve bavette, grilled ribs, and other dishes, and our customers are quite happy."
Finally, it's not just about coming up with a fresh vegetarian menu; it's also about keeping an eye on where the ingredients originate from. More brands are looking for solutions to lower their carbon footprint as it has become a buzzword in recent years. This means that Carna looks for fresh products from local farmers, reducing the amount of veggies flown in.
The majority of meat in the UAE is imported from foreign nations, but as Giraudi points out, there are imaginative methods to avoid this. "Starting this year, we will purchase carbon credits that will be used to plant trees in deforested areas." It's just another way we're attempting to adapt in a creative and sustainable way to the future while being proud of our past."