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Of murder, love, black coffee caviar: The What Else Edition

Libretto, Surreal Gastro Theatre by What Else, Dubai, December 2023

Please note that this is a long read, and I recommend you book yourself a table for a six-course gourmet dinner at Belcanto Restaurant, Dubai Opera, Dubai, before you decide to sit down with these words. This Surreal Gastro Theater experience combines an immersive detective love story with a meal that engages the whole range of senses from sight to smell and taste and the unique show presented by WHAT ELSE runs until March 8, 2024.

The End

Our lives are scripted much before we come into this world. We foolishly spend our lives moving around in circles, exuding power under the wrongful assumption that we’re in control. We chase fame — the shiny, unreachable one. We forget that once we are on the fame train, there is no turning back — only THE END. And when the end is near, we begin to question — if we can put a price on success. Is it really worth the blood, sweat, and tears?

There are five things you should know about that night

  1. I was in the Dubai Opera Building, the scene of the crime

  2. I was handed over a card, which carried instructions for me (to follow)

  3. The murderer was in my sight all through the night

  4. I ate a lavish meal as someone generously poured bubbly into my flute glass

  5. Sometimes, I lie (recently, everything I do has been influenced by the book of the same name)

You are a bystander

Your role, they tell you, in life is to put your phone away on silent and pay full attention as events unfold around you — throughout the show…err, life. But you mess up, you get busy photographing the show…err, life, and just like that, you lose sight of the crime that unfolds in front of your eyes.

The black (of the darkness), the red (of the rose) 

There was a gunshot, and when the lights came back (after a blackout), the opera diva, Eleanor Cassetti, was dead. When I attended her funeral, I saw her daughter (Helen) and Eleanor’s colleague from the theatre (Jacqueline), and an ardent fan with a red rose in his hands, amongst other creme de la creme of the society. I liked Jacqueline; she came and sat next to me; her tongue had a mind of its own, but I sensed she was hiding something. Such a gossip after a couple of drinks, I knew she’d spill the secrets soon. There were many roses and bunches being thrown around, and whilst I feared the thorns, I also learned that Eleanor abhorred roses.

Everyone has a secret... 

...and sooner or later, it comes out in the open — whether we like it or not. The lady sitting next to me in pretty pearls kept quiet throughout the evening. Another gentleman carried a briefcase and kept it close to him. The detective (John Vermeer), with his reputation that if he can’t find the killer, no one can — occasionally stared in my direction. The dancers moved elegantly, but their eyes spoke a sinister language. 

The glamour and the theatrics are just a distraction

As everyone around me ate exquisite foie gras topped with a glaze of juicy Morello cherries, a tender octopus on a heavenly potato foam, slow-cooked veal cheek, freshly caught wild sea bass, and more…I dug into a bowl of greens in a marinade, a portion of pillowy burrata, a beetroot tartare, and more. The chefs (Italian chef Fabrizio Lusenti, currently the Head Chef of Belcanto Restaurant, and Mika Tolkachev, the Executive Chef at FIVE Hotels & Resorts) knew of my preference for greens over meats, and I was served a special meal; if you looked closely — the murderer loved the greens too — for the kitchen dished out more than one exquisite vegetarian meal that night. However, when it came to sweets, we all had the same dish, a stunning combination of "black coffee caviar" with a mild banana mousse, and the bold essence of spicy shiso.

As I left, we found this letter on my table from Eleanor 

Dear friends,

Fame. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Something shiny and unreachable. So close yet so far away. Behind the facade and the bright lights, a shadow of loneliness is cast. And masquerades itself behind the glitz and glam. One slip of the tongue and everything can fall in an instant. Are you really prepared to sacrifice your anonymity and make these sacrifices? 


I adored fame. It was a dream come true. Until it consumed the very essence of who I used to be. Fame has no favourites. It engulfs us all.

Yours, Eleanor

There are five things you should know about that night

  1. I was asked to dress in my best cocktail attire to be able to enter the Dubai Opera Building, the scene of the crime (and I became one of the creme de la creme of the society)

  2. I was disappointed with what my card read, which carried instructions for me (to follow)

  3. I fled the crime scene, and I ran into the murderer in the elevator; he smirked, “Enough killing for the day!”

  4. I ate an EXCLUSIVE lavish meal as someone generously poured bubbly into my flute glass (I'd spoken to someone ahead of time before I reached the crime scene)

  5. Sometimes, I lie (recently, everything I do has been influenced by the book of the same name)


P.S: A libretto (an English word derived from the Italian word libretto, lit. 'booklet') is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. 


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