It was almost exactly a year ago when famous Dubai blogger, FooDiva, got into a spat with Italian Michelin-starred chef Andrea Brambilla over what she considered disappointing prices and service at Giannino’, the Italian restaurant at the Meydan Beach Club. The hotheaded Brambilla told the reviewer to ‘wear a condom’ on her tongue to contain her ignorance, thereby starting one of the most talked- about online rows in the Middle East’s gastronomic history. Many would say that an honest review of such a high-profile restaurant—and the response to it—was previously unheard of in Dubai, and is just one of the many reasons to believe that the city’s culinary scene is coming of age. The others are numerous and varied, and include: the influx of celebrity chefs such as Gary Rhodes and Pierre Gagnaire; he arrival of international cuisine across different price segments, from The Rivington Grill’s affordable food to the up market Zuma; the birth of fine dining, home-grown brands such as Table 9 by Nick and Scott; the arrival of Zagat’s first-ever Dubai city guide earlier this year; and two Dubai restaurants making it onto San Pellegrino’s list of the world’s best 100 restaurants in 2012. Here’s our selection of the Emirate’s finest.
Why go: As if being located at the luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel wasn’t novelty enough, the ultra-grand underwater Al Mahara has an incredible floor-to-ceiling aquarium in the centre of it. Try eating while hungry sharks watch you devour their kind, or simply turn your attention to the page-long caviar menu, in which dishes are often sprinkled with gold leaf.
Dish to try: Line-caught whole sea bass in sea-salt crust.
Why go: For a lovely meal in the Jumeirah Beach Resort area, head to BiCE at the Hilton Dubai, where the food and service are always terrific. An oil trolley—with a variety of high-quality, year-specific olive oils to drizzle over your dish—should tell you just how seriously this restaurant takes its food.
Dish to try: home-made ricotta and spinach tortelli with creamy white truffle sauce.
Why go: Arguably the best restaurant at the One&Only, The Palm, STAY is fronted by Chef Yannick Alléno, who earned his three Michelin stars while working at Le Meurice in Paris and Cheval Blanc in Courchevel. Yannick’s food arrives in well-sized portions (barring the fish mains) but, be warned, it can be pretty heavy on the wallet.
Dish to try: Black Angus beef fillet ‘cafe de Paris’.
Cuisine: Japanese fusion
Why go: If the quality that the name Nobu Matsuhisa represents isn’t reason enough to visit this restaurant, then we really don’t know what is. The celebrity chef has amassed two hotels and 29 restaurants across five continents and his Dubai outpost is as good as any.
Dish to try: Black cod yuzu miso.
Why go: Located at the Dar Al Masyaf Hotel in Madinat Jumeirah, Pai Thai is certainly one of Dubai’s most exotic Asian restaurants. Accessible by an abra (or water-taxi), and with wonderful canal views, the ambience adds to the top-notch food, served in fairly large portions.
Dish to try: Green chicken curry.
Cuisine: Contemporary seafood
Why go: This romantic restaurant at the Al Qasr Hotel is best visited at night. It is situated at the end of a wooden, candlelit pier that stretches out into the ocean. The view on one side is of the Jumeirah shoreline and, on the other, of the Burj Al Arab and the Arabian Gulf.
Dish to try: Casserole of lobster.
TAB LE 9 BY NICK AND SCOTT
Why go: When Gordon Ramsay left Dubai, who would have thought that his chefs at Verre would start an establishment of their own? Scott Price and Nick Alvis turned his European fine-dining restaurant into Table 9, introducing a chef’s table, a casual style and one of the most innovative menus in the city.
Dish to try: Crispy hen’s egg.
INDEGO BY VINEET
Cuisine: Contemporary Indian
Why go: Chef Vineet Bhatia’s restaurant at Dubai’s Grosvenor House should be a definite stop for anyone interested in feasting on desi dishes with a modern French twist. This is Dubai’s only real option for an intimate yet elegant dinner of non-traditional Indian food.
Dish to try: Home-smoked fresh tandoori salmon.
MANNALAND KOREAN RESTAURANT
Why go: This little gem is a world away from Dubai’s fine-dining scene. It offers delicious, wholesome food, and many of its patrons are Korean, so you know that the food is as authentic as it should be. Part floor and part table seating, this is a must visit for those who value their food more than the ambience.
Dish to try: Marinated short rib barbecue.
PARS IRANIAN KITCHEN
Why go: At the Satwa branch of this simple, mostly open-air restaurant, delicious shashliks (meat skewers) are cooked right in front of you. The portions are large and the atmosphere relaxing. It’s great place to sample local culture away from the manufactured gloss of the ski slopes and dancing fountains.
Dish to try: The mixed-grill platter.
Why go: Chef Rainer Becker’s izakaya-style restaurant is housed in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). It dishes up innovative small plates of food in its well-lit downstairs space, while the upstairs lounge bar serves potent cocktails.
Dish to try: Thinly sliced sea bass with yuzu, truffle oil and salmon roe.
LA PETITE MAISON
Why go: This is the real home of fine Niçoise cooking in Dubai. The dishes are meant for sharing, making it a great place for a quick and enjoyable business lunch with colleagues. Its blend of informal dining and haute cuisine sets the perfect ambience for a bit of schmoozing or an all-out power lunch, especially given its location close to the DIFC.
Dish to try: Burrata et tomates.
Why go: With reasonably priced, healthy food served in clean surroundings, this restaurant is a must-visit for hardcore falafel fans. Stop by the airy Al Rigga Road outlet, which also features a terrace and sheesha bar.
Dish to try: Other than the falafel, the hummus with freshly baked pita is a hit.
AL REEF LEBANESE BAKERY
Why go: This tiny, 24-hour bakery on Al Wasl Road is famous for its manakeesh, folded Arabic flat bread with different toppings (cheese being a favorite). Apart from the hordes of locals who throng the place in the mornings, Dubai’s partygoers can also be seen satisfying their munchies at 3am. Don’t miss the bakery’s sweets section—its baklava is utterly decadent.
Dish to try: Manakeesh and baklava.
LA SERRE BISTRO & BOULANGERIE
Cuisine: French & Mediterranean
Why go: Dubai’s latest culinary address opened at the Vida Downtown hotel this August. With a downstairs boulangerie and a more formal bistro on top, executive chef and owner Izu Ani (of La Petite Maison fame) has brought his signature Niçoise food to yet another stylish Dubai restaurant. Ani sources only organic ingredients from farmers and artisan suppliers. His boulangerie has some of the best bread in the city.
Dish to try: Scottish salmon, herbs and confit lemon.
MAISON BA GATELLE
Why go: Located at the front of the Address Downtown Dubai, this offshoot of New York’s Bistro Bagatelle opened its doors in June. Maison Bagatelle doesn’t aim to recreate the raucous, boozy brunches its sister restaurant is famous for across the Atlantic. Instead, this is a more low-key, Parisian-style crêperie and café, with ex-La Petite Maison chef Tim Newton at the helm.
Dish to try: Truffle mac and cheese.
Why go: This is clearly the place to go if you’re looking for authentic Italian food. The cosy establishment uses superior ingredients to make some of the best pizza à metro— a giant, metre-long pizza with different toppings in typical Neapolitan style—in town.
Dish to try: Pizza à metro; mixed seafood platter.
Why go: If your feet are weary from scouring the stores at the Dubai or Wafi Malls, Wafi Gourmet is the perfect place to rest them. The city’s best Arabian deli counter overflows with cheeses, olives, peppers, pickles, truffles and other favourites such as hummus, tabouleh and an assortment of Arabic sweets.
Dish to try: Batata hara—a definite crowd pleaser, especially with vegetarians.
Why go: Unlike restaurants in most other five-star hotels, the Grand Hyatt’s WOX is reasonably priced. It serves flavourful Asian food, with a special focus on noodles from Cambodia, China, Singapore and Vietnam.
Dish to try: Stir-fried noodles with shrimp and bean sprouts.
Why go: For an authentic La Parrillastyle meal, where premium meat cuts are prepared on an open grill, look no further than The Palace Downtown Dubai. With exquisite views of the Burj Khalifa and the dancing fountains, Asado’s outdoor terrace is a great place to dine when the weather is fine.
Dish to try: Cabrito Asado (roasted baby goat).
THE RIVINGTON GRILL
Why go: Though The Rivington Grill also has a branch at Souk Madinat Jumeirah, its Souk Al Bahar outpost is a hot favourite with Dubai’s expatriates, who gorge on the mouthwatering fishcakes, burgers and sticky-toffee puddings.
Dish to try: Traditional fish and chips.
To know more, grab a copy of the Condé Nast Traveller India anniversary December2013- January 2014 issue, out on stands now