Global cuisine, fine dining and festivals such as the Dubai Food Festival; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the delicious melting pot that’s Dubai
Home to an expat population of 85% and over 200 nationalities, Dubai brings the best of the world on a platter. The sheer choice of cuisines, themed restaurants, Michelin-starred chefs and unique food festivals make Dubai a dream destination for foodies. But below the glitzy skyscrapers is a Dubai that still preserves its strong Arabic culture, heritage and hospitality.
The perfect place to start is Ewaan at Palace Downtown, where a massive traditional spread of rice, meats, salads, grills and desserts is laid out. Relive ‘Arabian Nights’ with energetic tanoura and belly dance performances every Wednesday with authentic delights like lamb juzi (spiced rice with lamb), fish sayadieh (like a biryani), meat kebbeh and a live grill. There’s a range of exotic drinks – Turkish coffee, Moroccan Maghrebi mint tea and Qamar Al Deen, a juice prepared from dried apricot paste. Sample exotic desserts like Um Ali (creamy bread pudding and cinnamon nut stuffed baklava), borma almond, mafrouka pistachio and chaibeyat as a veiled lady fries fresh luqaimat (spongy dessert).
Dining in Luxury
Fine dining in Dubai has reached dizzying heights. At the quiet Armani Hotel Lobby inside Burj Khalifa, a graceful hostess ushered us to an express elevator, which transported us to the 122nd floor in 45 seconds. Perched at 670 feet, At.mosphere is the world’s highest restaurant ‘from ground level’. The change in air pressure makes your ears pop like a champagne cork as you disembark.
A cantilevered staircase connects the restaurant to the lounge offering the best view in town and top-notch French cuisine by Michelin Chef Jerome Lagarde. A minimum spend policy of 250-500 AED per person guarantees window seating while a nine-course festive menu featuring caviar, foie gras, langouste, truffles, oysters and sea scallops, comes at a princely 880 AED.
Al Mahara, literally ‘The Oyster Shell’ in Arabic, at the opulent Burj Al Arab is designed to wow any diner. Walk past gilded interiors through a shimmering tunnel into the restaurant dominated by a stunning floor-to-ceiling aquarium. As you are mesmerized by marine life swimming by, award-winning chefs stir up sea bass with almond sauce, Maine lobster with seaweed butter and poached tsarkaya oysters.
In the world’s tallest hotel JW Marriott Marquis, Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar (no longer with the establishment) reincarnates Indian food into a contemporary form at Rang Mahal (Palace of Colour), dominated by plush orange and black interiors and massive temple pillars. The Navratan Menu features Lasooni Scallops to Meen Moilley, culminating in a Modern Art Dessert Canvas of assorted Indian sweets ‘painted’ by the chefs. For Indian fine dine at its best, head to Indego by another Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia at the luxurious Grosvenor House.
Encased in a beautiful two-storeyed glass facade, La Serre fuses the charm of a Parisian street café with the buzz of Downtown Dubai. The traditional boulangerie on the ground floor bakes the freshest breads in town while the first floor bistro offers the perfect vantage. In elegant white interiors, dine at the Chef’s Table on house classics – Tarte Flambée, lentil salad, rigatoni with white truffles, grilled veal chops and whole seabass baked in salt crust.
Chic and modern, the beach-facing Sea Fu is the signature restaurant at Four Seasons on Jumeirah Beach and one of the top seafood restaurants in Dubai. Expect Med-style dishes and Asian-influenced delicacies in a cool, loungey atmosphere, overlooking the spectacular Arabian Gulf. Try the Sea Fu platter, seafood fettucini and crispy prawn with wasabi lemon dressing.
One of Madinat Jumeirah’s hot new launches, folly by Nick & Scott boasts award-winning cuisine that requires booking weeks in advance. The stunning arched hallway of the Arabian court at One&Only Royal Mirage leads to their lovely Moroccan restaurant Tagine. We dropped in at EauZone for Asian mezze, grilled hammour fillet and steamed miso seabass.
At Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road, dine amidst contemporary art or enjoy a stunning rooftop view of the Dubai skyline and fast-moving traffic from Level 43, the rooftop Sky Lounge. In Palm Jumeirah, the Signature Brunch at Social by world-renowned chef Heinz Beck at Waldorf Astoria is a culinary tour de force.
With 5-star hotels aplenty, there’s no dearth of fine dine options, sometimes within the same hotel. The Beach House at Anantara, The Palm has relaxed beach side dining with views of the glittering Dubai shoreline as you relish Med fare, tapas, seafood and signature cocktails like ‘After the Storm.’ Anantara’s Mekong is counted among Dubai’s top Pan-Asian restaurants.
Relish authentic Far East preparations in rickshaw-style seating at oriental tables with overhead lights in birdcages. The Sharing Platter of crispy and Vietnamese spring rolls, Tod Mun Goong (Thai shrimp cake), Plah Goong (prawn salad with lemongrass), BBQ minced prawn on sugarcane skewer, Gai Hor Baitoey (chicken pandan) and chicken satay is highly recommended.
Food festivals galore
There’s no better showcase of global and local flavours than Dubai Food Festival (DFF), the perfect hangout for the gourmand and the glutton. Besides pop-ups and street food awards, the Restaurant Week saw 15 top-end restaurants offer a 3-course menu for AED 199. Tum Tum Asia, voted among the Top 10 Hidden Gems at DFF, brings typical pan-Asian street flavours into a purely 100% vegetarian menu, thanks to the ingenuity of Indian celebrity chef Akshay Nayyar and owner Prakash Adtani. The vibrant décor inspired by street art and tuk-tuks has a quirky lip-smacking menu of dimsums, satays, kebabs, sushi, baos and Thai curries, presented imaginatively.
This year, Etisalat Beach Canteen captured Dubai’s eclectic multicultural milieu and was the heart of DFF. Funky food trucks and homegrown eateries served global fare and experimental, artisan food with tastes as varied as Polish dumplings at Zapie Kanka, falafel burgers and charcoal lemonade at BurgerItch, spicy Tacos at Maiz and Spanish churros from Churros Factory to bizarre presentations of Bubble waffles with chocolate injections and Butter Beer, a creation of American Chef Ian Klienman at the Inventing Room.
Adding to the food fiesta was live music, yoga on the beach, kite surfing, paddle boats by the bay besides cooking demos and Master Classes by renowned chefs. From fresh buns to berry pistachio pancakes and ‘freaky fries’, we tried That Place Café’s fusion food of bun-based dishes paired with pasta, potatoes, sheesh tawook and curry. Decadent desserts are also served in a delicious bun, so you could say, no one can eat just bun!
The second edition of Miami Vibes Food Festival celebrated soul food in a happy beach-like vibe combined with festival founder Elham al Arif’s love for Miami. From mid-Feb through March, the parking lot of Green Planet in Dubai’s City Walk became a lively pink-splashed outdoor avenue amidst pink sun decks, beach umbrellas and giant flamingoes. On offer was live entertainment and food truck culture featuring global fast food – burgers (including hot pink ones), sushi, rainbow sandwiches, local Koshari meals, sour khameer (Arabic pastry), Hakiki Turkish ice-cream and gourmet desserts shaped like exotic flowers from Dolci e Salato.
Comptoir 102, winner of the Best Healthy Café in Dubai, is a classy craft boutique on Jumerirah’s Beach Road that morphed into a café and organic restaurant. Chef Erwin Jmaampoc emphasized that their unique food is nutritious, wholesome and sourced from local organic farms. The ever-changing contemporary menu is dictated by season and harvest with sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, super foods and vegan options. Impeccably presented, each morsel assures healthy goodness in a relaxed ethnic setting. Don’t miss the hearty Avo’ Club, Acai Bowl and juices that come with tempting health and beauty oriented names!
In the cooler months from mid-October to mid-April, Ripe Outdoor Market convenes at Zabeel Park every Friday with organic fruits and farm fresh vegetables, gourmet pickles and pestos, exotic white honey from Kyrgyzstan, food stalls and over hundred kiosks selling boutique and lifestyle products.
At Carli’s Chimneys, we tried Black Rose, a charcoal-activated ice cream the owner picked up from Vienna. Another seasonal cultural extravaganza is Global Village, bringing together flavours, arts and entertainment from across the world. We sipped kerkade (hibiscus iced tea) and savoured Egyptian cuisine at Al Dahhan.
The seaside marina boardwalk Club Vista Mare in Palm Jumeirah is lined by fine restaurants like Simply Italian, Gursha (Ethiopian) and Aji (Peruvian) besides shisha bars. BoxPark Dubai, the hip entertainment quarter on Al Wasl Road has trendy boutiques and niche cafés housed in 220 shipping containers with a lady DJ spinning tunes from a converted food truck! No matter when you visit, Dubai is ready to tantalize your taste buds. It’s surprising that Dubai does not have its own Michelin star restaurant yet, but we might just have to eat our words soon.
Jet Airways flies to Dubai International Airport (3-4 hrs).
When to go
Dubai Food Festival is held in Feb-March. www.dubaifoodfestival.com
Ramadan in May-June has great spreads for iftar and suhour.
Where to Eat
At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa
Ph +971 4 888 3803
Al Mahara, Burj al Arab
Ph +971 4 301 7600
Ewaan, Palace Downtown Dubai
Ph +971 48883444
Mekong, Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8304
One & Only Royal Mirage
Ph +971 4 399 9999
Rang Mahal, JW Marriott Marquis
Ph +971 4 414 0000
La Serre, Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel
Ph +971 4 428 6969
Indego by Vineet, Grosvenor House
Ph +971 4 317 6000
Sea Fu, Four Seasons
Ph +971 4 270 7777
Four Points by Sheraton, Sheikh Zayed Road
Ph +971 4 323 0333
Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
For more info, www.visitdubai.com
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.