Travelling is sometimes both illuminating and tragic. I’ve just had a trip to Istanbul. For two nights. It’s just long enough to realise that it’s just not long enough to be there. And by the time I was saying goodbye, having a glass of Turkish rosé looking over the Bosphorus in the springtime sun from the froufrou surroundings of the Çirağan Palace, I had only just started to settle in.
This post comes off the back of that experience, and another recent post, where I had a wee run-off about Tripadvisor and it’s particular uselessness when rating the restaurants in a city. Some commentators, quite rightly, mentioned that the kind of restaurant you want to eat at when you’re passing through is often completely different to the one you’d like to eat at when you are a resident. I argued that Tripadvisor got it wrong no matter what you were looking at, and we’ll see that when we look at the list below. I’ve asked my favourite Dubai food fiends (most of them also bloggers, so they eat out more than the average Joe) if they could provide me with a budget and a blow-out restaurant for a quick visitor. Our Fooderati Arabia approved top 10 restaurants for a quick visit in Dubai are (almost in order – I’ve looked at how many suggest them, and with what strength.) are as follows:
- Bu’qtair (budget. TA #52)
- Qbara (blowout. TA #4)
- At.Mosphere (blowout, but for drinks, not dinner. TA #154)
- Automatic (budget. TA #1044)
- Al Tawasol (budget. TA #756)
- Pierchic (blowout. TA #35)
- Frying Pan Tour (mid-budget. TA ‘activities’ #1, not rated in restaurants)
- Al Hadheera (blowout. TA #742)
- Nobu (blowout. TA #173)
- Khan Murjan (mid-budget. TA #141)
Interesting. I’ve popped the Tripadvisor rating numbers as of today in the brackets after. All these restaurants are provided by people in the know, but if you looked at TA, you might just find out about one or two of them, IF you were lucky. I’m a little surprised to see one of them there, but that’s down to different opinions, and I’ll admit, I’m not always a total authority. You would be very, very unlucky to have an unenjoyable meal at any of these places – not only that, you would be likely to walk away with a lesson in Dubai, its culture, its cuisine, and its surroundings – something not always possible in some what may be regarded as the better restaurants in our city.
So going into a little more depth, let’s see how those restaurants go on this list. First, me. This is after all, my blog, so you have to put up with a little more textual spew until we get to the others. I’m also going to give you more than two options, because I think there are a few different elements people will look for when dining. Some want a view, some want incredible food, others luxury, and then there’s the ones that want to be immersed in the local culture. And let’s not forget the adrenaline junkie. A little hard to translate to food, I suppose, so I’ve just chosen a place that puts you a little out of your comfort zone.
Best Restaurant in Dubai for Gorgeous Food: Qbara.
It’s really one of my favourite restaurants, ever, in the world. The food is an exotic fusion of Arabic and just about anything, and couldn’t be better. The atmosphere is both authentically Arabic (although a more Levant than Gulf, to be honest), and completely exotic. It’s also modern, sleek, and vibrant. I just cannot stop raving about this place. I blogged about it here, and will probably continue to rave as long as they keep up the wonderful efforts (Qbara is relatively new). It’s in an unusual location – Wafi is near the creek but on the wrong side (in the Oud Metha area, which is largely offices, highways and healthcare, and has little glimmer of the lively nature of the Deira side of the creek) and a pyramid-styled mall. Quite a weird place really. But there is another of my favourite restaurants in the vicinity, so don’t let that put you off. Anyway, Qbara is all about the inside, where you should always expect to find great beauty. Runners up: nothing comes close enough to warrant.
Best Restaurant in Dubai for a budget hit of culture: Aroos Damascus.
Ok, this is a hard one to choose, because there are stacks of places that would fit this bill, but I’ve chosen Aroos because it’s a bit of an institution, and they make damn good shawarma and falafel, and that’s what you are going to be eating to get the flavour of Dubai. If you come to Dubai and you don’t eat shawarma and falafel, then you have not tasted our national cuisine (Yes, I know it’s Levant food, but trust me, this is what we eat here). It’s also in the area you are probably going to be staying if you are flying through Dubai on a budget, a cacophanic and quintessentially Dubai area, Al Muraqqabat Rd, walking distance from most of the Deira hotels. It’s not licensed, and it’s not fancy, and the service is known to be downright rude on occasion, but it’s cheap and frequented by locals and anyone who knows how to sniff out a good pile of mezze. Runners up: Khan Murjan (prettier but more expensive), Automatic (similar venue, but a chain – mentioned by many below), and Zaroob (super place, but I’m going for an authentic Levant feed here, and Zaroob is more modern),
Best restaurant in Dubai for the ambience: Pierchic.
It’s on at the end of the pier, in one of the most beautiful hotels in the Emirates. This is not just about dining (which is incidentally very, very good – a mainly seafood menu, with clever and delicate flavour combinations, served up by an international staff who have a multitude of Michelin stars and the like behind them), but about the entire journey. Come in through the hotel next-door (Pier Chic is at Al Qasr, but come through Mina al Salam, which is adjoining), and take the abra (a little wooden motorboat) along the waterways, past the souq, and to the edge of the pool of Al Qasr. Then walk through the palms to the beach, and down the wooden pier towards the twitching flames that light Pier Chic at the end, all the while gawking and snapping photos with the Arabian Gulf and the Rainbow-lit Burj al Arab as a backdrop. When you sit, look back at Madinat Jumeirah, where you have come from, and see the wind towers lit up like candles emerging between the palm leaves. It’s spectacular. Unfortunately Pier Chic has just closed for a 5-month renovation, but will be up and running again by December 2014 at the latest. Runners up: At.mosphere for sunset cocktails and Al Hadheera for a desert experience
Best Restaurant for putting you out of the comfort zone: Special Ostadi
Again, I’m a little torn. However my selection parameters were; something that as a westerner will make you wonder if you have the guts to do this, and then you get in the middle of it, and you realise you had absolutely nothing to worry about. First challenge, you’ll never find it. It’s in the middle of an incredibly sub-continental demographic, and there is no sign outside that resembles the name of the restaurant. Just look for an “Iranian Restaurant”, because the title has long been covered up by some quite dodgy looking scaffolding (that’s the second challenge, wondering if it’s all going to fall down around you) on the rest of the building. Third, depending on the time of the day, you may be the only female or white person in the restaurant. But, you’ll get to the end of your single white female lunch and wonder where the hell all the others are, because it’s such a treasure of a place. Although Special Ostadi is known for it’s kebabs, I’d also recommend it for lunch, because this is the time you can go in and leave the job to the waiters. Just order the lunch special and wait and see what arrives. Great service, and super cheap, by the way. Runners up: Al Tawasol for yemeni dining in indoor maglises (or the men’s dining area for blokes if you prefer) and Bu’qtair for fiery dressed, local fish served out of a port-o-cabin near the beach in Umm Suqeim.
Best Restaurant for authentic local food: A Frying Pan Tour
Yes, not a single restaurant, but several. Arva will take you on a walk through the streets of old Dubai and make you eat things you never knew existed. She will teach you things about the cuisine of the area that even a well-researched foodie will find illuminating. This is one thing Tripadvisor got right. They have her listed as the number one activity for dubai, and I’m totally with this. Arva’s tour is not a super-cheap-eat, you pay between 350 and 415AED for the tour (about $90 – $125US), but the trips often include pickup and/or dropoff and transport in between during the summer months (walking when it’s cool), last for at least 3-4 hours, are friendly and educational and you will be totally stuffed by the end of it. She also has just listed a Ramadan tour that looks at braking fast traditions and Iftar celebrations in Old Dubai, so throw in a whole heap of cultural knowledge there, and you get an utter bargain. Runners up: Nothing comes close.
OK – so that’s me done. Let’s have a look at the other authorities. These are people I trust and respect, from varying backgrounds and cultures, and so they will provide a different outlook.
Sally from mycustardpie.com Honest food, fresh ingredients and a slice of life in Dubai. Written by British expat who since moving to Dubai in 2000 has replaced spare bed 3 times due to visitor numbers. Sally recommends a Frying Pan Tour thouroughly, but also provides:
- Budget: Baker & Spice so you can watch the fountains and stare up at the Burj Khalifa while eating good honest comfort food.
- Blowout: bar snacks and cocktails at Bahri Bar watching the sun go down and the Burj al Arab light up.
Ishita from ishitaunblogged.com Calcutta born, and living in the Middle East for many years, Ishita blogs about her Bengali heritage and Dubai experience and co-edits Food e Mag dxb with me. Ishita makes a third mid-range recommendation – Al Fanar for Emirati cuisine.
- Budget: Blue Barjeel , a creek side cafeteria/restaurant with gorgeous view and great food. It’s great to see the Abras, Iranian vessels, flying seagulls and people walking past. (Bu’qtair a close second)
- Blowout: At.Mosphere just because of the cliched reasons – the view, dining in one of the world’s highest restaurant – 122nd floor! The Amuse Bouches are very interesting and so are the desserts.
Samantha from foodiva.net Greek-Cypriot-British, based out of Dubai for the last 14 years, but never happy to sit still. Always searching for a new quality dining experience in the UAE and on travels.
- Budget: Bu’Qtair – cheap and cheerful seafood on the sand with the backdrop of Burj Al Arab
- Blowout: Q’bara – Dubai’s first top-end licensed restaurant to embrace the food culture of the region we live in with a creative spin on Arabic dishes in a buzzing and beautiful space.
Arva from iliveinafryingpan.com Indian heritage, Dubai born, New York for 9 years, and now back home in Dubai for several years, sizzling up hole-in-the-wall ethnic eats of old Dubai and running food tours (Frying Pan Adventures)
- Budget: Al Tawasol. You can taste Emirati-style dishes like Thareed, Machboos and Salona
- Blowout: Traiteur, Park Hyatt. I love that it’s in Old Dubai, overlooks the creek, and dishes like the artichoke creme brulee, the buffalo mozz starter, the dessert parfait…oh and the bread basket, most of the menu is pretty stellar.
Debbie from therealgeordiearmani.com Geordie mother of a nine year old daughter, wife to a Scot, and a slave to five daft cats. A few yeas ago she started a food blog and this has snowballed into something bigger than she ever expected, but is extremely happy about.
- Budget: Sea View restaurant in Umm Suqeim, for harbourside local fish
- Blowout: Villa Beach, not terribly expensive, super view and location
Drina from eaternalzest.com Goan-born, Doha raised and long-time Dubai resident. Drina takes superb photographs and has just quit her job to become a food stylist and photographer in her own right.
- Budget: 25 degrees north Indian dining in Tecom, closesly followed by Hanoi, Chimes and Bombay chowpati
- Blowout: Also struggling to decide between Nobu and Voi. Yes, insanely expensive but the food and ambience… To die for!
Debbie from coffeecakesandrunning.com A British Expat living in Dubai. An accidental blogger and passionate foodie – addicted to coffee and cakes, but less so to running!
- Budget: Bu’Qtair – the contrast of great location, quality seafood, great prices and it’s ability to engage all types of diners from all walks of life for its simplicity.
- Blowout: At.mosphere – location, record breaking, stunning view and bragging rights to your friends, oh and the cocktails are pretty good too
Jasmine from peartreediaries.com Indian heritage, but born and raised in Dubai, living on the edge of Sharjah. Environmentalist by profession and food writer by passion.
- Budget: Automatic Restaurant in Deira for consistency in Lebanese / Arabic cuisine with a bit of history as well, and it’s situated in old Dubai on a bustling street.
- Blowout: Qbara for a posh new Dubai experience and for a contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine that’s also located dot center between old Dubai and the road to New Dubai.
Minna from Nakedplateblog.com A dash of Finland, a touch of Dubai, threaded through with an intense love of Egypt. Food, eating, cooking and photos from Dubaite foodie, amateur week-end cooker.
- Budget: Charm, a new Thai restaurant, very picturesque seaview on a terrace beside
- Blowout: Al Hadheera at Bab Al Shams because you step into a world of One Thousand and One Nights Arabian Magic
Sarah from atouchofrosting.blogspot.ae Long term Dubai resident, recently moved back to the UK. Sarah is a super baker, and was my provider for my kids birthday cakes for several years. Her departure has left me bereft of pretty sugar along with herself.
- Budget: Ya hala (lebanese in Karama) or Al Mallah another Dubai oldie. or Ravi (Pakistani eatery in Satwa) as it’s iconic.
- Blowout: Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor – Went back after the new menu, lovely, lovely!! (Jamie’s Italian also)
Neenu from foodkissed.com “Food is my passion. Chocolate is my weakness. Cheese is my ecstasy and Chicken, my soul mate.” Kochi Born Dubai resident blogging reviews and recipes.
- Budget: Calicut Notebook. Fusion malabar cuisine that can make you come back for more.
- Blowout: Pierchic for the fabulous seafood and astounding ambience.
Mishti from stovetopdancing.blogspot.com Currently based in Dubai, just turned first-time mum from a full-time copywriter. She enjoys food that tastes great, decor that looks good and design that works well. Her blog is a collection of all that, and a few anecdotes on kids.
- Budget: Ravi, super Pakistani fare in vibrant Satwa
- Blowout: Many to choose from, but I think I’d go with Nobu
Jonathan from jonathandcastle.com UK born, long term Dubai resident, blogger, copywriter and journalist. Mainly writes about cars, but often torn between his love of food and wheels.
- Budget: any branch of Automatic, for really good Lebanese spread.
- Blowout: Table 9, without hesitation!
Shaima from potsandpatterns.com Emirati-born, studied in the UK, now living in Doha, aiming to promote healthier, yet sometimes indulgent, more creative lifestyles. Blog covers both Abu Dhabi and Doha.
- Budget: a taste of Yemen with Al Tawasol for their mouth watering meat mandi that’s melts in your mouth with bursts of flavour. I never had Mandi like this.
- Blowout: La Petite Maison for delectable french food where people like to see and be seen.
Ritu from fussfreecookingblog.wordpress.com finds solace in cooking and being a vegetarian, and finds it equally rewarding when she creates dishes that are not only healthy but add meaning to one’s daily humdrum diet. Indian heritage, Dubai resident for more than a decade.
- Budget: Ritu like to wander Meena Bazaar and hunt out some tasty falafel (Tasty Bite, Just Falafel or Bait al Wakeel)
- Blowout: Pierchic Restaurant at Madinat Jumeirah, delicious food & very chic ambience
Harry from hashtagcake.me A Brit through-and-through, but born in Sharjah, who’s family have lived in Dubai most of her life, which is now where she is based. Blogs about many things, not just cake.
- Budget: Aprons and Hammers at Mina Seyahi – amazing view of Dubai Marina Skyline, it’s jolly good fun being on a boat, you get to wear an apron so it’s ok to make a mess, and you can enjoy a bucket of seafood and a bucket of beer. (not super budget, but take your entertainer vouchers and it’s half-price)
- Blowout: I’d start with a couple of sundowners at At.mosphere in the Burjy K, then pop across to The Rivington Grill at Souk Al Bahar for steak tartare, the mouthwatering lamb shank, and a bottle of red overlooking the fountains!
Priyanka from frommysandcastle.wordpress.com After six years of being a television reporter in Mumbai & Delhi, relocated bag and baggage to Dubai. Blogging on food and all things Dubai
- Budget: Bu Q’tair … A very different side of Dubai. Or just a walk through Bur Dubai / Deira for the fabulous Indian/ Pakistani / Arabic restaurants there
- Blowout: Khan Murjan at Wafi … stunning ambience. And the whole experience of having the entire middle east under one roof
Tasneem from thoughtsoverchai.wordpress.com From Mumbai, now a Dubai Resident, blogging about her trials and excitements, thoughts and experiences as a mother and in the kitchen.
- Budget: definitely be chalet for the lovely bbqs, kebabs and grills (Unfortunately Chalet recently burned down!)
- Blowout: Bateaux Dubai for the ambiance and beautiful view of Dubai creek along with some great food and drinks.
Shiyam from foodnflavours.com Graduating from one of India’s premier culinary schools (IHM Chennai) and student of The Culinary Institute of America, now a recipe tester, super photographer and resident of Sharjah
- Budget: Rajwah Chaat in Sharjah for lip-smacking Amchi Mumbai street eats.
- Blowout: Jamie’s Italian – Rustic Italian fare and total VFM (value for money)
Rupal from foodienfabulous.com born and raised in Goa, India; currently in the UAE living life through unconventional pursuits; making memories everyday
- Budget: We go far afield here: Lamb or Chicken Shawarma at Lebanese Flower in Abu Dhabi – best 6dhms spent! With a side of their really fresh Fruit juices. Especially great after having seen the Grand Mosque at sunset
- Blowout: Zuma (their melt-in-the-mouth Cod or even the crispy soft shell crab is perfect) Fabulous ambiance and cocktails, hip and trendy venue.