TRAVEL: DUBAI Finding the food secrets among the skyscrapers
Get some winter sun and try superb Emirati food with an unforgettable escape to Dubai. We’ve uncovered some of the best Arab eats, hip hotel hangouts and places to shop in this Middle Eastern foodie oasis
Many people come to Dubai and never venture beyond the hotel beach clubs and ubiquitous city malls, where restaurant chains serve up dishes you could find anywhere in the world. For many years, local Emirati cuisine has been underrepresented on the city’s food map, no doubt in part because Emiratis only make up around 15% of Dubai’s population. Recently, this has started to shift, with an increasing number of exciting new Emirati restaurants opening across the city. To get a taste of Dubai’s culinary history, escape the skyscraper hotels and get a taxi to Deira, Dubai’s oldest quarter. Taxis are cheap: journeys cost less than £1 per mile, and the city – for tourist purposes – doesn’t sprawl. Get there early to experience the Waterfront Market (opens at 6am, get there 9am latest), and haggle alongside chefs, locals and expats for the best deals on huge slabs of tuna, Arabian caviar and seabream. The city’s traditional market, Spice Souk, is around 10 minutes in a taxi from there, and the best place to stock up on baharat (an Arab mixed spice), cardamom and cinnamon. Dubai is one of the easier cities in the Middle East for westerners to navigate, with everything from restaurant menus to road signs in both Arabic and English. From the Spice Souk, it’s a two-minute walk to the waterfront where you can catch a dhow across the river to Bur Dubai (a one-way trip costs 20p), and stop at the Arabian Tea House (arabianteahouse.co), serving local mezze staples with freshly made khubz bread. Don’t miss the traditional fire pit bread oven, where chefs pull khubz straight on to your plate.
WHERE TO TRY EMIRATI FOOD
To experience some of the newest local café trends in the city, head down to Boxpark (boxpark.ae) in Al Wasl, and stop off at Logma. The place is busy in the morning with locals tucking into cheesy khameer – a local bread served with creamy cheese and date syrup. At lunchtime, the restaurant serves a rich, spicy Arab lamb biryani (less fiery than the Indian version, made with a spice mix called bezar). Be sure to try the cheese samboosa. logma.ae
A world away from the £1,700-a-night Burj Al Arab hotel ( jumeirah.com) that it overlooks, the seafood restaurant Bu Qtair (+971 55 705 2130) in Jumeirah was originally set up to serve local fishermen, and over the years has become popular with both locals and expats. Its stripped-back setting includes a canteen counter where you can choose from the day’s catch. Food is served simply, with the choice of Arabic bread, rice and curry sauce as sides. Tables can’t be booked in advance and the restaurant doesn’t accept cards, so bring cash and get there for 7pm – any later and there will be long queues. Dinner for two, £20.
Set on the Dubai Creek in the Radisson Blu Hotel is one of the most exciting new Emirati fine-dining restaurants in the city. The menu at Aseelah (+971 4 222 7171) is split in two, serving both traditional and experimental dishes. It’s also one of the few Emirati restaurants that serves alcohol. Its chicken margoogat dish is a must-try. Dinner for two, £90 with wine.
TOP INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANTS
Head chef Colin Clague at Ruya travels extensively in Turkey to produce a unique take on Anatolian food. Highlights include aubergine purée with aubergine crisps;
lakerda (raw bonito), cucumber & tarama; lamb manti – tiny pasta parcels tangy with yogurt and mint; 24-hour slow-cooked short rib with Turkish chilli, BBQ glaze, and spiced Konya chickpea purée. The terrace is the place to book – and you do need a reservation. This place is buzzing, so much so that a second branch will open in London this May. Three-courses from £30. ruyadubai.com A good spot for sundowners: Folly by Nick & Scott, two young ex-gordon Ramsay chefs. Start with a watermelon martini and lobster crackers just before 6pm when the sun sets. There are set tasting menus (four courses, £70). Playful touches such as Marmite courgette rolls show the chef’s heritage. The kitchen’s skill is further highlighted with monkfish cheeks, paprika and lemon, and lamb saddle with whipped pine nuts. folly.ae
From Bice Mare’s terrace, you can see the top of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, on the other side of Dubai Fountain. Seafood is the focus at this lively Italian (mains from £28), with some cheffy touches: kingfish ‘sea urchin’ spikes fashioned from squid ink spaghetti, served over dry ice; seared tuna with daikon, green tea, apple and lemon mash. The signature dessert is sugar-free: lemon semifreddo with cucumber, radish and tiny cauliflower meringues. bicemare.com
PLAN YOUR STAY
Radisson Blu Hotels have double rooms from around £118 per night in either the Media City or Deira (radissonblu.com). Park Hyatt Dubai, with Mediterranean style grounds and views of the Dubai Creek, has doubles from around £295 per night (dubai.park.hyatt.com).
If you’re flying from the UK, Emirates offers good-value direct fares, with returns from £250 (emirates.ae).
Bice Mare; the place to eat Italian food Sip watermelon martinis at Folly by Nick & Scott Smart takes on local dishes at Aseelah