Will our local experts agree on the ultimate fine-diner and the best brunch? Akash Arora puts them to the test.
Australian-born, Dubai-based chef and author
Keith J. Fernandez
Group editor of commercial publishing and food columnist at Gulf News
Is there one restaurant that really nails the Dubai vibe?
GM Dubai is not about fresh food. Nothing grows here except dates and camels. All the produce comes from Europe twice a week. Dubai is about glamour – up-front, brash, bold glamour. And nothing captures it quite like Zuma in the financial district. It’s got everything: excellent seafood, an impressive bar, fantastic music... and glamour.
KF Dubai is about seeing and being seen. It’s about a nosebleed lifestyle, about limited-edition everything. It’s shallow and the centre of gravity shifts constantly. Right now, it’s resting at The Experience by Reif Othman (Level 37, The H Dubai, One Sheikh Zayed Road; +971 4 501 8888) – it only has 12 seats and Othman cooks and serves every dish himself. You get a handwritten menu, which changes daily.
Where should you go if you want to splurge?
GM Armani Ristorante at the Armani Hotel. It’s very good, very expensive, has lovely views and is romantic.
KF The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah or the Burj Khalifa are the obvious answers but I’d pick The Rib Room at Jumeirah Emirates Towers. If you go back often enough, they’ll engrave your name on a steak knife.
Where do you head for the best street food?
GM There’s one restaurant, Ravi (245 Al Dhiyafa Road; +971 4 331 5353) that everyone talks about. My favourite dish is the lamb’s brain, which they chop up and scramble with eggs and spices. And they make really lovely roti.
KF It’s a myth that you can’t eat cheaply in Dubai. The Bur Dubai district is crammed with Indian and Pakistani restaurants or it’s Al Rigga Road for fantastic Arabic food. My favourite is 2nd December Street (Al Diyafah Street) and the area around it. Here are five things you should try: Burj Al Arab juice at Jabal Al Noor Cafeteria; chicken liver in pomegranate molasses at Al Mallah; spicy Korean seafood soup to open up your sinuses at Manna Land; kebabs at Ravi; and kunafa and qahwa at Firas Sweets. ￼
What’s the best fine-dining restaurant in Dubai?
GM Hakkasan. It’s the one I keep going back to – when I can afford it. It’s a contemporary Chinese restaurant with excellent food. I love the design; it’s quite bold and cavernous. And locals love it. They like to hide there but they also like to be seen there.
KF I can’t pick one. I’m a massive fan of Vineet Bhatia – he invented the chocolate samosa – so I’ll head to Indego By Vineet at Grosvenor House for his coffee-marinated lamb chops and velvety black dal. I have dreams about his delicate tender coconut ras malai. But if modern Indian isn’t your thing, eat at Yannick Alléno’s Stay at One&Only The Palm. He’s a Frenchman who spends hours stirring sauces but the results are divine. Also try Virgilio Martinez’s new Lima. He has the best iftar [Ramadan fast-breaking meal] in Dubai. Get the bife de lomo steak. And the avocado mousse – it’s a pudding.
And which is the best Middle Eastern restaurant?
GM Em Sherif is one of the best Lebanese restaurants in Dubai. It’s a big space so don’t go here for a romantic dinner. The diversity of food served is remarkable and it’s good quality. My favourites are the kebbe and stuffed vine leaves.
KF Aseelah at the Radisson Blu in Deira. Chef Uwe Micheel spent years coaxing Emirati grannies to give him their recipes. You won’t get this kind of food anywhere else. Chicken margoogat, for example, is a stew cooked with bread, and chicken porridge is a dessert.
Where do you go for cocktails?
GM Nippon Bottle Co. It’s in the foyer of the Dusit Thani hotel, hidden behind a bookshelf, which is actually a door. It’s a bit of a local secret with a massive range of whiskies.
KF Every bar worth its name will have some sort of gold-flecked concoction but to really bling up your Instagram, hit up Gold On 27 at the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah for cocktails with local ingredients such as za’atar or date syrup.
And for the best brunch?
GM My favourite place is, again, Hakkasan. It’s got amazing Peking duck – the only one I would trust in Dubai – and offers lots of bubbles and dim sum.
KF For variety, my money is on Jumeirah Al Qasr at the Madinat Jumeirah Resort. It’s great for a special occasion.
Is there a great restaurant that offers wonderful views?
GM Pierchic is right on the water and far from the noise of Dubai. It’s calming and peaceful with very good seafood and wonderful views of the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah tower shining in the distance.
KF Everybody must do At.mosphere on the 122nd level of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world – at least once to take in this skyline-on-steroids. Get there at 7am for breakfast to start your day on a high and try the haddock soufflé. Or get the highest high tea in the world. But take your credit card – the prices are as high as the tower.
Where do you book a table for a business lunch?
GM Novikov at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. It’s not too expensive, has high-quality seafood and the service is discreet as long as you tell them you don’t want to be disturbed. That’s rule No. 1 in Dubai.
KF I’d have to say Trésind, the progressive Indian at the Nassima Royal Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. Its table service and unusual combinations will impress anyone and the prices, particularly at lunchtime, are pretty reasonable.
What’s a good place for families?
GM My favourite is Wafi Gourmet. The Lebanese food is great here and I love the coffee and juice selection: orange, grapefruit, lemon, mint.
KF Arab culture centres around families so almost every hotel restaurant has a 50 per cent discount for kids but I love that the Mövenpick group asked a Dubai blogger, Fathima Mansoor Ahmad, to design its menus – there are kebab rockets and couscous beaches.
What’s your favourite place for coffee?
GM I go to The Surf Café. It uses Raw Coffee Company, which is renowned for sourcing high-quality beans from around the world. But I also love the atmosphere – surfers hang out here with their branded boards and clothing and accessories.
KF I love Mokha 1450 on Al Wasl Road. It’s the size of a handkerchief and always packed. The coffees are excellent, plus you’re supporting female Yemeni farmers.
And what about breakfast?
GM Hapi (Alserkal Avenue; +971 4 225 1807) in the arts district is great for breakfast. They have homemade icy poles, a delicious beef bone broth and an egg dish with salmon or beef chorizo.
KF Go to Logma at Boxpark and order the traditional Emirati breakfast. It’s got eggs, balaleet [sweet vermicelli], khameer [local bread], chehab [pancakes], date syrup, sugary spiced tea… you see why we’re so fat!
Top image: Hakkasan
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