Time Out suggests 10 of the best Middle Eastern and North African restaurants
Time Out Dubai staff
Sarai: While this place excels at mezze, kebabs are definitely the speciality. The signature kebab Sarai is a tender, nutty tube of ground lamb mixed with chopped pistachios. Equally heavenly is the kebab yougatly, which is made of ethereal shards of lamb in a yoghurt-butter sauce. The meat doesn’t simply melt, it disintegrates on the tongue. What makes the restaurant even more tempting is the reasonable bill at the end of the night. A rare find.
Dubai Marina. Call 04 438 0640 for reservations.
Khan Murjan Restaurant: Deep in the heart of the Wafi mall, hidden amongst the overpriced bric-a-brac of the Khan Murjan souk itself, lies this undisputed gem of a restaurant. Serving up a tantalising tapestry of Egyptian, Lebanese, Moroccan and Turkish mezze and grills, as well as local delights from the Gulf peninsula, this is one of the best places in the city for a modern Middle Eastern culinary experience away from the five-star hotels and tourist-orientated kitsch. Centred around a Damascene courtyard, hung with wrought iron romantic lanterns, a Shakespearean balcony, lustrous blue mosaic tiling and creeping vines, it is hard not to get caught up in the romance of it all.
Khan Murjan Souk. Call 04 327 9795 for reservations.
Shabestan: The dramatic live Persian band might not deter from the slight wind-tunnel effect of the air-conditioning, but Shabestan is, was, and probably will be for a while, one of the best Iranian restaurants in Dubai. Kick things off with a couple of shared starters, the nargesi is outstanding – thinly chopped and entwined spinach that falls onto your fork and has a wholesome yet spicy flavour. Don’t miss out on the fried aubergine mirza ghasemi dip either. Mains are fairly typical Persian kebabs, but the kebab e soltani – fillets of tangy lamb served with some of the finest mast we’ve tasted – is excellent, and comes with generously saffroned rice.
Radisson Blu Hotel. Call 04 222 7171 for reservations.
Abshar: Don’t let the canteen-like decor fool you, Abshar undoubtedly serves some of the best Persian food in Dubai. Waiters fill up plates with tasty pieces of flatbread. Dip these in to mizra ghasemi (Iran’s answer to baba ganoush) and a kashik bademjan (made from aubergine and whey), and you won’t be sorry: both come topped with a generous mound of crispy, caramelised onions, and have a smoky flavour that is as addictive as nicotine. These, however, are no match for the kebabs. Kebab bakhtiari – made from alternating layers of plump, juicy chicken, perfectly pink steak and drippy slices of green capsicum – which comes basted in an intricate, garlicky marinade.
Deira. Call 04 223 0555 for reservations.
Alhadheerah: Al Hadheerah is showmanship at its best. Tucked on the outskirts of the city, the restaurant successfully conjures up all the magic of Arabian Nights. With blaring live music, belly dancers and actors paid to run around the dunes and duel with wooden swords, the experience certainly isn’t lacking in entertainment (there is even a fireworks display at the end of the night). It’s no wonder a meal here is as pricey as it is. While there are certainly better Arabic restaurants in the centre of Dubai for a fraction of the cost, few share Al Hadheerah’s lively atmosphere. Just know before you go what you’re paying for: mainly, it’s the show.
Jumeirah Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa. Call 04 809 6100 for reservations.
Al Hallab: A perennial lunchtime favourite with Garhoud nine-to-fivers, this Lebanese standby serves some of the best Arabic food in town. Fattoush is given spark with the use of fresh herbs, and sesame-inflected balls of falafel find the perfect balance between a crisp exterior and a soft, giving interior. The bread is fresh baked, and a far cry from the limp, packaged pitas that are served in many of the city’s other established eateries. If you order wisely, it’s quite possible for a large group to fill up on Dhs30 each. The baklava is also sublime, and we highly recommend bringing home a batch for relatives abroad.
Garhoud. Call 04 282 3388 for reservations.
Al Nafoorah: Al Nafoorah has great service, delicious food and a prestigious location. It’s no wonder it’s rumoured to be Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s favourite Lebanese restaurant. It’s also a regular haunt for businessmen thanks to its Emirates Towers location, but the restaurant is just as suitable for a romantic dinner for two as it is a business power lunch. Go for the famous Al Nafoorah mixed grill, but be willing to pay the price.
Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Call 04 330 0000 for reservations.
Almaz by Momo: Despite being shoved at the back of Harvey Nichols, this restaurant manages to throw together good food with enough kitsch touches to feel unique and un-mall like. Don’t let the absence of alcohol sway your judgement, the place is still very lively and you have to wade through the sweet haze of shisha to get a seat in the back room. There are some unusual and inspired things on the menu. Open with a pigeon pastilla (pigeon pie), which is as steamy, hot and heart-warming as they come. The dish bounces with flavour and is sure to bring you back.
Mall of the Emirates. Call 04 409 8877 for reservations.
Marrakech: With chef, management and staff all from Marrakesh itself, this white pillared, Moorish-arched restaurant bends over backwards to convince you of its authentic credentials. And it’s a gamble that pays off: although it is hard to escape the five-star hotel feeling (pick a private romantic booth rather than its airy atrium balcony), neither the food nor the service can be questioned. Highly recommended.
Shangri-La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road. Call 04 405 2703 for reservations.
Pars Iranian Kitchen: Though there are branches of Pars throughout the city, the original Satwa outpost is particularly magnetic. The outdoors venue may be a bit challenging during the summer months, but for the other eight months of the year, the semi-private carpeted platforms give the place a certain romance and mystique. If you’re in the mood for something a little different, abandon the traditional Arabic mezze and opt instead for an order of kash-e-bademjan – a silken puree of aubergine mixed with whey and served with fresh-baked, crispy flatbreads.
Various Locations. Call 04 398 4000 for reservations.