Frozen cafes, revolving restaurants and an animatronic gorilla
Time Out Dubai staff
After all the hullabaloo surrounding the opening of At.mosphere, the world’s tallest restaurant (on the 122nd floor of the towering Burj Khalifa), we couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed that the restaurant itself was, well, very normal. We were expecting light-shows, some sort of spaceship-themed elevator and maybe even a special Vegas-style rollercoaster ride. Alas, we got none of these things. But then, we mused, Dubai’s restaurant scene clearly demonstrates its penchant for outright silly excess in plenty of other venues. In honour of our city’s flair for the original and, at times, nonsensical – when style matters as much, if not more than, substance – Time Out has rounded up 10 restaurants where novelty alone is a good enough reason to visit.
We’ve ranked each venue for novelty value, on a scale of 1 (relatively sane) to 10 (utterly barmy).
Al Dawaar 5/10
Okay, the novelty of a revolving restaurant is a bit old-hash these days, but it’s surprising that Dubai only has one. It should also be noted that it’s Al Dawaar’s interior that spins, rather than the structure itself (that would just be silly), so don’t be put off if you can’t see anything moving from the outside. Those who suffer from motion sickness shouldn’t worry too much – Al Dawaar doesn’t whizz you around like a kid on a carousel; it takes just over an hour for one full revolution. Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
Al Mahara 7/10
For all the security guards pressing for details of your reservation and the scrutinising look of the staff in reception, you might expect to make a slightly more sophisticated entrance to the seafood restaurant at this world-famous ‘seven-star’ hotel. As it happens, you’re escorted into a simulator decked out like a Disney imagining of a submarine, captained by an elegantly dressed host. Probably mildly bewildered by this stage, you’ll then whizz past all manner of marine life for a few minutes, before arriving at your final destination, where you’ll be seated next to an enormous aquarium. Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah, (04 301 7600).
Avalanche Café 8/10
Perhaps not the most reassuring name for a restaurant on a ski slope, but Avalanche Café can be found inside Ski Dubai, where real avalanches happen very seldom (ie, never). You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy its limited offerings – buy a chairlift pass for Dhs80 and you can sup a steaming hot chocolate without having to don a pair of clunky boots and skis or snowboard. Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates (04 409 4333).
Chill Out 7/10
Chill Out is a rather obvious name for a café that’s cooled to -6°C and offers ice chairs to sit on. Situated in the nondescript Times Square Mall, visitors pay Dhs60 to enter, including the hire of fur hats, padded coats and gloves, as well as one drink: a hot chocolate being the most appealing. Inside, surreal abstract images of women decorate the walls, and techno music blares. We’re not sure about the eco-friendliness of it all, but it’s worth a trip when you’re bored come summer. Times Square Center, Al Quoz (04 341 8121).
A sushi restaurant that bites back: the waitresses are dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, the walls adorned with colourful sketches and a screen shows Japanese manga animations. If you know your manga (or your sushi), you’ll notice the cute names of dishes on the menu, including Dragonball roll (named after the cartoon) and Yakuza roll (named after the video game – or the mafia). But whether you find it kitsch, cool or just plain odd doesn’t matter – it’ll keep you entertained while slurping down your noodles. Beach Park Plaza Centre, Jumeirah (04 342 8300).
Rooftop restaurants? Bah! These days, the only place to eat dinner is dangling from a crane. Well, maybe not, but it’s certainly an option. The clearly slightly crazed people at Dreamdays have decided to serve a three-course lunch and dinner menu on a table hoisted 50m above Dubai Marina. We were concerned about what would happen if nature called, though were reassured that guests are lowered back to ground briefly before dessert. Just try not to drop your fork.
The Walk, Dubai Marina, www.dreamdays.ae (800 2080).
Khan Murjan Restaurant 7/10
This courtyard restaurant, tucked underground in the Souk Khan Murjan beneath Wafi, is bright, airy and looks like something from a Moroccan movie set, but not in a faux-fab way. It’s all quite tasteful and charming, with its open roof and secret city feel. Whether you have a hankering for Emirati, Iranian, Egyptian or Lebanese, you’ll find more than just hummus and kebab halabi to tuck into, all of which are grilled, baked, and cooked to perfection in the open kitchen. There’s live entertainment too, with oud players and a crooner that sings so passionately you’ll wish you spoke Arabic. Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4555).
Rainforest Café 7/10
We’ve witnessed many a Dubai brunch descend into animal behaviour but few restaurants set out to cultivate the atmosphere. Rainforest Café, in the Dubai Mall, however, is about as wild as anything you’ll find in the city. Animatronic monkeys, elephants, tigers and the occasional tropical storm volubly come to life every few minutes. Unfortunately, the menu is uninspiring, serving up the usual combo of burgers, grills, and synthetic desserts. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 330 8515).
Royal Express 7/10
In the absence of an inter-city UAE rail network, Royal Express seems to have found a niche in the market: despondent UAE-based trainspotters. However, the fact that diners are seated in an Orient Express-style interior isn’t the only thing that this restaurant has going for it: Royal Express serves some decent dishes (we recommend the signature mutton curry). However, it’s the theme rather than the food that brings in the diners. Admiral Plaza Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 393 9247).
You’ll be hard pressed to find a jollier restaurant in Dubai. Not only are the staff at Tribes friendly, they’re also partial to a bit of a song and a dance – without warning, they’ll break out a drum beat and launch into an African folk song (the restaurant, as you might have guessed by now, is African themed). Mall of the Emirates (04 395 0663).