Belgian Beer Café:The Belgian Beer Café is something of a Dubai institution; a likeable place that has character by the bucket load. While the interior is ode to all things Belgian, the lively outdoor deck is a great place to gaze out over the Creek and socialise with friends. If you don’t manage to get a table outside, put your name on the waiting list the moment you arrive so you don’t miss the view. The food follows a Belgian theme with a concise and rustic menu, in addition to a daily specials board. Barflies can snack on lip-smackingly good buffalo wings and sole strips. Foodies won’t be disappointed either with favourites like fish n’ chips, Belgian-style meatballs, steak and sausages. But it’s the huge pot of steaming mussels drenched in delicious marinades such as blue cheese or white grape, garlic and cream, that really steal the show.
For more information call 04 701 222.
Bidi Bondi:It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in Dubai; walk into Bidi Bondi and you’ll feel as if you’re on holiday. This laidback, bright and breezy bar is decked out in light woods, national flags, sporting memorabilia, and a generous smattering of flat-screen TVs (great for watching the game). Large windows face onto a pool and a small outdoor bar, which in turn overlooks the sea. The offerings on the menu, meanwhile, are in keeping with the bar’s laidback vibe: bar-food staples such as burgers, sandwiches and salads. Service was friendly if a little slow, but the food makes up for the wait – the steak sandwich boasted great quality meat that was flavoursome and cooked to a tee (as you’d expect from any Aussie establishment).
For more information call 04 427 0515.
Buddha Bar:Buddha Bar will always be a hit. The interior, as you first walk in, is quite literally breathtaking. Dim lighting, sky-high ceilings and one giant golden Buddha set the tone; dangling ruby chandeliers that reflect spectacularly off floor-to-ceiling windows push sophistication into genuine style. The gentile service only adds to the air of the place: from the burly but polite doormen, to the waiter who asks our name and steps in with customised menu suggestions before we’ve even asked for them. Does the food live up to its surroundings? The range of South East Asian options was impressive, sprawling from sashimi to grilled red meat, and the presentation is certainly aesthetic. The forever-packed restaurant (and bar area) and the steady rumble of conversation around you heightens the taste of any food eaten in Buddha Bar, as the atmosphere carries you along.
For more information call 04 399 8888).
Caramel Bar & Lounge:Dubai’s food scene can often feel overwrought; Caramel’s chilled-out approach is a rare treat. The service can be cooing without feeling strained, the interior's attractive without the use of glitz, and the food delectable without drowning in foie gras, caviar or truffles. A Korean-inspired starter is simple and easy-going, the ingredients gelling like old university buddies - gently seasoned, dewy chicken mince served alongside neat little cups made from iceberg lettuce and a sultry plum sauce. An order of mini mango and lobster tacos is less neat, but more refreshing. The shellfish took on the characteristic of a well-made ceviche, thanks in part to a lime marinade. Mains are less inventive, but no less worthy of praise. A massive portion of lamb shank cowered under cutlery and slid off the bone as if its fate were to dissolve in our mouths.
For more information call 04 425 6677.
Harvester’s:For some inexplicable reason this pub still fails to make it onto the radar of Dubai’s pub grub-loving population at large. Perhaps it’s the lighting — a little bit too bright, even a little bit glaring; the antithesis of the cosy vibe generally associated with the humble pub – which keeps the masses at bay. Certainly, this is the only thing you might want to change. Absurdly speedy staff were quick to take orders, and the replenishment of drinks was commendably efficient. Food was equally timely in its arrival. A plate of deliciously crisp, generously-stuffed potato skins were bursting with bacon and melted cheese. As far as the main courses go, good-old fish and chips was still a winning choice – crunchy golden batter surrounded ridiculously soft flakes of white meat. All in all, Harvester’s serves grub of a far higher (and tastier) standard than many other pubs around Dubai.
For more information call 04 331 1111.
JamBase:This is a place meant for grown-ups, from the decor to the menu. Knowledgeable staff are helpful and friendly, patiently explaining ingredients and making sure you’re not left wanting at any point throughout the meal. The fig and goat cheese tart, a perfect blend of sweet and salt, makes for a wonderfully light starter. Diners don't have to wait long for the food mains and an enormous lamb shank, which all but fell off the bone after a gentle prod with a fork is a great bet. It was served on an incredibly smooth garlic mash and drizzled with rich gravy. A meaty, if slightly overcooked, fillet of hammour was surrounded by a large helping of saffron-rice risotto, with deliciously crunchy haricot beans. Don't get too full though pre-pudding or you won't be able to enjoy the hot lava pudding, an outrageously decadent – if absolutely tiny – pot of piping hot chocolate, excellently complemented by a scoop of rich ice cream.
For more information call 04 366 6730.
Left Bank:Left Bank’s Souk al Bahar branch remains one of our favourite bars in the city: despite its sleek décor and upmarket feel, it retains an unpretentious atmosphere. The happy-hour drinkers and ladies-night groups that tend to frequent its Madinat branch are blissfully absent here, and the clientele tends to comprise after-work professionals and couples. The clever interior design ensures that while the main bar area is always buzzing, especially on weekends, those looking for a quieter bite can perch on one of the lofty tables hidden round the back. The menu is refined yet surprisingly functional, offering plenty of sharing platters and small plates for peckish bar-goers who don’t want the faff of a full meal (though at Dhs60-ish a pop you’ll have to spend a lot to sate your appetite). The larger meals are a better bet for the hungry, focusing on fancified pub grub – think steak, grills, fish and chips and the like, accompanied by possibly the most heavenly fries we’ve tasted.
For more information call 04 368 4501.
Loca:When it comes to Mexican restaurants, many places usually serve sub-standard fare, where you expect some greasy fast food option slapped onto a plate. This is where cool bar-restaurant Loca differs. Start with the house guacamole, which the waiter makes right in front of you and can adjust with a varying degree of spice, according to your taste. Their huge baskets of light, crunchy nachos, which are miles away from the heavy cardboard affair you find in UAE cinemas, are the things to dive into. For something more substantial, the seafood fajitas are another great option, with the lobster cooked to perfection. Perch on high stools and at large wooden tables amongst glass feature walls filled with empty bottles and take in the modern, exposed brick work and brushed steel decor, or watch the silent black n' white movies screened on the walls – this is a modern Mexican bar, where you’re just as likely to find dressed-up girls sipping the bar’s signature mixed drinks as much as a bunch of lads tucking into one of the midweek ribs n’ drinks deals.
For more information call 04 346 1111.
Nezesaussi:The mouthful of a name is a fusion of ‘New Zealand’, ‘South Africa’ and ‘Australia’ (in case you were wondering) and, while the premise sounds fairly predictable – rugby memorabilia on the walls, plenty of screens showing the big matches, a menu crammed with steaks, pies and other meaty treats – the whole operation is a step above your usual sports bar. Imagine a generic Aussie pub that’s been buffed with some five-star Dubai polish, and you’ll get the idea. Staff are slick yet friendly and willing to make small talk (a rarity in this city), offering menu suggestions for those less familiar with the traditional South African and Aussie specialities; the rest of the menu features high-end, well-prepared pub grub with a twist, from boerewors and burgers to pies, grills and some fantastically unusual pumpkin and corn mash.
For more information call 04 428 5888.
Trader Vic’s Mai Tai Lounge:Trader Vic’s spacious Mai-Tai Lounge easily accommodates both the dinner and drinks crowds, which often blend into one enormous mass after a few of the bar’s signature mixed drinks. When the place is packed at the weekends, staff are stretched thin, so either seat yourself or wait at the sqaure bar until a table becomes free. Already fans of Trader Vic’s take on calamari, try the jalapeño cheese balls, which are satisfyingly crisp on the outside and ooze gooey, spicy cheese when punctured with a knife. If that's too much deep-fried deliciousness balance it out with chicken Caesar salad, and lamb burgers with cucumber tzatziki. Mercifully light on the dressing, with juicy slices of chicken breast topping crunchy romaine lettuce, the salad is a delicious option. The zingy tzatziki works well with their succulent lamb patties in mini-ciabatta buns, the cool yoghurt-and-garlic combination a perfect companion to a relatively rich meat.
For more information call 04 386 5646.