Bateaux Dubai: Amid the multitude of brightly-lit dhow dinner cruise ventures that line the creek in Bur Dubai, touting for tourist business, Bateaux Dubai stands out. For a start, the boat itself is a sleek beast. Built in Paris, it boasts glass walls and ceiling (for the ultimate city-viewing experience), and the interior is more akin to a five-star hotel than a dodgy tourist dhow. The restaurant offers daily dinner cruises that depart at 8.30pm, giving diners the opportunity to ogle the creek while they chow down on a four-course menu. First impressions are good: the staff are professional and welcoming, explaining the concept and timetable for the night.The European menu offers posh-sounding seafood, chicken, duck and lamb options with unusual sides (from polenta to fennel), which you order before the boat sets sail. Of course, the main attraction here is being able to gawp at the creekside buildings as the boat glides silently through the water; you can glimpse Sheikh Mohammed’s private residence en route to Maktoum Bridge, albeit with a few stern notices warning against photography. But don’t let the view distract you from the food. The cuisine here has borne the brunt of criticism in the past (not least from Time Out), but recent visits indicate that the kitchen has upped its game. The dishes are thoughtfully prepared, with complementary flavours and interesting accompaniments and, while it’s not cheap, the experience can’t be beaten.
Bur Dubai (04 399 4994).
Eauzone: Boasting a gently lit, waterside location in the calm surroundings of the One&Only Royal Mirage, this international eatery sets expectations high upon sight. If you're after a child-free affair, this is the place to come for a wine-and-dine romantic night out, but only if you’re not overly fussed about the food. Or the price. The bread basket, very much an international affair, is the highlight. A stack of prawn crackers, fresh breads and a sort of herb-filled croissant, will enchant the tastebuds over a starter of shredded chicken wrapped in rice paper, fails to live up to expectations. Main courses can be a touch drab, with a small, dry sponge masquerading as an almost tasty Australian beef tenderloin, and a sweet but flavourless glaze letting down what would have otherwise been a succulent, delicately-seasoned grilled chicken breast. Eauzone gets back on track with its desserts, the double chocolate tart, a deliciously rich treat is accompanied by a white chocolate sorbet and a caramel chocolate sauce – possibly the best dessert in Dubai.
One&Only Royal Mirage (04 399 9999).
Pai Thai: First things first: make sure you take the abra option to get to this Al Qasr restaurant – you’ll impress not only your company, but yourself with the peaceful waters of the vast Madinat Jumeirah canals, and the twinkly lights of the resort and eatery on your approach. Also, try to go when it’s warm enough to eat outside. While the wood-heavy interior is pleasant, the separate rooms can leave it feeling quite empty, and the terrace is small enough to appear packed and atmospheric very easily. The traditional dancing and music helps in the ambience department too – a fully-costumed Thai performer will suddenly appear at the end of your table performing an ode to you and your dining companions at any moment. Indeed, at Pai Thai the setting and service come first, and the food a very close second. The curries, noodles and other traditional Thai treats are heavy, rich, satisfying, but not quite as mind-blowing as the experience as a whole. Warning: the prawn salad starter cannot be served mild – even if you request it that way, it will blow your head off.
Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah, (04 366 6730).
Pierchic: One of our repeat award winners: oh how we have praised Pierchic for its ability to inject romance into even the most cold-fish of diners – and, talking of fish, we reckon it’s pretty good at cooking them too. However, on our most recent visit, we found a few sticking points: the spectacular view of Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the sparkling Gulf waters, which conjures up the aforementioned romance, is available only to a select few. Be sure to request an outdoor table at the front of the restaurant; if you’re seated towards the back, the tall wooden barriers surrounding the pier mean that you have to strain to peer through the windows. The service can be a little slap-dash too, with more than one waiter assigned to each table, meaning that they lose track of where you’re at with your meal. However, a starter of sea scallops was perfectly cooked, tuna carpaccio melted in the mouth and the halibut main showed off the kitchen’s talents. But the lobster – the jewel in the crown of any seafood restaurant worth its salt – was, while by no means bad, nothing palate-blowing. There’s no denying that Pierchic is still a magical place, but it can’t afford to rest on its laurels, no matter how much we’ve enjoyed it in the past.
Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6705).
Rare: Set in the hidden-gem hotel Desert Palm, which is a study in understated chic, Rare is a favourite. The menu has been toned down lately (they’ve ditched the more adventurous meats such as elk in favour of more cuts of beef) but the quality remains high. As you sit down you’ll be served an opening of oily but perfect olive bread served in the pan it was baked in, with delicious tomato salsa, and from this moment on you can be assured that the meal will be a taste (and calorie) explosion. Steaks are always cooked just right; lamb is flavoursome and seafood fresh. When you order your main you’ll get an option of sides – we love the truffle-oil mash and the goose fat potatoes and delicious sauces; all of which are on the money – and, trust us, we’re picky about our béarnaise. Food aside, the view of the green polo field and the out-of-the-city location of Rare, are pluses. On a winter's night outdoor heaters and a live musician warm you up, it's a rare, memorable treat.
Desert Palm (04 602 9333).
Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire: Aside from the quirky, contemporary and rather romantic décor or the wondrous culinary creations that you’d have thought belonged in a children’s fantasy book, perhaps Reflets' biggest selling point (if it’s not too louche to describe such a decadent demure restaurant as having a ‘selling point’) is the sublime service. Cuisine of such complication (as is Gagnaire’s want) needs translating and explaining, a task that is carried out with gentle politeness and genuine warmth by the maitre d’ – your guide to what is always a memorable culinary journey. The sommelier is equally professional and the rest of the waiting staff exude a dignity that is rarely seen in Dubai’s restaurants. This isn’t to say that the food plays second fiddle. Menus such as the lamb based L’Agneaux du Quercy , and the oyster Les Huitres tease and please the palate to equal measure, each dish providing sensory surprises and push the boundaries of culinary creation. An absolutely unforgettable experience.
InterContinental Dubai Festival City, Festival City (04 701 1111).
Rhodes Mezzanine: The restaurant’s dazzling, porcelain white décor gives a visual indication of the food served within – nearly as flawless as the aesthetic, embellishing old-world culinary values with flashes of modernity. The effect is profound and dishes that are featured on the ever-changing menu, such as roasted and braised squab pigeon with white asparagus and a rich lemon gravy and glazed cauliflower, and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese mousse with sautéed globe artichokes and baby onions, left a lasting impact on both palate and memory. While the reputation of the desserts promise much, they can be a little inconsistent – the Great British pudding plate features some wonderful takes on British classics such as sticky toffee and bread-and-butter pudding, but the jam roly-poly has known to disappoint. This, however, should not undermine what is otherwise an excellent gourmet dining experience in the marina.
Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Segreto: If you’re looking for an elegant way to wow on a first date or celebrate a special anniversary, then this classy Italian will most definitely impress. From the romantic waterside setting (you arrive by abra) to understated but sumptuous décor, attentive (but not fussy) waiters, first-rate cuisine, Segreto is difficult to find fault with. Tasteful and tasty, the menu is inspiring in its simplicity, with barrata cheese replacing commoner-garden mozzarella and 24-month-aged pork carpaccio adding to a list of melt-in-the-mouth cold cuts. Risottos come in various permutations including porcini, red chicory and smoked salmon and asparagus while homemade pasta dishes feature the likes of lamb tortellini with a warm goat’s cheese fondue. Both dishes are served in entrée- or main-sized portions. The mains serve up refined platters such as the beautifully succulent sea bass on a bed of endives topped off with truffle. The restaurant's dessert section is small but perfectly formed – the staple tiramisu is presented as a work of art but surprisingly overshadowed by a zingy lemon and ginger sorbet. Cool and chic indoors in the summer months, alfresco dining on the outdoor terrace in the winter affords a stunning view of the waterways. Segreto is fine dining at its best.
Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Thiptara: The entrance to Thiptara is reminiscent of a Thai spa, and hence creates an instant calm. The restaurant is huge in size and seems never-ending, and you must reserve a table on the terrace outside, otherwise your experience will be completely different. The downtown views here are spectacular, with the Burj Khalifa and Dubai fountain clearly visible, accented by the fire torches lined around the edge of the platform. The food and sleek service won't disappoint at this classy venue, with the large menu encompassing all the usual Thai classics. The highlight is the duck curry with lychees. The creamy gravy balances nicely with the sweetness of the fruit. The prawn dim sum starter is also incredibly delicate and fresh. Thiptara makes for a romantic and enjoyable evening, so try and experience this gorgeous Thai restaurant at least once whilst you are in Dubai. You won’t regret it.
The Palace, The Old Town (04 428 7888).
Traiteur: In a city that has too long been reputed for excess, decadence and style over substance, it’s refreshing and reassuring to eat at a restaurant that defies such stereotypes with quality at every turn. The venue, for one, is stylish and spacious and boasts a wonderful alfresco terrace, which affords views of the yachts docked in the marina and the silhouette of the faraway Khalifa. The menu, meanwhile, features simple, yet sublime French fare. Clichéd as it may sound, but the snail starter is rich, garlicky and will have you fantasising about it for weeks to come. Likewise the duck is the freshest, juiciest specimen of a bird that you’re ever likely to sample in Dubai. Our only quibble might be the service, which is a little over-attentive at times, but this is just us looking for a minor flaw to prove that Traiteur isn’t just a figment of our dinnertime dreams.
Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).