We celebrate the city's more unique culinary destinations
Who said eating out was a serious business? Dubai’s dining scene, as diverse as it is, still maintains a sense of humour thanks to a number of weird and wonderfully themed restaurants – from floating crab shacks to line-dancing staff and animatronics. And it seems that you like them too: our review of BBQ Donut has enjoyed a record number of online hits on timeoutdubai.com. In celebration of the eateries that keep a smile on our faces, we present the 21 most novel restaurants in town.
Aprons & Hammers This crab shack, based in a converted dhow, is garbed with plastic crabs, starfish, lobster baskets and fishing nets to reinforce the seafood theme. Yet the most novel part is the act of eating itself. Guests are given pincers, hammers and (you’ve guessed it) aprons, before tucking into bucketfuls of crab or lobster. Good, messy fun.
Best for: Rowdy, nautical-themed dining. Novelty value: 4/5 Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina (04 454 7097).
Al Dawaar Have you been to any other revolving restaurants in Dubai? Didn’t think so. Guests are distracted from the slightly drab decor by 360˚ views of sunny Deira as the restaurant slowly spins (it takes one hour to complete a full rotation). Though much of the cuisine falls under the ‘international’ bracket, the restaurant sets itself apart with an Emirati promotion every Friday, featuring dishes such as aishu laham, ouzi meshawai and harris.
Best for: A relaxed dinner with wraparound views of the city. Novelty value: 3/5 Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
At.mosphere Perched on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, more than 442m above the ground, this steakhouse boasts the sizeable claim of being the highest restaurant in the world. It also has a rather unusual full stop in its name, which we still can’t quite fathom. Though there’s nothing ‘novelty’ about the restaurant itself (the venue is rather chic and sophisticated), dining at such heights is enough to put a grin on even the most cynical diner’s face.
Best for: Fantastic bird’s eye views of the city from the floor-to-ceiling windows, plus expertly cooked steaks and stand-out service. The views are particularly arresting at night, when every road of Dubai is outlined by twinkling street lights. Novelty value: 4/5 122nd floor, Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai (04 888 3828).
BBQ Donut This is perhaps Dubai’s most novel dining experience: for the uninitiated, it involves a small doughnut-shaped dinghy with a barbecue station built into the centre. Diners are given a cool box full of food and sent floating off down the creek, where they can grill meat, seafood and vegetable skewers while steering the boat. It’s all a bit daft, but is a wonderful way to see Old Dubai from the creek. We suggest you get out before the humidity sets in.
Best for: Those who are bored of barbecues on the balcony. Novelty value: 4.5/5 Packages are charged per two hours of sailing time for six people. Food options include the Tasty Mix (Dhs1,200), MeditArabian Delights (Dhs1,550), Creekside Indulgence (Dhs1,950) or afternoon tea (Dhs950). The services of a captain cost an extra Dhs200. Available daily noon-9pm. The Boardwalk, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira, www.dubaigolf.com (04 295 6000).
Go West Jump aboard the wagon train for a Wild West dinner. Book a ‘wagon’ booth and order Tex-Mex fare including quesadillas and steaks, lamb chops and ribs – in beef and pork – that fall from the bone. Staff are friendly and helpful, and good live music regularly features. Just make sure you visit soon – the venue is set to close at the end of May.
Best for: Herding up a posse of mates and moseying on down for fun and a few bottled beverages, or taking the family for a Wild West dinner. Novelty value: 3/5 Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Al Sufouh Road (04 406 8999).
Hard Rock Café It may not sport the world’s biggest guitar on its roof (as was originally promised), nor did it open its doors with a performance from The Who (as rumoured), but this sizeable venue at Festival City is still awash with novelty value, whether it’s the ridiculously over-the-top burgers (some in a good way, others not so much), a fantastic range of music memorabilia adorning the walls, or the all-singing, all-dancing staff who also seem to be trained in the art of friendly wisecracks. If this isn’t enough, guests can bask in enough neon to light a small city.
Best for: Gut-busting soft-rock fun. Novelty value: 3/5 Festival Centre, Dubai Festival City (04 232 8900).
Johnny Rockets Much like Hard Rock Café, the novelty value of Johnny Rockets lies mainly with the larger-than-life energetic staff, who treat guests to a choreographed dance performance every 30 minutes – the funny thing is, they seem to be really enjoying themselves. If you’re going to dine at Johnny’s, do it properly: pull up a stool at the stainless steel counter, order a huge, tasty burger covered in pickles and cheese, accompanied by fries smothered in chilli. Put a dime (okay, a dirham) in the jukebox and pick a song from the ’50s – but wait, the jukeboxes don’t work! D’oh.
Best for: Wannabe T-Birds and Pink Ladies. Novelty value: 4/5 Various locations including Dubai Marina (04 368 2339).
Kisaku Diners at this Japanese venue pass through curtains to reach the main dining room, and are then seated at a table or the sushi bar. Those who choose the latter seem to be mostly Japanese expats who come to giggle at the obscure Japanese TV programmes played at both ends of the room – in one sitting we saw ninjas jumping on buses and a man in a nappy travelling along a conveyor belt. Don’t miss the fatty tuna sashimi or the teppanyaki-style stir-fried beansprouts.
Best for: The most authentic Japanese dining experience this side of Tokyo. Novelty value: 3/5 Al Khaleej Palace Hotel, Deira (04 223 1000).
Le Wazawan Medieval Restaurant We were bitterly disappointed to find that this Beach Road venue is devoid of jousting shows, wenches and jesters – whoever named the restaurant obviously hasn’t quite grasped the meaning of ‘medieval’. The waiter tried to explain that the name derives from the ‘old-school’ Kashmiri cuisine served here. However, despite no medieval food or theme, the restaurant is very, very weird. Adorned with chandeliers and Persian rugs, there’s a strange faux grandeur to the place, which can’t get much custom other than the occasional busload of Chinese tourists – when we arrived at 1pm, the staff were all sitting down eating their lunch (strange considering the restaurant is only open at lunchtime). The food that was served was a laughable excuse of a curry, though the chef did compensate for his cooking by sitting down at the grand piano and playing a medley as we ate.
Best for: People who have no interest in food (it’s the worst we’ve had in the city), but want a surreal experience. Novelty value: 4/5 Saga World, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 395 9085).
Nineteen There’s nothing particularly novel about this sleek restaurant at The Address Montgomerie, though Nineteen warrants a place on this list for its generous number of rather novel theme nights – from ‘dining in the dark’ experiences to battle of the chef events. Otherwise, enjoy picturesque views of the 18th hole of The Montgomerie golf course (thus the name, see?), which provides pleasant respite from Dubai’s towering apartment buildings and bustling malls.
Best for: Fine dining with a novel twist. Novelty value: 2/5 The Address Montgomerie Dubai, Emirates Hills (04 390 5600).
Ossiano This over-the-top restaurant resembles a Bond villain’s lair. Luckily, most Bond villains seem to have plenty of money and refined tastes, ensuring the food here is actually very good. The Tasmanian salmon with chorizo and crispy squid is worth trying, as is the line-caught sea bass with clams and prawn and yellowtail ceviche. It is possible, however, that some diners might find eating finely wrought fish dishes slightly disconcerting while seated amid the sizeable aquarium that surrounds the restaurant.
Best for: Sub-aquatic seafood dining. Novelty value: 3.5/5 Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Rainforest Café It really is a jungle out there. Tables are set among dense foliage, home to all manner of animatronics that come to life every five minutes with a cacophony of elephants trumpeting, alligators snapping, snakes hissing and chimps monkeying around, all with a soundtrack of thunder and lightning, and terrified, screaming children. Adult woes are further compounded by the service, which can be painfully slow, and can be timed by the ‘monsoon’ every 20 minutes. Not for the faint-hearted (or fuzzy-headed).
Best for: Families with young kids (although really small children tend to find the noise and darkness a bit scary). Novelty value: 4/5 The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 330 8515).
Royal Express All aboard for a curry in a train-themed setting… Themed on the Royal Express luxury train in India, which has a history dating back to the time of the Maharajas, this restaurant is something else. Designed to look like its motorised namesake, you’ll hear instrumental music peppered with platform announcements in Hindi and train-track noises while tucking in to your curry. But before you board, keep in mind that this restaurant depends solely on its novel setting – food and service are equivalent to that you’d expect to find on an actual train.
Best for: Dubai’s trainspotting aficionados. Novelty value: 3.5/5 Admiral Plaza Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 393 9247).
The Stables You don’t need to be a horse whisperer to guess the theme of this large pub and restaurant, tucked away just off Sheikh Zayed Road. The handsomely appointed, high-ceilinged venue offers countless flatscreen TVs showing the latest game (or race), while punters disinterested in sports can hide away in one of the stable-esque booths.
Best for: After-work drinks or catching a big game. Novelty value: 2/5 Sheikh Zayed Road (04 342 5571).
Texas Roadhouse The third and final of the all-singing, all-dancing restaurants in our novelty dining round-up. What makes Texas Roadhouse different, however, is that its staff line dance rather than get down to pop classics. Nonetheless, this steakhouse is unfailingly popular, and it’s difficult not to fall for the fun of it all. Kindly staff wear T-shirts with ‘I heart my job’ emblazoned across the back and food is equally cheap and cheerful. Though the complimentary bread is sickly sweet and starters are of food-court standard, the steaks are pretty good and half the price of the cuts you’d find in many of the city’s premium steakhouses.
Best for: A good ol’ fashion hoedown. Novelty value: 4/5 The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 325 3951).
The world’s weirdest restaurants Dubai still has some way to go before it can boast some of the novel offerings of other global cities. Modern Toilet (www.moderntoilet.com.tw/en) in Taipei is a bathroom-themed restaurant where diners pull up toilets rather than chairs and eat at covered baths rather than tables. (It should be noted that the toilets aren’t functional.) Over in New York is Mars 2112 (www.mars2112.com), which is set on the planet Mars – even the staff are dressed as little green men. Our last pick of weird and wonderful restaurants has to be Laino Snow Village Restaurant in Finland (www.snowvillage.fi); a 200 sq m venue carved entirely out of ice and snow and serving Finnish delicacies, from reindeer to cream of Lappish potato soup with cold smoked salmon.