10 new restaurants exciting Dubai's foodies this year
Time Out Dubai staff
Winner – Best Newcomer Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2013
TOMO After noticing the gentle twang of traditional music and the welcome of ‘irasshaimase!’, we’re immediately struck by a feeling of being in Japan. TOMO is a large, long space laid out in separate dining areas, arranged in an arch around the kitchen in the centre. Amid the westerners and locals are several tables of Japanese diners – a promising sign of authenticity. The menu is comprehensive with every note we could wish a Japanese venue to strike: single meal ‘don’ bowls, sushi and sashimi, yakitori, cold and hot noodles, tempura and so much more. In our excitement we’d overestimated our love of fish, liver and oddities: once combined, we wouldn’t recommend it to the western palate. The shimesaba kikka (cured mackerel with vinegar and chrysanthemum flower), however, is an elegant dish with tender flesh and a pleasantly subtle sourness. The agedashi tofu is equally incredible – the inside of the tofu creamy and sloppy, with a broth-soaked, drippy and amazingly gooey outer fried layer. We’ll certainly be visiting this restaurant again, and regularly. Open daily 12.30pm-2.45pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Licensed. Credit cards accepted. Raffles Dubai, Wafi , Oud Metha (04 357 7888).
Highly Recommended – Best Newcomer Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2013
Blue Flame Icy blue tones combine with intricate design details to create an almost subliminal sense of flame- and water-inspired aesthetics. Service is seamlessly executed, with a sense of style and theatre throughout the meal. The showcase starts as the waiter brings over a tray of steak cuts to explain the difference. Even the adventurous descriptions on the menu spark a sense of excitement akin to the theatrical curtain going up. After spotting ‘poached egg ravioli’, we have to test the kitchen on this technically tricksy dish. It’s actually a raviolo (singular), but is beautifully presented, sitting proudly among an elegant scattering of green and white from the watercress and asparagus. It’s accompanied by what’s described on the menu as a parmesan crouton, but as goat’s cheese by the waiter. Either way, it has the dehydrated appearance of loofah, but disappears in the mouth, leaving a mellow, ripe flavour behind. The raviolo is pretty special, and we’re pleased, even though the pasta could have been cooked a touch more, and the egg a touch less. Open daily 6pm-11pm. Licensed. All major credit cards accepted. Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, Garhoud (04 230 8580).
Highly Recommended – Best Newcomer Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2013
Portugal Genuine Piri Piri Restaurant The restaurant’s decor is a little like a countryside taverna, yet somehow still with a modern, stylish resonance, rather than the often-kitsch attempts at a continental recreation sometimes seen in Dubai, meanwhile the sounds of Carminho, every amateur fado fan’s favourite fadista, floats softly over the stereo. Waiters are charming and ours is evidently familiar with the dishes from his own country’s cooking repertoire, encouraging us to trust his judgment. So we do and start with the clams and the piri piri chicken wings. The clams’ wonderful aroma of grape and parsley-packed sauce hits us immediately. The clams themselves are also good, although ever-so-slightly gritty. The juicy and succulent flesh of the piri piri chicken wings ensure that our other starter is also exceptionally enjoyable. The recommended seafood skewer boasts several well-prepared and monstrously sized prawns, sandwiched between generous chunks of fish, and the traditional Portuguese dessert of milk cream is similar to a chilled crème brûlée: the smooth custard underneath has an intense, syrupy orange flavour that tastes elegantly like Christmas. Open daily 7pm-midnight. Seaview Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 359 7427).
Hanoi Café This supremely cute and atmospheric little café combines clean bright white with vibrant splashes of orange and green in a conservatory-like space (with leafy green plants and wooden benches) in a relaxing little oasis. The menu presents an impressively vast selection of drinks, including bubble teas, smoothies, traditional Vietnamese-style coffees and a few unusual-sounding hot teas. The artichoke tea is a surprise and a wonder: mellow and woody yet sweet. The fresh summer rolls are fairly gargantuan in size and packed to the limit with prawns, rice noodles and salad. Unfortunately the rest of the light bites we ordered – stuffed crab shell crispy spicy quail – were a little weak. But a whole different story began with the rest of the food. The simple but delicious crunchy Vietnamese salad is a triumph of fresh, fragrant crisp and sweet flavours and the Hanoi special bun (a mix of chicken, prawn and beef), is a fresh and vibrant mix of noodles and vegetables with crunchy slithers of onion, nuts and herbs. We’re looking forward to heading back. Open daily 11am-11pm. Cash only. Goldcrest Executive, JLT (04 431 3099).
Koreana This simple but distinctly Asian-looking venue is neatly separated into secluded corners, from closed-off private dining rooms to tables that are cleverly sectioned off from each other by a maze of dark wooden panelling. Cosy and intimate as this is, it makes the rest of the decor seem disproportionately bleak and it's difficult to assess how busy the restaurant is. Tables are equipped with buzzers to call for service, the novelty of which is immense, but onto the food. The beef bibimbap doesn’t contain a huge amount of beef, but is infinitely less greasy than other versions we’ve tried, with gooey chunks of egg caught between the rice, and plenty of crisp vegetable. The yuk hoe (raw marinated beef) is one of the most exciting food experiences we’ve had in some time. It's served with huge slices of raw garlic – which rob the dish of any other flavour. Without the garlic, it’s divine, with the deep red, tender strips of beef, the delicate and crisp sweetness of nashi pear and the freshness and crunch of cucumber. Koreana is a hidden gem in the truest sense. Open daily 11.30am-3.30pm, 6pm-11pm. Sheikh Zayed Road, near Ibis Al Barsha, behind Hacker Kitchens (04 392 9918).
Nais Italian Kitchen Nais’s décor is clean, crisp and simple: predominantly white, with flourishes of grass green. A pop-up boutique exists entirely on one wall. There’s no stuffy fine-dining formality or distance here. Staff are chatty with an easy manner, explaining the day’s specials. The piatto Piemontese starter, a sample of three of the northern signatures: filetto di peperone arrosto con crema di acciughe (strips of roasted pepper with cream of anchovies), insalata russa (vegetables, tuna and boiled eggs in mayonnaise) and vitel tonnato (chilled veal, dressed with a tuna, anchovy and caper sauce), arrives elegantly presented, yet without being fussy or pretentious. Staff inform us that Nais’s fresh pesto is prepared with basil grown by the restaurant’s owners in their garden, but sadly, it was off the menu on our last visit. The concept at Nais Italian Kitchen is new and exciting for Dubai. Beyond that, these are warm and welcoming people, with a passion for and knowledge of what they’re selling: a good, accessible, and affordable menu, of what the Italians call ‘honest food’. Open Sun-Thu 10am-10pm. HDS Tower, Cluster F, JLT (04 452 9991).
Roberto’s Named after managing partner Roberto Riella, described as the godfather of Italian cuisine in Dubai, and with something of a dream team behind the scenes, this Italian restaurant has built up an almighty buzz in the city. Mercifully, its burgeoning reputation is deserved, thanks to a combination of slick styling, a vibrant lounge area and impressive classic Italian cooking. As would be expected from this upscale neighbourhood, prices are DIFC-sized, but don’t let that put you off. From a toothsome octopus sopressetta with saffron potato and black mussel salad to the warm chocolate cake dessert, the standard of cooking is first-rate. It is the mains, however, that will most captivate your taste buds. The pan-seared veal tenderloin with grilled asparagus and onion tart demonstrates the chef’s playfulness with modernising classic dishes. If it’s cool enough, take a seat on the al fresco terrace and revel in the views of Downtown Dubai. Open daily noon-3pm, 8pm-midnight. The Gate Village, DIFC, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.robertos.ae (04 386 0066).
Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor Simple and dark, the restaurant has a subtle but clear sense of an Indian aesthetic, like the glimmering silver rings around the ‘signature’ plates. Sadly, these are removed and replaced with a less exciting – yet still stylish – batch of white ones. The menu is large and full of Indian words (with no English-language explanations), but waiters guide diners through choices. The sharing platter of chicken cooked three ways in a tandoor oven comprises ‘chicken parmesan tikka’ (which actually proves to be rather good), tasty and tender chicken seekhpa and neza kabab – a roll of minced chicken meat stuffed with a creamy, herby filling. It’s unexpectedly light in flavour and very enjoyable. For mains, the menu lists several ‘gharha’, a slow-cooked claypot speciality that’s a signature at Signature. Try the wonderfully creamy, vibrantly flavoured lemongrass butter chicken, sprinkled with zaatar for a pleasingly local touch. The dish comes with a sun-dried tomato and olive naan, which isn’t unpleasant, but tastes disorientatingly like pizza, adding nothing to the dish’s Asian flavours. The mint paratha is a much better bet. Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-11pm. Meliá Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 386 8111).
The Taste Initiative Modern but with uncomplicated decor, the café looks much like any other department store pit stop, apart from one design-orientated back wall where miniature-sized versions of the furniture being sold are displayed. There are no starters or light savoury bites on the menu, however, it offers a neat selection of light, healthy-sounding European café classics, including salads, sandwiches, quiche and pizzas. The tuna steak in the tuna, minted pea and pearl barley salad is well seasoned, if a touch too salty, while the acres of green leaves underneath are subtly dressed to give a nice savoury quality without overwhelming the delicacy of the pea and mint combination. There isn’t really enough pearl barley – or peas – on the plate, but all is forgiven, because those few lone specimens are among the sweetest, greenest peas we’ve eaten in Dubai. Unsurprisingly, they're also local. The food isn’t perfect, but it's refreshing to encounter a venue pushing edible sustainability with consistency. Open daily 8am-5pm. The Change Initiative, Sheikh Zayed Road, near Ibis Hotel, Al Barsha (800 824).
Yuraku Yuraku is the city’s first ‘izakaya’, a casual, bar-oriented style of dining rarely seen outside of Japan. The fun, colourful venue is divided into three spaces: a long strip of seating lining the bar, a more classic ‘dining space’ style setup, and a corridor of private karaoke rooms that look ever-so-slightly dated, but to quirky, ambient effect. The menu is characterised by intriguing continental-Japanese fusion and, unusually for any menu in Dubai, a section of vegetarian specials. The tofu, tomato, radish and cucumber salad has a good sesame flavour, but the dressing is a little too creamy and mayonnaise-like for our liking. The soft-shell crab tempura, however, featured a little cross-Asian fusion and was highly enjoyable, with unusually juicy flesh encased amid the crunchy legs. For those willing to experiment and discover some clever gems on the menu, Yuraku could combine for a fun night out. Open Mon-Thu 6pm-2am, Fri-Sun 8pm-2am. Licensed. Credit cards accepted. Asiana Hotel, Deira (04 238 7777).