Offensive menus, bathrooms with a view, controversial coffee and more wackiness
Ahead of Time Out Dubai’s Restaurant Awards 2014, we give the nod to some unexpected but worthy recipients of alternative accolades. Words Penelope Walsh
Here at Time Out Dubai, we’re getting ready to pay our dues to the emirate’s diverse restaurant scene at our ninth annual Restaurant Awards on Wednesday March 26. Restaurants work hard for your dirhams and satisfied smiles at the end of a meal, and we’re excited to honour all the very best dining experiences, from brunch to bar food to budget eateries. And in amongst our research, we couldn’t help but notice a few gems that deserve celebrating for something odd, unexpected or extreme that they can do better than anyone else. From Dubai’s best toilets, to its most dangerous dishes, here’s our alternative list of award winners.
Most controversial cup of coffee Kopi luwak at ICONS Coffee Couture This new coffee spot specialises in using the low-calorie sweetener, stevia. It also serves the world’s most expensive coffee – kopi luwak. The drink is an Indonesian delicacy where the coffee beans are collected from the droppings of discerning civet cats (they only eat the cherries at their optimum ripeness). As well as being pricey, it is also increasingly unethical – civet cats are force-fed and kept in cages, resulting in black market trading. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 323 7100).
Weirdest dish Tavuk göğsü at Turkish Village Many recipes rely on tried and tested combinations of flavours, and this Turkish dish is no different, but it may not be quite what you anticipate in a dessert. Made with a savoury (yet unsavoury- sounding) combination of chicken and milk, the dish is considered a delicacy in Turkey and dates back to the sultans of the Ottoman empire. Jumeirah Beach Road, near Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah 1 (04 344 9955).
Largest amuse bouche Reflets Par Pierre Gagnaire Traditionally in French cooking, an amuse bouche (literally meaning to please the mouth) is an elegant, little canapé-sized titbit, designed to get your palate going before the main meal. Not so at Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, where you’ll certainly be served something small and delicate, but a huge selection of them that will flood the table with a flourish. And the best bit – this mammoth portion amuse bouche is still complimentary! InterContinental Dubai Festival City, Festival City (04 701 1127).
Most high-tech dining tables Ebony At this new Arabic and African fusion restaurant, the interactive tables do all the talking and provide the entertainment. Using touch screens embedded into the surface of the dining tables, you can order your food, watch it being prepared, or even check your email and watch a cartoon while you wait. Executive Towers, Bay Avenue, Business Bay (04 368 8015).
Coldest place to eat Chillout We’re not talking overactive air-conditioning here. Head to this ice bar, and you can sit in sub zero temperatures (minus 6°C to be precise) and tuck into a selection of food that includes sushi, sandwiches and ice-cream, but also some warming hot soups. Aside from charges for food consumption, there is a Dhs60 per person entrance fee, which includes protective warm clothing and a welcome mocktail served in a glass made out of ice. Times Square Centre, Al Quoz, Sheikh Zayed Road (800 244 55688).
Most dangerous dish Fugu at Umai In case you haven’t seen The Simpsons episode where Homer tries fugu, aka puffer fish, it is a delicacy in Japan, and can be decidedly more deadly than delicious. This species of fish contains poison in its liver, and if incorrectly prepared can kill the diner. Umai is one of only two eateries in Dubai that is fully licensed to safely prepare the dish, and has a section of the menu devoted to it. The Oberoi Dubai, Business Bay (04 444 1444).
Best bathrooms with a view Prime 68 If you’ve dined at Prime 68 – the steak house on the 68th floor of the JW Marriott Marquis, you’ll know that the views are an impressive draw, but they don’t stop in the restaurant – you get a loo with a view thrown in for good measure, too. The white and silver mosaics frame the scene right over Sheikh Zayed Road, which you can take in as your wash your hands. JW Marriott Marquis, Business Bay, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 414 3000).
Only eatery in a permanent semi-permanent structure Bu Qtair Usually, the idea of a Portacabin is a temporary and moveable structure. Not so at Bu Qtair. This little beachside, south-Indian style fish shack has set up shop and seemingly bedded down for good in temporary housing for at least the past 15 years. Road 4d, near Burj Al Arab, off Jumeirah Beach Road (055 705 2130).
Messiest dining experience CLAW BBQ At this Southern-inspired crab shack and bar, getting stuck into your crab and hacking, cracking and smacking your way through the shells is the name of the game. In addition to a selection of aggressive looking crab-eating tools (that look like they would not be out of place at the dentist), staff will also provide attractive- looking plastic bibs and a whole lot of hand wipes... Definitely an option as a first date destination. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 432 2300).
Tallest dish Thali tower at Indego by Vineet As part of the daily thali lunch served at this fine dining Indian restaurant, you can try a dish that Michelin-star chef Vineet Bhatia dubs, ‘our very own Burj Khalifa’. It is a glass tower, with three compartments, each containing a different dish as part of the thali meal. Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Wackiest staff uniforms Manga Sushi Harajuku cool hits Dubai with aplomb at this Japanese eatery in Jumeirah. In accordance with cult Japanese fashion trends, waitress are dressed like school girls with knee-high socks and sailor jackets. Beach Park Plaza Centre, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 342 8300).
Most theatrical restaurant Studio du Chef There is a hint in the name, but at this modern French restaurant, all eyes are on the action in the kitchen. Chefs cook in a circular open kitchen space that is like their theatre. Diners can sit around the counter, or just view the action on screens placed around the restaurant. Sofitel Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, Palm Jumeirah (04 455 6677).
Most amusingly offensive menu Smiling BKK It is rare to feel personally affronted by a restaurant menu, but Smiling BKK has been doing an admirable effort since opening. Each dish has earned an amusing name, and amid the cultural references (Beatles to Bond), or titter-inducing innuendo, you might even be told to ‘put a sock in it’ by a green papaya salad. That’s a first, no? Al Wasl Plaza, Al Wasl Road, behind the Emarat petrol station near, Jumeirah (04 349 6677).
Only 3-D moving walls Qbara The multi-level, multi-dirham design at Qbara is stunningly creative and dazzlingly attractive. But it can also leave you dazed and confused... Stare at the intricately carved wooden wall that is a focal point for the venue, and it may appear to be moving rapidly, thanks to an optical illusion created with the use of a light projection. Wafi, Oud Metha (04 709 2500).
Most ambitious food concept Eataly Most business models involve making food, or selling food products, or cooking food. Not satisfied with such simplicity, Eataly is a mega multiplex of a mall eatery, with nearly every Italian food concept under its belt. Buy some important Italian goods (anything from water to salt), or stay and dine in on food cooked on the premises, but Eataly also makes its own fresh cheeses, gelato, fresh pasta and more, all on site! The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 330 8899).
Most deceptively scientific dish Gnocchi at El Sur Gnocchi, an Italian recipe for potato dumplings, is a simple, classic dish, right? Put it in the hands of a chef who has worked with Catalunya’s culinary titans and suddenly its simplicity is merely deceptive. At El Sur, red snapper is teamed with pumpkin gnocchi that are made using the chemical reaction of the ‘spherification’ technique, and then finally warmed in the whey from fresh cheese before service. The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Dubai Marina (04 399 7700).
Longest entrance into the restaurant Tong Thai Most restaurants are happy with a reservation table at the entrance, maybe there is even a bar beyond that. But Tong Thai understands masterful heightening of anticipation, as you embark on a ‘journey’ towards the dining room, through a myriad of corridors, private dining rooms and a fountain, all spectacularly designed. The walk will help you work up an appetite. JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, Business Bay, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 414 3000).
Most unusual seating Mekong Why settle for a straight-laced table and chairs, when this quirkily designed Asian restaurant can seat you in a rickshaw? If you’ve suddenly developed a taste for dining in such a thing, you can also eat a Punjabi meal in rickshaw-dining tables at Pind da Dhaba restaurant in Karama. Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, Palm Jumeirah (04 567 8304).
Most deceptively scientific dish At.Mosphere Not just an award-worthy superlative in Dubai; at the last count, this high-end steakhouse had record-breaking appeal. Since this steakhouse sits towards the top of the world’s tallest building, on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, dinner here not only means popping ears in the elevator on the way up, but dining in the world’s highest restaurant, too. Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai (04 888 3828).