Where to get a taste of the Far East right here in Dubai
Winner – Best Chinese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Hakkasan While Dubai hosts a number of Japanese names equally renowned as nightlife hotspots as they are eateries, new Chinese openings generally trump for traditionalism and white table cloths over modern bar-restaurant-lounge hybrids. The exception is most definitely Hakkasan (although Atlantis’ new arrival Yuan looks to be sneaking into the slipstream). Since its opening in November 2011, Hakkasan has held a steady crowd, and rightly so – it’s the emirate’s chicest Chinese eatery by far, a believable fusion of old and new, East and West, created with a mix of Oriental furnishings, careful lighting and nightlife-y house beats. As you’d expect, you’ll find the same cultural fusions in the food and presentation, but with more than a decade of menu-tuning behind them, the results are largely satisfying and never disappointing. For a strictly authentic meal in quiet surroundings look elsewhere, but if you find style just as important as substance, then this is the lounge-restaurant for you. Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-1am (bar open until 2am). Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.hakkasan.com/dubai (0 4 384 8484).
Highly Commended – Best Chinese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
China Sea If you’ve yet to hear of China Sea, we have just one piece of advice: book a table for tonight. This place simply might be the most authentic taste of China that you’ll find in Dubai. With a buzz of Beijing and a shake of Shanghai, as anyone who’s ever been to China will tell you, stepping inside China Sea isn’t a world away from the Far East itself. Expect to find a whirlwind of activity as families debate loudly at dinner tables, waitresses squeal orders in hasty Mandarin while sizzling sounds and exotic smells waft from the kitchen. With a huge menu of traditional specialities – helpfully annotated with photos – there’s something to suit every palate, from the nervous novice to niggling native. What’s more, it’s all as authentic as it is reasonably priced. It might not be the most relaxing spot to share a quiet moment, but for an authentic experience, longstanding classic China Sea remains a must-do for all. Cash only. Open daily 11am-2am. Near Clocktower Roundabout, Deira (04 295 9816).
Highly Commended – Best Chinese Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
China Club Don't be misled – there is no need for membership to dine at this ‘club’. And for this we should be thankful, as for a high-quality authentic Cantonese meal served in upmarket, classy surroundings, it’s hard to do better than China Club. Large red lanterns and traditional elements of the Far East blend seamlessly with white tablecloths, intimate booths and a whiff of European fine dining (check the opulent private dining rooms for large groups). Despite this, the menu is all authentic Chinese, with a strong selection of meat and seafood options served with classic seasonings and familiar styles, which boast a home-cooked quality lacking from many other five-star competitors in the city. Elsewhere, service is spot on, with the atmosphere tranquil with pleasant classical Chinese music setting the mood. While we couldn’t describe a meal here as cheap, it is far more reasonably priced than comparable high-end contemporaries. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7.30pm-11pm. Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek, Deira (04 222 7171).
Lan Kwai Fong If you want to impress a visitor with your knowledge of Dubai, you’d do well to take them to Lan Kwai Fong. An unassuming, out-the-way spot in Oud Metha, it sits amid a row of other restaurants, but is clearly the jewel in this strip’s crown. Peek inside and you’re likely to see tables of Asian diners feasting among the life-sized Terracotta Warriors. Outside, a neon sign blazes ‘Peking Duck’ larger than the venue’s own name – but don’t be misled, there are far more enticing dishes than just that tourist favourite on offer. The tattered menu thankfully features photos of the huge range of authentic and affordable foods available. There’s even a fish tank with live crab and fish, while a window offers you views of the kitchen team’s toils. Some of the flavours might overpower or beguile the less experienced diner, but there are few more genuine Chinese dining experiences in the city. Open daily noon-3.30pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Oud Metha, near Lamcy Plaza (04 335 3680).
New Times New Times is a huge, sprawling venue that’s inordinately popular with the Chinese expat community – and with good reason too, as it serves some of the best mainland Chinese food you’ll find in Dubai. The menu is huge, overflowing with glossy pictures of an unfathomable number of specialities, ranging from familiar and affordable favourites to weird, wonderful (and more expensive) oddities such as duck tongue and crocodile soup. The main dining room is a neat, classically decorated space, with booming Chinese sitcoms on the TV and a legion on Mandarin-speaking waitresses. Towards the back of the restaurant there’s a wall of fish tanks loaded with enormous lobsters and exotic seafood, and an open kitchen where beguiling specialities are prepared live. Upstairs, meanwhile, is set aside for a dozen huge private rooms, where affluent and discerning diners celebrate big occasions. An absolute gem that’s utterly unlike anything else you’ll find in the city. Open daily 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-midnight. Al Maktoum Road, near Concorde Hotel, Deira (04 250 1888).
Royal China A visit to Royal China is one of managing expectations. The renowned brand with branches around the world is famous for dim sum, and we’ve never been disappointed with Royal China’s selection or the quality of the daytime dining pastime. However, for evening dining, we fear there’s room for improvement. While we don’t object to a menu stacked in favour of Westerner favourites (sweet and sour, kung pao et al), equally compromised tastes do irk us somewhat: in general the sauces here can be both bland and too sweet. Less exacting diners might be less irked if the restaurant itself lived up to the pomp of the name, but while the service is faultless, the room itself is small, undemanding and too brightly lit for any real atmosphere. The dim sum alone makes it well worth a visit, but anyone familiar with the weight of the brand is invited to keep those expectations carefully in check. Open daily 11.30am-11.30pm (bar open until 2am). DIFC, www.royalchinadubai.ae (04 354 5543).
Shang Palace In nearly every way, Shang Palace is fantastic. With a relatively tight menu focusing on Cantonese classics, the food is of a consistently high standard. Sizzling dishes are the showstopper, and this place is renowned for dim sum, but everything we’ve tried, down to the most basic soups and rice, has been authentically prepared and deliciously tasting. Staff are always on hand, meaning you’re never short of service, and even the furniture appears to have been sourced with some care, with rotating ‘lazy Susan’ tables for larger groups. The most underwhelming thing about this restaurant is simply its location, sitting on a balcony overlooking the hotel lobby, with live music and chatter drifting over from neighbouring venues and drowning out any chance of intimacy. It’s also far from cheap, with several dishes creeping over the three-figure mark. We’ve no doubt the food is worth every last dirham – but for that kind of buck we’d just hope for a little more atmosphere. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Shangri-La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 405 2703).
The Peacock How often do you walk into a restaurant, let out a gush of exhilaration at its beauty, sit down and order in a haze of excitement and expectation, and then leave 90 minutes later somewhat underwhelmed by the food you were served? Well, imagine turning that experience on its head, and you’ve got a fair measure of The Peacock. Based on a balcony overlooking the hotel lobby, above a distractingly loud international restaurant below, this restaurant isn’t much to look at. However, it’s likely to serve you some of the best Chinese you’ll find in Dubai. At the helm for a decade, Chef Jun Xiao makes exemplary dim sum, which is best tried fresh from the trolley. The lack of atmosphere means this might not be the place for an anniversary dinner, but if you enjoy authentic Chinese food, you’re unlikely to find a better licensed venue in the Marina end of town. Open Sun-Thu 6.30pm-11.30pm; Fri-Sat noon-3pm, 6.30pm-11.30pm. Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, The Walk, JBR, www.thepeacockdubai.com (04 399 5533).
Xiao Wei Yang Xiao Wei Yang is a dining experience with a difference. Essentially, you’re presented with a simmering pot of broth, heated on a remote controlled hot plate in the centre of your table, and you throw food – meat, seafood and veg – inside, and then fish it out to eat when you deem it’s done. If that sounds exotic, exciting or just plain tasty to you – and trust us, it is all of those things – then this place is most definitely for you. If it sounds like something of an ordeal, then perhaps choose a restaurant with table clothes instead. But either way, this place is one of a kind in Dubai. And it’s clearly authentic – because Xiao Wei Yang is invariably pumping with hungry Chinese and Asian expats. Open daily 11.30am-1am. Banyas Road, Deira, near Radisson Blu hotel (04 221 5111).
Zheng He’s Named after a 13th-century explorer who is best known for his role in assisting the overthrow of China’s Yongle Emperor, it’s perhaps appropriate that Zheng He’s offers a clash of cultures. Although it’s not the Asian, African and Middle Eastern climes that the traveller explored from which this Madinat joint draws its influence, instead fusing traditional Chinese cuisine with Western sensibilities: dishes are served on flat plates, not in bowls, sauces artfully splashed rather than slathered on mains. The careful presentation extends to the restaurant itself, a tasteful blend of Far Eastern furnishing with a modern twist; rich and bold reds, blacks and oranges, creating an atmosphere that is classy and intimate without being too stuffy or formal. Coupled with a beautiful canal-side terrace with Burj Al Arab views, it’s an ideal date spot, with friendly service that only occasionally borders on intrusive. And the food? While some of the blanket tastes may lack a little of the depth and fire associated with more authentic fare, it’s well balanced to meet a globalised palate. Open daily noon-2.30pm, 7pm-11pm. Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim (04 366 6730). Words: Rob Garratt