New openings which have stunned our socks off in the past 12 months
Time Out Dubai staff
Winner – Best Newcomer Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Qbara Qbara sets the tone strongly from the outset, with an entrance that looks more like an exclusive nightclub, complete with carpet and bouncer. A hostess leads diners into an elevator up one floor, past a small bar area and suddenly the venue unfolds. It is an immense, multi-faceted space, with a large dining area downstairs, while upstairs diners can perch alongside a vertigo inducing glass balustrade (the barrier which stops you falling off the balcony). The food menu is based around small plates and larger ‘Qbara dishes’, all characterised by a fusion of wider Middle Eastern food culture with outside influences. Of the little plates, the lobster kibbe, stuffed with sweet and perfectly cooked chunks of lobster, is a hit. Also interesting is a salad of chunks of different heirloom tomatoes, combined with sweet watermelon and salty shanklish cheese, the simplicity of which is wonderful. A welcome addition to Dubai’s dining scene, Qbara brings Arabic flair in modernised measures. Open Sat-Wed 6pm-2am, Thu-Fri 6pm-3am. Wafi, Oud Metha (04 709 2500).
Highly Commended – Best Newcomer Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Yuan Upon arriving at Yuan, you’ll get an immediate impression of what’s to come. An elegantly dressed hostess in black and an elaborately adorned man in brocade silk and face paint – part Beijing opera singer, part mythical deity – welcome diners ahead of a special experience. Inside, the restaurant is not overly large, yet the dimensions feel spacious and lavish, all simply decorated in ethereal tones of blue, silver and grey. Staff all seem to be Chinese and service is wonderfully faultless with plenty of guidance, recommendations and a few cultural facts offered without prompting. While the menu is definitely a fine-dining take on the cuisine, the dishes have a determinedly Chinese soul to them. The Shanghai-style rose team smoked chicken, for instance, is perfectly flavoured with a wonderful crispy skin, while the braised wagyu beef is coated in a delicious sweet and sticky marinade. Despite being such a wonderful cuisine, Dubai’s Chinese scene is not as strong as it could be, but with the arrival of Yuan, this looks set to change. Open Sat-Wed 7pm-11.30pm, Thu-Fri 7pm-12.30am. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Highly Commended – Best Newcomer Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Izel Izel, one of the signature dining spots at Conrad Dubai, dubs itself with the cinematic tagline ‘Latin Artistry’. There’s a little exaggeration in this statement, but it’s still an impressive venue, with the dining room boasting the proportions of a concert hall. The menu offers the expected ceviches and Argentine cuts of beef. However, refreshingly for a Latin concept in Dubai, there is plenty of pan-American flavour in between, from Venezuelan arepas to Mexican queso fundido. The charming staff are adept at offering recommendations with clear explanations, but if you go for the Argentinean-style tuna ceviche, you won’t be disappointed – the dish has plenty of fatty roundness with an acidic, fresh punch. The Chilean sea bass, meanwhile, beautifully crisp on both sides, is a wonderfully meaty, juicy specimen that tastes as if sweet, buttery honey lies between each flake. No stone has been left unturned at Izel and the concept is fresh and fun, from the excellent food and service to the stunning environment. Open Mon-Fri 7.30pm-1am. Conrad Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.dubai.izel.com (04 444 71111).
Alta Badia Filling the space once occupied by Vu, Alta Badia now sits in the prime spot on the 50th floor of Jumeirah Emirates Towers. The views across downtown are a major part of the aesthetic, but the decor has been quite cleverly updated, from the handful of artworks on the walls, to the rosemary plants on the table and the counter laid out with oils, vinegar and parmesan. With a tasting menu featuring dishes from the north and south of Italy, a concise two-page à la carte offering and seasonal specials, you’ll find intriguing and appetising choices at Alta Badia. While the starters don’t always live up to their billing, the main courses are almost faultless. The oxtail ravioli is made with extremely thin (yet al dente) pasta and crammed with generous shreds of flavoursome meat, dressed with slices of black truffle and parmesan, while the lemon chicken breast is a simple, colourful burst of flavours. With wonderful staff, too, this is a destination for a pleasurable evening. Open Sun-Fri noon-3pm, 6pm-midnight. Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 319 8771).
BĀ Restaurant & Lounge That fine and fancy model of the Japanese lounge bar and dining space has been tried, tested and perfected in Dubai. The latest twist on that theme is a Chinese-inspired version, Bā. Wander through its large upper-tier lounge and bar area, down a flight of stairs and you’re greeted by a lower-level dining space, beautifully decorated in elegant black and imperial Chinese yellow. Service is unrivalled, and the Chinese staff make fantastic recommendations, using an iPad to display pictures of the food. One of the standout dishes on the menu is also one of the cheapest – the clay pot beef brisket with radishes. Giving off an intense aroma of cinnamon and star anise, the beef is rich and warmly flavoured. For a fine-dining yet ‘of the times’ Chinese experience, Bā sits high up among the few restaurants in Dubai that pull this cuisine off. Restaurant open Sat-Wed 7pm-11.30pm, Thu-Fri 7pm-midnight; lounge open Sat-Wed 6pm-1am, Thu-Fri 6pm-2am. Fairmont The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 457 3388).
El Sur Bringing a new wave of Spanish cooking to Dubai, El Sur arrived with quite some hype. Its modestly-sized dining area manages to feel light and airy with simply adorned design in cream and wood, plus an ambient outdoor terrace. Service is friendly, with staff happy to talk diners through the menu of classic dishes and more adventurous sharing plates. From the classic side of the menu, the garlic and chilli prawns are beautifully juicy, with a full but not too intense sense of garlic and chilli, while the patatas bravas are good and surprisingly far less oily than traditional counterparts. On the modern side, the mahon cheese tarts represent an artful sweet-savoury crossover. These paper-thin pastry galettes have a crunch of caramelised sugar, and are topped with cheese and orange zest for a lively, aromatic edge. El Sur genuinely brings something new to the table, raising the level and profile of Spanish cooking in Dubai in the process. Open daily 7pm-1am. Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Al Sufouh Road, Umm Suqeim (04 399 7700).
Mayrig While Dubai’s dining scene now spans Ireland to Iraq with plenty in between, one cuisine that has been lacking is Armenian. Now, however, two Armenian cousins have brought their restaurant concept from Beirut to the UAE, in a bid to show off their heritage, as well as the recipes of their shared grandmother, or ‘Mayrig’ (meaning ‘little mother’ in Armenian). Inside, between the rusty rose coloured walls and stone brickwork, Mayrig is lined with Lebanese-style painted tiles, colourful glass and embroidered fabrics, giving the feeling of a cosy and colourful family home. Everything on the Mediterranean-Armenian inspired menu is well-prepared and enjoyable. The vospi (lentil salad) is wholesome and nourishing, while the use of a sweet-sour wild cherry sauce in the fishnah kebab lifts the flavour of the moist minced beef to a new dimension. Mayrig offers lovely food and good service in an atmospheric setting, providing an opportunity to delve into Armenian culture. Open daily noon-12.30am. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 453 9945).
Sake no Hana While Dubai is already swamped with swanky lounge bars and fine-dining Japanese haunts, Sake no Hana comes with quite a pedigree behind it – the original venue in London’s Mayfair was launched by renowned restaurateur Alan Yau (the same brain behind Hakkasan). The restaurant space is large and multi-layered and offers additional seating on a delightful terrace, while the wait staff are all welcoming, obliging and happy to offer plenty of explanations, recommendations and more. Even though the menu isn’t that long, it’s still full of creative classics that draw the eye. The sushi rolls are nicely made with lovely chewy rice and fresh, flavoursome fillings. But it’s the scallop carpaccio that stands out, with alternating varieties of fish roe laid out like the petals of a flower, offering a textual contrast and salty sea flavour, complemented by slices of green apple. Sake no Hana is not exactly cheap, but this is a Japanese restaurant that packs a powerful punch. Open daily 6pm-2am. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai, www.sakenohana.ae (04 432 7808).
TOKO With the likes of London's Zuma and Sake no Hana already open, Dubai is no stranger to a chi chi take on Japanese dining. Joining that elk is Australia's answer to this trend, with Sydney-born concept TOKO at Vida Downtown Dubai. Suitably elegant with a slickly simple wood clad decor and a Zen garden-esque al fresco dining area, TOKO serves izakaya-style plates that are designed for sharing. The traditional Japanese dish dengaku nasu (miso roasted aubergine) has an interesting dichotomy of red miso with a salty, mineral tang on one half, and white miso with a caramel-like sweetness on the other. Boneless chicken wings are an elegant alternative to this usually messy dish, with nicely crisp skin. From the robata grill, the smoked miso salmon is a lovely dish, with crispy skin, plump, juicy flakes and full flavoured miso sweetness and softly woody smokiness. While it is hard for high-end Japanese to stand-out in Dubai's miso-saturated market, TOKO is certainly a strong contender. Open daily noon-3.15pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Vida Downtown Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai, www.toko-dubai.com (04 442 8383).
Tom & Serg This Al Quoz café has quickly built up quite a buzz around the city, with its warehouse-style interior and carefree styling. Tom & Serg feels airy, with ample room between the tables scattered on both floors of the glass-fronted venue. The menu isn’t overly large but still covers a good range of dishes, split into breakfast fare (served all day on weekends), ‘PM food’ for afternoon eats, sandwiches, plus sides and desserts. Portions are very generous, even with the salads – the ‘super salad’ heaped with big chunks of soft ripe avocado, tasty strips of chicken and crunchy sprouts. As for mains, the herb-crumbed cod with green lentils is equally substantial, with the light and crisp coating making for a satisfying texture. We’re rather impressed with Tom & Serg – prices are decent and service is friendly and refreshingly unfussy. No wonder this place was the talk of the town when it first opened. Open daily 8am-4pm. Al Joud Centre, Al Quoz, www.tomandserg.com (04 338 8934).