Splash out for a special occasion at these swoon-inducing spots
Time Out Dubai staff
Winner – Best Romantic Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Pierchic, Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah This undeniably romantic venue, perched at the end of a wooden pier that juts out into the sea, benefits from a glittering view of the Dubai shoreline at night and an air of exclusivity. In the cooler months, dining on the outdoor terrace should be your only choice, as the panoramic views make less of an impression when seated indoors. Nonetheless, it’s a chic interior with lots of wood, oyster-like light fittings and a bar area, but with limited space between tables don’t expect too much privacy. The small menu is almost exclusively made up of seafood choices, featuring well-executed gourmet dishes such as tuna tartar, seared scallops, grilled or pan-fried fish and lobster, along with one or two meat, poultry and vegetarian options. Pierchic should still impress and serve as the perfect backdrop for any romantic or special occasion. Open daily 1pm-3pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim (04 366 6730).
Highly Commended – Best Romantic Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Karma Kafé To its credit, the Karma Kafe dining experience has undergone some dramatic improvements in the past year. Whereas in the past staff have had a reputation for appearing harassed and at times outright discourteous, today it’s hard to feel more welcome. Sit indoors and soak up the funky lounge atmosphere and music from the live DJ, or head out onto the cosily-decorated terrace to catch the impressive Dubai Fountain; either way, it’s an ideal spot for wowing guests. Naturally, such surroundings come with a price tag – although with little disparity between the sizes of the appetisers and main courses, particularly the moreish beef and truffle gyoza, it’s possible to be spend-savvy about your meal. There’s a focus on Japanese cuisine, but you can dine all over Asia in one sitting, and we particularly recommend the Chinese-style duck rolls, Thai calamari and deliciously tender seared wagyu beef. Open daily noon-2am. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai, www.karma-kafe.com (04 423 0909).
Highly Commended – Best Romantic Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar Rang Mahal, Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar’s Indian eatery, promises ‘authentic yet excitingly modern’ fare and a vow to use ethically sourced, local ingredients. So expectations were high upon entering this darkly lit, fine-dining space, adorned with giant murals and huge carved pillars. It felt more like a nightclub when we visited, but this was probably mostly down to the overly up-tempo house music dominating the ear drums. But no matter, the food is rather exceptional. A hearty starter is the hand-shredded lamb masala Hyderabadi gosht, which consists of three patty-type cakes of dense meat infused in a yoghurt mixture, producing a delicious, creative texture. Elsewhere, the Goan shrimp curry is wonderful, with expertly sourced crustaceans that come in a light yet luxurious, citrus-hued sauce. It is sometimes hard to feel impressed by Indian cooking at this end of the price spectrum when you know you can have a decent curry for a fraction of the price just down the road in Deira, but we have to admit that Kochhar pulls it off here in style. Open Mon-Sat, 6pm-1pm. JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 414 3000).
Al Mahara The Al Mahara experience starts with a journey in a circular lift (not dissimilar to the one in Dumbledore’s office in the Harry Potter movies), followed by a walk through a golden archway into a scene straight out of The Little Mermaid. Lunch and dinner are served in the presence of a gigantic fish tank, which really is a sight to behold. Gold and aquamarine dominate the decor, and tables surround the tank – dining here is an event as much as it is a meal, and we recommend you visit with plenty of spare time. While the service is impeccable, knowledgeable and polite, it’s also very, very slow (it can take up to 50 minutes for starters to arrive). The food, meanwhile, is decent without being exceptional, although the sea scallops starter with black truffle potato, forest mushrooms and parmigiano tuile may well be the best scallop dish we’ve ever tried. As expected, a meal here is very expensive, but Al Mahara is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Burj Al Arab, Umm Suqeim (04 301 7600).
101 Dining Lounge and Bar Located on the very tip of the Palm’s outer crescent, and sitting on its own private jetty, 101 Dining and Lounge Bar offers stunning views of the Marina beyond. Inside what appears to be a giant marquee, you’ll find cooling tones combined with the beauty of nature in organically shaped slabs of tree trunk and coral motifs in silver. While service wasn’t quite as exceptionally sparkling as our visit last year, staff at 101 continue to display efficiency, a willingness to oblige and a comprehensive understanding of the menu. Within the modern and unfussy one-page menu, you’ll find an overarching Mediterranean theme, with many a nod to Spanish cooking, such as the caramel sweet high-quality beef Iberico starter, paellas and dishes prepared on a josper grill. Presentation is clean and uncluttered, while dishes are prepared with sophisticated simplicity, making for an excellent dining experience. Open Daily 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11pm. One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1030).
Bateaux Dubai It’s no secret that boats and romance go hand-in-hand – is it the seclusion, the bobbling waves, or just the sheer novelty? – but amongst the rows of dhows cruising in and out of Dubai Creek, one still turns heads: Dubai. The floating restaurant is understated but serves up excellent food across a range of contemporary and multinational cuisines, and does it in style. Designed with glass walls and ceilings, and a classy interior, diners get a view of the creek not often seen while they eat their way through a well prepared, and effortlessly romantic, meal. Open daily 8.30pm-11pm daily, boarding starts 7.45pm. Al Seef Road, opposite the British Embassy, www.bateauxdubai.com (04 315 4777).
Pai Thai Once one of the city’s most romantic restaurants, Pai Thai finds itself falling increasingly into the hands of big groups and noisy families. At one time, the restaurant’s relatively secluded, tranquil location in the grounds of Dubai’s sophisticated Al Qasr hotel all but guaranteed its status as a place for special occasions. Now, it appears to be drawing a similar crowd to Madinat Jumeirah’s more casual eateries. Fortunately, though the ambiance may have altered pretty dramatically, the standards of both the service and food remain high. A delicious, coconut creamy tom khar phak soup is the perfect entry into an expertly-prepared Thai meal. Though an obvious choice, the rich green curry is among the best in the city, and is well complemented by an order of morning glory, cooked with a liberal smattering of fresh garlic. For fine Far Eastern cuisine, Pai Thai should still be high on your list. For wowing someone special, however, it may be time to seek out a new spot. Open daily 6.30pm-11.30pm. Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire Bearing the name of three-Michelin molecular master Pierre Gagnaire, Time Out Dubai’s Restaurant of the Year 2013 may well be one of the more expensive dining experiences in the city, but the level of what is offered makes it well worth the splurge. Within the purple-tinged, mirrored and chandelier-lit space is a restaurant menu that’s just as fun and colourful, yet also sophisticated. At the amuse bouche stage, a myriad of miniscule creations arrive, with unexpected and local twists. The menu may look deceptively simple, but starters arrive as a feast within themselves. While experimentation means recipes occasionally miss the mark, Reflets continues to push its own boundaries, and the standard of cooking is skilled and intelligent. As proof that this is a restaurant not resigned to rest on its laurels, you can now also enjoy a more causal tapas-style, al fresco dining experience at the new ‘La Terrasse’ concept outside. However, it’s the exceptional level of service and the minute attention to detail that really creates the sense of occasion every time you visit. Open daily 7pm-11pm. Intercontinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1127).
STAY by Yannick Alléno While French masterchef Yannick Alléno is apparently involved in all the menus at One&Only The Palm, STAY (meaning Simple Table Alléno Yannick, as the staff are sure to explain in their opening gambit) is very much Alléno’s signature concept in Dubai. Inside the dimly-lit, sultry entrance is an elaborate and voluptuous space of lace and floral-like motifs with a sensually feminine edge. Generally, service is skilled and charming, making the experience feel like a special one. The menu displays the spirit of modern French cooking, using ingredients from across the globe in new and unexpected ways, with elegance, excellent execution, but also an impression of simplicity. Beyond that, all eyes must be drawn to the theatrical temple to confectionary at the back of the restaurant. Here the pastry chefs take centre stage, putting the final touches to each sweet dish at the ‘dessert library’, where guests are encouraged to sample petit fours before choosing their desserts. Open daily 7pm-11pm. One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1010).
Thiptara Overlooking the Dubai Fountain and the sparkling lights of the Burj Khalifa, with gentle amber lighting and softly-spoken staff, The Palace hotel’s Thai eatery certainly has all the ingredients of a romantic restaurant. Seating on the terrace gets popular during cooler months and the setting is delightfully relaxing and quiet. While service can be a little halting, with drinks and later parts of the meal arriving at different intervals, the menu is at least what you would expect from one of the swankier Far Eastern restaurants in town. Sadly, there’s little on the menu to suit vegetarians, though the kitchen is happy to rustle up a quick vegetable pad Thai or stir-fry, even if it is curiously reluctant to offer a tofu option. Overall, there’s the distinct impression the restaurant is banking on its location just a little too heavily, so while Thiptara no doubt shines, it seems to have lost a little of its sparkle. Open daily 7pm-11.30pm. The Palace, Downtown Dubai (04 888 3444).