Where to sample regional fare from the Middle East and North Africa
Time Out Dubai staff
Winner – Best MENA Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Leila A bustling little spot in the busy Burj Khalifa area, this restaurant offers an authentic variety of classic Lebanese dishes in a charmingly pretty interior. Roses adorn the menu, while the tablecloths and chairs wouldn’t look out of place in your grandparent’s kitchen. Service is very fast and wait staff are friendly and polite. No matter what you order, you’re sure to be happy as every dish tastes like a home cooked meal, delicious and filling and beautifully presented. The terrace is always packed, and they don’t take reservations for al fresco dining so get there early for prime position. And don’t worry, the bill won’t make too much of a dent in your pocket. Open daily 9.30am-midnight. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashed Boulevard, Downtown Dubai, www.leilarestaurant.com (04 448 3384).
Highly Commended – Best MENA Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Levantine Diners at Levantine make an entrance as they are escorted down a grand, sweeping staircase by the friendly hostess. Seating is varied, but avoid the super-low tables in the middle of the room unless you want to be part of the entertainment. The interior isn’t overly Arabian, with swirling patterns, bright colours and mosaic-tiled walls ensuring that guests know they are still firmly in the Atlantis hotel. Entertainment is provided by Arabic and English singers and Russian belly dancers, who actually studied the art in Lebanon and are quite entertaining. When it comes to food, there’s a lot to choose from as well as a varied collection of set menus. Open daily 7pm-2am. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, www.atlantisthepalm.com (04 426 2626).
Highly Commended – Best MENA Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards 2014
Ottomans This place gets off to a romantic start with stunning decor and a lovely ambiance created by the trickling water fountain and lots of flickering lights, carefully set into the dark walls. Chairs are luxuriously comfortable, tablecloths perfectly crisp and the music is at just the right level. If you opt to sit on the terrace, you’ll be treated to some stunning views. There is quite a huge selection of Turkish fare on offer. Quite impressive is the inclusion of various vegetarian main dishes, something we’ve found lacking in other Turkish restaurants. The salads are fresh, crispy and huge, perfect for sharing, and the beef tenderloin melts in the mouth. Service is very friendly and efficient, although the maître d can sometimes be a little overbearing. It’s certainly not cheap, but it’s not the most expensive place in the city either. Highly recommended. Open Sun-Tue 7.30pm-1am. Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 317 6000).
Al Nafoorah In keeping with its luxurious surrounds, Al Nafoorah oozes elegance with an Arabian twist. Serving Levantine cuisine, proceedings start grandly with the presentation of almonds, olives and pickled carrots on a pretty silver tiered serving tray. The menu isn’t huge, but there is a very good seafood selection as well as typical Levantine dishes. The hummus is perfect, just the right consistency and not too tangy, while the salads are fresh with just the right amount of dressing. If you are a fan of lobster you’ll be happy with the meaty portions served up here. Complimentary Arabic sweets and tea are served at the end of the meal, which is a nice touch. Service is friendly and accommodating, although perhaps a little on the slow side. But with food this good you won’t mind taking your time over the dishes in front of you as you wait on the next delicacy to arrive. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0444).
Almaz by Momo Almaz isn’t a place you’re likely to stumble across, but as soon as you step into the ruby interior you’ll find yourself transported from the everyday location of the mall to a Moroccan-inspired sanctuary. Tall, domed ceilings, adorned with colourful, hanging lanterns and complemented by comfortable seating, stuffed with plump gold and purple cushions await and the friendly maître d' dons intricate traditional Moroccan attire. Luckily, the food doesn’t let the side down; the tasty Moroccan salad is zesty and fresh while the traditional couscous is some of the fluffiest around. While the menu isn’t the largest, it boasts a good variety, and even vegetarian diners will be satisfied. There’s also a good selection of mocktails, juices and teas, with the Moroccan tea being extravagantly poured from a great height without a single drop splashing on the authentic brass tray tables. Open daily 10am-1am. Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha (04 409 8877).
Hadoota Masreya While it’s been known to be a bit tricky to secure a reservation at Hadoota Masreya, it’s certainly worth the trouble. Divided much like the average Arabian restaurant menu (cold and hot appetisers, stews, rice dishes and grills), but listing plenty of Egyptian specialities such as besara, feteer and foul, you’ll be spoilt for choice at this eatery. And, in our experience, whatever you go for is likely to be spot on. The cold eggplant starter is dressed with beautifully sharp and fresh flavours of lemon, onion and dill, while the Alexandria falafel is freshly cooked and exceptional in the extremes of soft and crisp texture. A more substantial option is the tagen musaqa’a, an oven-cooked stew of aubergine and meat. Full-flavoured, with beautifully creamy aubergine, and a sprinkling of beef mince, this is another thoroughly enjoyable dish. For some of the best Egyptian cooking in Dubai, Hadoota Masreya is highly recommended. Open Sun-Thu and Sat 9am-1am, Fri 1.30pm-1am. Matloob Building, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 380 9000).
Khan Murjan We love pretty much everything about Khan Murjan: the airy interior, the lively atmosphere, the decent food and drinks, the varied crowd and even the prices. Taking up the centre of Wafi’s underground souk, the restaurant is a cavernous, high-ceilinged space – so high, in fact, that when the retractable roof is removed, you’ll be dining under the stars. Mid-week it can be fairly quiet here, but visit on a weekend and the place is positively buzzing. The menu spans the Middle East and North Africa in its entirety, from Morocco to Egypt, Lebanon to Iran, serving up fantastic mezze, delicious grills and seafood, as well as some of the freshest, tastiest juices we’ve come across (we recommend the guava). It’s a laidback, casual affair, so we can forgive the waiters for taking their time. Indeed, with such pleasant and interesting surroundings we suggest you slow down, too. Open daily 10am-midnight. Khan Murjan Souk, Wafi, Oud Metha (04 327 9795).
Sim Sim If you’re looking for Levantine food in a flash then you should get yourself over to Sim Sim. The restaurant is a mix of traditional Arabic recipes fused with contemporary decor and a touch of Palestinian folklore. Waiters are friendly and super-efficient; you can expect your order to start arriving at your table approximately five minutes after you place it. With dishes from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and a special focus on Palestine, there’s a better mix than the usual Levantine staples as well as a few less common additions, such as the Jordanian Galayet Bandora - a tomato based stew traditionally eaten early in the day but just as delicious at dinner time. If you’re not feeling adventurous go for the shwarmas: simple, tasty and not dripping in grease, which is a nice change to some of the other joints out there. For authentic Palestinian fare, you won’t go wrong with an order of the Musakhan Dajaj, served with perfectly tender chicken. Open daily 8.30am-12.30am. The Walk, JBR (04 454 2319).
Tagine Tagine welcomes diners through a series of intimately lit corridors flickering with candlelight and peppered with the sound of trickling water fountains. The romance continues inside with low set tables covered in pretty embroidered tablecloths and set with tapered candles and red roses. Colourful Arabic lanterns hang overhead and a huge display of fresh flowers takes centre stage in the middle of the room. The open kitchen adds a twist of interest as diners can watch the chefs at work, while the traditional live Moroccan music adds to the atmosphere without being overbearing. When it comes to the food, you’ll find all the typical Moroccan dishes you might expect and each is served with a side of sophistication, the tagine pots being housed in ornate silver dishes and the salads in delicate Moorish crockery. With its elegant setting, Tagine is a great place for a romantic night with your other half. Open daily 7pm-midnight. One&Only Royal Mirage, Umm Suqeim (04 399 9999).
Zahr El Laymoun Zahr El Laymoun has a great location in Souk Al Bahar, just over the bridge and, if you manage to get the best seats on the terrace, even has a view of the Dubai Fountain. Stepping into the restaurant, diners are greeted with a flurry of pink, purple and twee. But somehow, perhaps thanks to the very friendly staff, the cuteness seems to work. A complimentary basket of freshly baked bread with a small pile of zatar, olive oil, paprika and cumin is a delightful way to start the meal. The menu is small but varied and offers all the Lebanese staples, with a healthy twist. Mixed grills are served with baked potatoes instead of fries and gone are the usual deep-fried mezze. The place attracts a good mix of locals, Arab and Western expats as well as tourists wandering in from Souk Al Bahar and has a lovely atmosphere, delicious food and friendly service. Open daily 10am-midnight. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai, www.zahrel-laymoun.com (04 448 6060).