Crunch your way through Dubai’s best purveyors of healthy food
Time Out Dubai staff
It’s that time of year, the time where you’ll want to eat lighter and think lighter, whether you’re trying to squeeze into a new bikini or just look after your general wellbeing. Despite Dubai’s reputation for all-you-can-eat, over-sized portions (and obesity), you can in fact eat deliciously well when dining out in the emirate (if you wish to). Consider this – at hot newcomer on the café scene Tom&Serg alone a quarter of the lunchtime trade is salads and their kitchen gets through up to 300kg of salad leaves in one week. In a bid to prove our point, we’ve chomped our way through nearly as many salad leaves, seasonal vegetables and superfoods (let’s not speak mention all the croutons and cheese), to find Dubai’s current peddlers of all things good for you.
Couscous salad at 77 Veggie Boutique For a restaurant dedicated to vegetarian and healthy food, there are surprisingly few salads on offer at 77 Veggie Boutique apart from this one, a basic garden salad and tofu and veg option, the Arabia-inspired couscous salad. While undoubtedly an impressive feat to pile a bowl so high with nourishment for just over 200 calories, the first thing to have been sacrificed is taste. The barely-there pieces of feta on top of mounds of roasted couscous are gone in two forkfuls, leaving a bowl tasting of fresh onion. Healthy, but lacking.
Salad counter at Baker & Spice From the bountiful counter selection of fresh, healthy, colourful and enticing salads (that include naughtier items such as roasted veggies), you can choose a combo of four from the display for Dhs58. Made, we’re told, with local and organic fresh produce, expect the options along the counter to lean towards a Mediterranean-Levant style, garnished with plenty of fresh herbs and pomegranate seeds. These beautiful concoctions will nourish the soul and palate.
Banana flower salad at Balance Café This interesting new salad, which is served as a starter, has a tangy Thai-style flavour and comes with squid and prawns as well as dark, leafy banana flowers. The latter is tasty and substantial – not unlike artichokes – and goes well with the rest of ingredients comprising cherry tomatoes, celery, green pepper and chives. The dressing is described as hot and sour, but we’d liken it more to a sweet, Thai-style fish sauce (without the pungent aroma).
Chicken, avocado, green apple and rocket salad at BookMunch Cafe This chicken salad is as fresh and inviting as the friendly café it’s served in. The classic pairing of chicken and avocado is sweetened by the inclusion of slices of green apple and sweetcorn all tussled on a bed of rocket and topped with alfalfa sprouts. The dressing is a made with apples and olive oil and comes on the side. This salad can be ordered as a main or as part of combo where you can have half a portion of salad and one of their hearty soups for all-round satisfaction.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs48. BookMunch Café, Al Wasl Square, Al Wasl Road (04 388 4006).
Salted watermelon and feta salad at Bystro The signature salad at this new bistro sounds (and tastes) pretty alien to the savoury mind. Once you get past the seemingly jarring bombardment of sweet, sour and salty flavours, you may begin to find this combination of salted watermelon, feta, orange and caramelised pumpkin seeds actually quite light, bright and summery, as it jolts the palate awake. Certainly one that’s worth a whirl.
Rating: 3/5 Dhs38. Al Manara, next to Reem Al Bawadi, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 337 8056).
Pierre salad at Choix Patisserie and Restaurant Give three-star chef mastermind Pierre Gagnaire the brief of creating (or rather recreating) a traditional chicken caesar salad and we were not surprised he came up with something like this. Amid the expected bed of romaine lettuce sits moistly marinated and tender strips of chicken breast, alongside class-A croutons with a clean, sweet edge of pomelo and aloe vera. C’est bon.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs50. Intercontinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1136).
Crunchy chicken noodle salad at Circle CafÉ Everything in this new salad at the popular Media City lunch spot is shredded, giving the bowl something of a muesli quality. The Chinese cabbage, red cabbage and crunchy noodles are all diced and chopped very finely and mixed well enough that every mouthful is well-proportioned. The flavour of the chicken resonates strongest and the noodles give a satisfying bite to the dish. But it is when the honey soya dressing is poured over the top that this salad comes into its own, lending an essential sweetness to the crunch factor, making it a dish worth repeating.
Bun dac biet at Hanoi ‘Bun’ dishes are classic Vietnamese cold salads, made with vermicelli rice noodles, and plenty of fresh, shredded vegetables and herbs. Here, the Hanoi special bun comes with a mixture of shrimp, chicken and sautéed beef steak. The protein in this healthy summer mix is merely a welcome sideline to the freshness of the cucumber, carrot and coriander, generously doused in a sweet-salty-fishy-nutty spectrum of flavour.
Seafood salad at Little More A flavour-packed salad served with flair and in an impressive setting means there is a lot going for this dish. The biggest stumbling block to all-out devotion though is the Dhs71 price tag, making it one of the more expensive salad options we tested. It has to be said that Little More does not scrimp on the shrimp and the grilled prawns on top are plentiful as well as fresh. You will be glad of the garlic bread to mop up the leftovers more than the crisp but uninspiring iceberg lettuce though.
Masala chicken salad box at Moti Roti Expect a warm, mildly spiced salad with delicious chunks of chicken and julienned carrots, cucumbers, white mooli radish and lettuce. You also have the choice of spicy chutney or a cooling mint yoghurt sauce to go with it. This is an enjoyable salad, but our advice is to opt for the regular size and then add a Dhs5 pot of chickpea chaat for some variety. And if you’d rather not have chicken, go for mutton and potato, or masala potato.
Rating: 3/5 Dhs15 (regular), Dhs20 (large). Popup shops in: Aswaaq supermarket, Office Park building, Dubai Media City; Al Shafar 1, TECOM, Circle K, City Tower 1, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.motiroti.me (800 7684).
Superfoods salad at NKD Pizza With a zingy mix of (deep breath) baby spinach, basil, rocket, kale, purslane, spring onion, purple bell pepper, purple cabbage, cherry tomato, dried cranberry, toasted almond and pumpkin seed, you might feel the more exotic ingredients are a little sparse. But there’s a healthy kick and tasty, sweet freshness to this combo. We recommend the raspberry and black pepper vinaigrette dressing. Rating: 3/5 Dhs28. Various locations including Al Murooj Complex, Downtown Dubai, www.nkdpizza.com (04 342 5755).
Wasabi VIP at Richy’s Best-known for its build-your-own, deli-style salad service, this JLT salad specialist has interesting signature dishes. The Wasabi VIP comes with a creamy Japanese dressing with a mild kick. You’ll need to pour it generously over this salad comprising an overwhelming bed of mixed Asian leaves, juicy mushrooms and asparagus. Substantial crunchiness comes from the generous addition of cashew nuts, grated carrot and mixed onions. Warm grilled beef is then placed on top but not mixed through.
Temptation Salad at Saladicious A salad that knows how to please, it lives up to its name by offering up generous portions of juicy morsels in among all the lettucey goodness. We were pleased to see brie get a chance in a field that seems to be dominated by halloumi, mozzarella or feta and the creamy texture is a welcome change to saltier cheeses. More impressive, however, were the slices of strawberry and mandarin that made this a moist salad. Chuck in some caremelised walnut and crostini potato for bite and you will succumb to temptation.
Cavolo riccio at Sapori di BiCE It would be easy to barely glance at this salad and knee-jerk your way towards a more bog-standard array of green leaves among the salads on the menu at this cafe, but you may miss out. Fresh curly kale works wonders with thin slivers of toasted almonds and large chunks of tangerine to provide a citrusy, nutty explosion. Yes the dressing is probably too overloaded with lemon and lime (or was that both?), but the sweetness of the fruit soon helps you to forget. The quinoa expertly jostles for attention with the leaves in terms of texture providing earthiness and essential bite.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs50. Citywalk, Jumeirah 1, junction of Al Wasl Road and Al Safa Street (04 344 2550).
Beetroot, fennel and apple slaw with walnuTS at The Lime Tree Café & Kitchen A generous and expert combination of ingredients makes for a delicious salad at this cafe stalwart. Crunchy, sweet apple is perfectly complemented by the beetroot, while the walnuts are a delicious addition. This is a fairly big salad, but it isn’t quite substantial enough to make a main meal. A few more apples would be nice, but that’s only a minor gripe.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs26. Sheikh Zayed Road, opposite Gold & Diamond Park, www.thelimetreecafe.com (04 325 6325). Other locations: Al Quoz, near Time Square Centre ; Jumeirah 1, Beach Road.
Quinoa, smoked chicken and pomegranate salad at The Taste Initiative Tasty and filling, the main ingredient in this salad is nutritious quinoa. There’s smoked chicken too, and while the meat is succulent and not too overpowering, it is disappointingly sparse and the presentation – think worm-like strings of chicken – needs rethinking. The addition of pomegranate lifts the flavours, while chopped parsley adds welcome greenery. We would have preferred virgin olive oil instead of pomace, but the dressing is mixed well with zesty lemon juice. Rating: 3/5 Dhs55. The Change Initiative, Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Barsha, www.thetasteinitiative.com (04 376 9213).
Super salad at Tom and Serg Expect a hearty bowl of greenery, chunky avocado, chopped radish, snow peas and crunchy bean sprouts tossed with fresh lettuce and onion in a light dressing when you opt for this bad boy. Seriously filling and mega chewy, this salad is all-round super, for want of a better word. For an extra Dhs19, shredded roast chicken can be added to the mix. Perfect.
Rating: 5/5 Dhs29 or Dhs48 with roast chicken. Tom and Serg, Al Quoz, near Ace Hardware, www.tomandserg.com (04 338 8934).
Quinoa and grilled chicken at Urban Bistro Actually advertised as having beef pastrami, the meat in this salad was changed on the waitress’s refreshingly honest suggestion because the ‘pastrami is not good’. Confusion aside, expect this salad to be flavoursome with every mouthful. None of the usual piles of lettuce here, there’s an intriguing mix of cranberries, apricots, almonds and green onion. Although pleasant, you probably won’t require the lemon and cumin dressing as the fruit provides enough flavour. Topped with avocado and strips of grilled chicken, the only thing missing is that essential crunchiness.
Rating: 3/5 Dhs48. Urban Bistro, Building 2, Dubai Media City. www.urbanbistro.ae (04 362 4330).
Quinoa tabbouleh AT Zaatar w Zeit It would be best to order this salad as a side to a main meal, as it certainly won’t suffice on its own, due to its tiny size. The combination of quinoa and tabbouleh makes for an interesting texture, though it lacks a little flavour. That said, it scores highly on the health stakes.
Rating: 2/5 Dhs18. Ibn Battuta Mall, China Court, www.zaatarwzeit.net (04 451 7676). Various locations in Dubai including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 339 8310).
Super-size me Expand your salad’s health benefits with the addition of super-food ingredients.
Acai: Brazil’s wonder berry is packed full of antioxidants, as well as acids that aid the absorption of omega oils.
Amaranth: or the ‘new quinoa’ as we’re calling it, is also an ancient ‘super-grain’ from Latin American that is high in protein and gluten-free.
Apple cider vinegar: swap this in instead of the ubiquitous balsamic variety, since it is rich in minerals, vitamins, enzymes and amino acids.
Chia seeds: a powerhouse of health is contained in these high-protein little kernels, including key vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fibre. It is also thought that chia seeds help to regulate blood sugar levels, making them a good choice for diabetics.
Cinnamon: add ground cinnamon to your salad dressings. This spice helps to regulate blood sugar levels, making it quite possibly a diabetic’s (as well as a dieter’s) best friend.
Goji: originating from the Himalayas, these tiny berries are like nature’s answer to multi-vitamin tablets, containing all 18 amino acids, iron, beta-carotene, as well as high doses of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, E and C.
Maca powder: made from the Andean root, this powder can be sprinkled on salads. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as being thought to help alleviate depression.