Vietnamese, Indonesian and more of the best Asian food in Dubai
Time Out Dubai staff
Betawi Café This budget Indonesian eatery feels like it was born for that otherwise hackneyed cliché, the ‘hidden gem’. Based on a sleepy Karama back street, populated otherwise with a string of similarly overlooked eating out jewels from across the globe, Betawi Café is that unique, authentic, ethnic, characterful-but-safe walk on the culinary wild wide you’ve been dying to find. Serving affordable, wholesome and delicious food that bursts with flavours and spices, a few bites of classics like gado gado, nasi padang or ketoprak and you’ll feel transported from said Karama sidestreet to a rainforest bamboo hut, accessed only by a dirt track. Actually you’ll be eating in a quaint and intimate room – just nine tables. This relaxed restaurant is bright and clean and truly is a hidden gem. Open Sat-Wed noon-11pm, Fri 2pm-11pm. Mabrooka 1 Building, behind Park Regis Kris Kin, Karama (04 279 0302).
Beachcombers If you can land a seat on the large outdoor terrace, with its uninterrupted view of the Burj Al Arab, this restaurant provides an undisputed ‘Dubai moment’. This pan-Asian restaurant serves a wide variety of cuisine, with regular, changeable nights offering a different nation’s cuisine in the form of a buffet. Whichever night of the week you decide the visit, you can be assured of a generous spread including everything from soups and salads, through satisfying main courses and onto desserts such as chocolate fountains. By day, this is a great spot for families, and by night becomes more romantic, making it a good all-round choice. Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-11.30am, 12,30pm-4pm, 6.30pm-11.30pm; Fri-Sat 7.30am-11.30am, 1pm-4pm, 6.30pm-11.30pm. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Umm Suqeim (04 406 8999). Weekend Family Brunch: Dhs325 (with soft drinks), Dhs425 (with selected beverages), Dhs575 (with bubbly), Fri-Sat 1pm-4pm.
Blue Jade Pristinely decorated, it feels like you’re in a Ritz-worthy venue the minute you arrive at Blue Jade. The decor is a careful combination of modern chic and Oriental elements, richly dark wood contrasting with glittery glass. The service meanwhile is just right – infinitely attentive without crossing into intrusive. Now, in Dubai we’re used to beautiful venues that trip up at the final hurdle, namely the kitchen. Not so here, with a menu that skirts through Thai, Japanese, Chinese and more. There’s a great versatility on display, culinary concoctions paying adequate homage to the past, yet not afraid of a fusion. The black pepper beef – the twist here a Singaporean rather than Guangdong-inspired sauce – is especially tender and tasty, while the Szechuan-style hot pot bursts with flavours without overpowering the palate. This a classy contender well suited to a blow-out special occasion. Open daily 5pm-midnight (food served until 11pm). The Ritz-Carlton, JBR, www.ritzcarlton.com (04 318 6150).
Karma Kafé On paper, it would be easy to write Karma Kafé off as a case of style over substance. Situated in Souk Al Bahar, with a terrace overlooking the Dubai Fountain, and a glam lounge club setting inside, you’d expect to be a tourist’s dream serving up Asian bites to party people. But once the fountains cease and the phones are put aside, you can expect to sit down to some of the best Asian food in town. Every dish you’re served is a work of art on a plate, meticulously presented and prepared. But these are modern fusions that taste as colourful as they look on the plate. Sushi is a particular highlight, paying lip-service to the past while offering daring new ingredients, and prices are very competitive for the location. And while Karma Kafé pitches nightlife chic over candlelight and white tablecloths, it’s also a surprisingly romantic venue for a date. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai, Dubai (04 423 0909).
Hanoi This JLT venue occupies a delicious little niche as the only ‘proper’ neighbourhood Vietnamese experience in the emirate. There are tables spilling out on to the pavement for the cooler months, while inside Hanoi Naturally you’ll find some fun, young and charming decor. Staff here are functional and efficient, but perhaps more importantly the chefs in the kitchen are Vietnamese. Don’t miss the summer roll appetisers, two fat, cold spring rolls of thin and squidgy rice dough, stuffed to the brim with shredded fresh vegetables and vermicelli rice noodles. But, don’t leave without trying Vietnam’s national dish: pho. Try the most traditional option: the beef brisket bowl, with fat rice noodles and fine, tender slices of beef in a sweet and delicately spiced broth, with a richly beefy flavour to it. You can eat fairly authentically here, and have an experience that is not only affordable, but also (dependent on your choices) fairly healthy too. Cluster C, Gold Crest Executive Building, Sheikh Zayed Road, Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai (04 431 3099).
Hoi An The last time we visited Hoi An, we were amazed to find the restaurant nearly bursting at the seams – on a Monday night. Dubai is far from overrun with Vietnamese eateries, but this old favourite is most definitely one that gets it right. Named after the small, picturesque coastal trading city in central Vietnam, Hoi An apparently translates as ‘peaceful meeting place’, which sounds like a pretty fair description of the restaurant’s warm, cosy, dining space on the first floor of the Shrangri-La. The service is always cheery, and waitresses are likely to recommend one of the set menus, which represent a fantastic way for a single diner to sample a trio of both appetisers and mains, as well as soup and dessert. Nice touches like amuse-bouches and palate-cleansing sorbet help make Hoi An special. Open daily 7pm-midnight. Shangri-La Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.shangri-la.com (04 405 2703).
Mekong Put simply: Mekong looks fantastic. A masterclass in restaurant design, inside and out, the venue manages to appear distinctly contemporary but timeless, too. Warm and ornate, yet stately and intimate, kooky and novel without a hint of clumsiness or pastiche. Moreover, with a menu divided equally between Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes (coupled with flags next to every dish in case you’re culinary-confused), the venue manages to pay homage to each nation yet present a cohesively charming Asian ‘whole’. Open daily 6.30pm-11.30pm. Mekong, Anantara The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, www.dubai-palm.anantara.com/mekong (0 4 567 8304).
Umai While some new openings become talk of the town before anyone's taken the time to try a bite, other far more worthy ventures appear to slip under the city's radar. After opening in early 2014, Umai is clearly one such example. Meticulously decorated in a blend of sleek modernity and traditional Far Eastern touches, there's a definite Japanese focus to the decor. But alongside a large sushi selection, teppanyaki and yakitori grill offerings, the menu strafes into pan-Asian fare, with Chinese dim sum, stir-fried and noodle dishes from across the Far East. However it's the more daring, cross genre-referencing signature dishes at the close of the menu that put this place in the must-visit category. Well, that and the service – on our last visit the staff were warm, funny and rather incredibly well informed, something that is too often a rarity in this town. Open Sun-Thu 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm; Fri 7pm-11.30pm. The Oberoi Dubai, Business Bay, www.oberoihotels.com (04 441 4444).
White Orchid Technically, White Orchid is both a restaurant and lounge and has a functional set-up, with a bar area from where a singer belts out cruise ship classics, alongside a tasteful dining area. Situated 45km southwest of Downtown Dubai, this restaurant gets most of its trade from hotel guests. The food is consistent with a wilfully pan-Asian menu. We’ve found that the Thai curries outshine the dim sum, while the salmon teriyaki is more impressive that the prawn tempura. JA Palm Tree Court, Jebel Ali (04 814 5604).
Wox To reach Wox one must embark on a rather magical expedition through the Grand Hyatt’s huge indoor rainforest. It is a unique, beguiling experience that should be experienced by everyone at least once. Having made the trek you’ll be rewarded with Wox, a refreshingly-casual noodle house that we’d love to call a well-kept secret – but the fact it’s never empty means the secret clearly got out some time ago. It’s refreshing-simple because there aren’t too many five-star hotels packing such authentic, raw, and competitively priced Asian dining option. The theme is street food and as such the tiny venue has just a handful of tables set around the small central open kitchen, where two chefs thrash about with woks in unison. The menu is short and simple on scope, which means everything on it – noodles primarily – has been well road-tested, and can be knocked up in a storm. Open daily noon-11.30pm. Grand Hyatt Dubai, Oud Metha, (04 317 2221).