Sample the best food from the MENA region served at restaurants in Dubai
Time Out Dubai staff
Al Nafoorah At the Emirates Towers branch of this restaurant, the ambience is set by musicians playing live on the outdoor terrace that overlooks the space-age towers. Service is swift, though staff come across a little nervous and inexperienced at times, and it’s not unknown for mistakes to be made by the staff taking orders. The food, though, is worth the confusion, with the Al Nafoorah salad a crisp and refreshing mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, green chilli, mint, parsley and lemon vinaigrette. For something more substantial, you can’t go wrong with the meat sambousek. For a treat in an impressive setting, that won’t break the bank, Al Nafoorah is a great choice. Open daily noon-4pm, 7pm-midnight. Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 319 8088). Other location: Jumeirah Zabeel Saray (04 453 0444).
Café Arabesque An elegant and bright restaurant, Café Arabesque does much to set itself apart from other Middle Eastern eateries in the city. On the à la carte menu you’ll find classic hot and cold mezzes and salads including baba ghanoush and fattoush as well as mixed meat and seafood grills. The variety of kebabs including the kebab halabi and shish taouk are delicately spiced and succulent. Head to the restaurant on Thursday or Friday evening to take advantage of the reasonably priced buffet. Staff take care to ensure that dishes on offer are rotated and restocked regularly so they don’t suffer as a result of being left out for too long. Café Arabesque is an impressive spot and if you have visitors in town and want to show off some of the region’s most authentic cuisine, this restaurant is a great place to start and offers good value for money, too. Open daily 6.30am-11am noon-4pm, 6pm-11.30pm. Café Arabesque, Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).Buffet nights: Dhs150 (food only), Thu-Fri 6pm-midnight.
Khan Murjan After a day of shopping at Wafi, this is a great place to unwind and dine. The restaurant offers the full gamut of Middle Eastern cuisine, from Lebanese, Persian and dishes from the Gulf to Egypt and Moroccan. The Persian sajeit shrimps starter bursts with the garlic, onion, coriander and chilli flavours it’s marinated in. Mop up the juices with the freshly-baked fluffy breads. The Moroccan tagine berbere should also not be missed. Wash this all down with a subtly sweet sugar cane juice, which comes highly recommended by staff and for good reason since it’s utterly refreshing. Khan Murjan is certainly worthy of repeat visits to try this restaurant’s wide ranging regional menu. Open daily 10am-1am. Wafi, Oud Metha (04 327 9795).
Lalezar Set within the opulent surrounds of Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Lalezar fits in well. The restaurant is decked out in shades of brown, cream, white and of course, gold, giving it a regal finish. The outdoor terrace is also a pleasant spot to dine when the weather permits. But it’s not all about looks at this stunning venue. The menu is authentic Turkish and everything is prepared to perfection. Waiters also know the menu well and are happy to pick out their favourites, the classics and the restaurant’s specialities. The iskender kebab comes highly recommended and does not disappoint. The meat is tender and the entire dish bursts with flavour. The seafood platter is also fresh and perfectly grilled. This is an all-round gem of a Turkish restaurant. Open daily 3pm-midnight. JumeirahZabeelSaray, Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0444).
Leila This popular spot is perennially packed, hosting diners of Middle Eastern descent as well as expats and tourists. Sit outside on the terrace on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard; it’s where the atmosphere is, if you can get a seat. Service here is exemplary and staff are confident to recommend dishes based on your preferences and their favourites, such as the ghazal Beirut dessert of ice-cream covered in thin strands of hair-like sugar. The hot and cold mezzes are delicious as are the grilled meats. Try the kibbeh and the basterma cheese rolls, though, since these also contain meat, having them deep-fried can leave them a little on the greasy side. Opt to have them grilled instead. The grilled kafta is succulent, complemented perfectly by the accompanying labneh dip. Leila is a wonderful spot for authentic and deliciously moreish Lebanese cuisine served within a lively and vibrant setting. Open daily 9.30am-11.45pm. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 448 3384).
Levantine The sprawling restaurant boasts low tables and seats reminiscent of an Arabian majlis. The decor is bright and unfussy with red, cream and orange dominating the colour scheme and affording a relaxed, homely atmosphere. Add to this laidback vibe an energetic and heartfelt entertainment schedule. The set menus offer an abundance of food and great value for money. The ‘Adonis’ menu is comprehensive and offers a good spread of Lebanese mezze dishes and mains of which the sea bream is a standout. Staff are friendly and keen to ensure you have an authentic dining experience, serving main dishes just as the number of mezze plates on the table begin to run low. Levantine is a great place to dine with the family or with a big group of friends. Open daily 7pm-2am. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
Nay This huge restaurant is named after the Arabic instrument of the same name and its motto is ‘where food and beverage meet to compose a splendid melody.’ And Nay takes food and entertainment seriously. It is a great place to come to on weekday evenings with a large group to share mezzes and enjoy the Brazilian dancers who perform live. The outdoor terrace is vast and vibrant with white chairs complete with aqua coloured cushions that match the venue’s logo. Service is exemplary, with the staff attentive, observant and happy to offer recommendations. Dishes contain contemporary Mediterranean influences. The hummus green rihan is a refreshing mix that contains pesto and basil, while the home-made Lebanese white cheese comes mixed with dried mint and basil and topped with a light ratatouille sauce, playing on tart, fresh and zingy flavours that each combine expertly. We’d return to Nay for the great service alone, but the food also ensures this restaurant is definitely worth a visit. Open daily 12.30pm-3am. Emirates Financial Towers, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 351 6660).
Ottomans Located in the sophisticated Grosvenor House in Dubai Marina, both this restaurant and the menu is elegant and impressive. The outdoor terrace affords stunning views of the marina, while inside, the restaurant is dark with a blue tint to the predominantly brown and red colour scheme. The food is exceptional and the set menus offer great value for money, since you’ll be able to sample a number of expertly executed dishes from Dhs250 per person. From the cold mezze selection including garlic marinated prawns and hummus to the classic lahmacun and iskender kebab, all the dishes are mouth-wateringly good. This is a wonderfully romantic spot with stunning views and food to match. It’s a great place to take visiting guests or to treat someone special to classic, authentic-tasting Turkish cuisine. Open daily 7.30pm-midnight. Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Qbara This sophisticated restaurant presents modern Arabic food with flair. The colour scheme is all warm reds, black and gold, while burning fires in the background give the expansive eatery a welcoming feel. A saxophonist provides the subtle backing track of cool jazz and the food is simply outstanding. The hot and cold mezze offer an adventurous twist – think lobster kibbeh with fresh herbs and avocado labneh, crudités with truffle-scented labneh and hummus with honey-roasted parsnips. Save room for mains and dessert – dishes such as the sea bass with tahini, yoghurt and walnut and herb crumbs, and desserts including the orange blossom ‘cheesecake’ (containing an almond and cinnamon crunch, baked white chocolate and a citrus sorbet) simply must be tried. Open daily 6pm-3am (last orders for food: 12.30am). Wafi, Oud Metha, www.qbara.ae (04 709 2500).
Zaroob You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve walked into a Japanese eatery given the decor at this Sheikh Zayed Road eatery. Graffiti is sprayed on corrugated iron adorning the walls and manga-style cartoon characters decorate the ceiling. Thanks to the delectable dishes on offer for pleasingly low prices, this cool comic book-style Lebanese street food restaurant is perennially packed with all kinds of patrons, from businessmen and women in suits to expats and students from around the world. Zaroob offers outstanding, fresh and juicy shawarmas for a nominal Dhs10 as well as other light bites and sandwiches. Zaroob is well worth a visit, even if you have to wait a little while for a table. Staff are friendly and keep their cool despite the vast numbers already dining, milling around both inside and out waiting for and to be seated and waiting for takeaway. But the good service, great prices and undoubtedly delicious food makes all the waiting worth it. Open 24 hours. Jumeirah Tower, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.zaroob.com (04 327 6060).