Hidden eats, secret nightlife, one-off shops and more hidden gems
We’ve scoured the city to bring you top secret venues, places and tips so you can get the most from living in Dubai.
Everyone likes to hear a secret. It just feels special to know something no one else knows, whether it be stumbling upon a cool side street shop, joining an underground social club or sneaking into a private party. There’s also something special about sharing a secret, the thrill that goes with imparting that gem of unique information to another. Which might be why we’re feeling rather smug with this collection of hot tips from our eyes and ears across the city, never before revealed in the pages of Time Out Dubai. Get out there and discover something new today.
Dubai is a playground of high-end Michelin star-quality restaurants, but that’s no secret. On the other hand, the city’s buzzing backstreet eateries are another world entirely, offering authentic cooking from Korea, Goa and more. But the scene is evolving: from fun and character-filled independent fast food ventures, to invite-only dinners in secret locations to sustainability-focussed eateries and the organic markets that are increasingly popping up over the entire city.
Ban Khun Mae Literally meaning ‘my mother’s house’ in Thai, the simple mall dining spot is dubbed the best Thai in Dubai by some diners and serves up homely and authentic dishes, cooked on the spot. Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha (04 340 0565).
Spaghetti House Club Sample well-made, home-cooked-style Italian classics. We particularly like the caponata and pizza, which is made in real dough-spinning Neapolitan style, with mozzarella from Naples – but call ahead, as the pizza is not available every day (and the restaurant’s location may change). Lake City Tower, Cluster D, JLT (04 428 1588).
A Touch of Frosting This baker, food blogger and mum bakes and decorates bespoke orders on cakes, cookies, cupcakes and muffins, prepared at home. firstname.lastname@example.org, www.atouchofrosting.blogspot.com (no number).
The Dinner Club 57 Get in touch with The Dinner Club 57 and they may just keep you in mind for one of their next events; their secret supper clubs are free to attend, but strictly invitation-only, with a packed guest list for the year ahead. Alternatively, keep an eye on Lime and Tonic, who announce secret supper clubs on a monthly basis. email@example.com (no number); www.limeandtonic.com/dubai (04 455 8765).
Ambot Tik A real hidden gem serving affordable authentic Goan eats, from the selection of meats to the Portuguese-style pau bread rolls. Chelsea Plaza Hotel, Satwa (04 398 2222).
La Postreria Desert Studio & Lounge A Spanish temple to all things sweet and edible, serving an enticing array of desserts and patisserie. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 442 1787).
Nofara This modern Arabian café concept is newly opened and uses locally sourced produce (veggies from Ripe, coffee from Orbis) to make their fusion treats. Don’t miss the chocolate brownies. Swiss Tower, Cluster Y, JLT (04 432 2023).
Geddy’s A second branch of this quirky Egyptian fast food spot opens in Dubai Marina, serving classic feteer pies, koshari and more. Ora Marina Tower, Dubai Marina (number TBC).
Shakeism Milkshakes Promising a revolutionary shake-up of the humble milkshake, this new Barsha spot serves exceptional milkshakes in a variety of flavours. Near Ramada Chelsea Hotel, Al Barsha (04 325 5360).
Pop-up farmers’ market Ripe has launched its third weekly organic farmers’ market, hosted by gourmet sustainability enthusiasts Pantry Café. Tue 9.30am-11.30am. Al Wasl Square, Jumeirah (04 388 3868).
Mannaland A tucked away Korean eatery serving great food with a fun, quirky, party vibe. Don’t miss the sizzling beef as well as the tofu pancakes. Al Mina Road, beside Capitol Hotel, Satwa (04 345 3200).
With all of Dubai’s nightlife necessarily stationed inside licensed hotels, you might think there would be few secrets to dig up. Not so. With most hotels packing a long list of bars and restaurants, many of them unpublicised spots aimed at guests, even the most familiar spots can house hidden gems you never knew about. A simple tip: whenever you enter a hotel, be sure to harangue the reception desk for a complete list of venues before heading to the obvious and familiar favourite.
The best secrets are generally found in Old Dubai. Wander around Deira and Bur Dubai and there are all manner of weird, wonderful and altogether undiscovered delights to be had. While these venues vary dramatically in their quality, they’re never short of surprises.
Old school expat bars Backstreet haunts don’t come much more undiscovered than the Palm Hotel’s low-key hangout. Nameless aside from a small sign off the lobby directing you to the ‘Lounge Bar’, this venue feels like stepping back to the UAE of the early ’70s. A dim but not unpleasant space, with a multinational crowd, it sells bottled hops from just Dhs15. Open daily noon-4pm; 6pm-3am. Lounge Bar, Dubai Palm Hotel, Deira (04 271 0021).
Party to African tunes Bur Dubai’s pumping Club Africana has developed something of its own following, but it’s the smaller and newer neighbour Beach Africana which is the true secret. Expect funk and Afro tunes from the hip house band, and a fun-loving late night crowd. Open daily 8pm-3am. Palm Beach Hotel, Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road (04 393 1999).
Watch Russian dancers Transport yourself a few thousand miles to Moscow with a visit to the Nihal Hotel’s incredibly random – and seemingly unnamed – ‘Russian club’. You’ll be treated to a traditional dancing troupe, twee band and raucous party mood. Open daily 9pm-3am. Nihal Hotel, Deira (04 295 7666). Secret boat parties Some of the best parties you’ll ever attend take place on the high seas. But we’re not talking public club parties which cram a load of strangers together (as fun as those nights often are) – the best parties are the secret, invitation-only ones. Want to get involved? The best way to wangle an invite is to befriend your favourite DJ on Facebook (hello Raxon…) and keep an eye on what they’ve got coming up.
Alternative body and mind
Savvy spa-goers know that prices vary across town, but it’s not just a matter of whether the spa is in a hotel or not, or reflective of the quality of service or cleanliness of the establishment. Some price discrepancies occur within individual chains, as is the case of Dubai’s Happy Valley. This comfortable Thai spa offers a basic yet comprehensive range of treatments in its Jumeirah branch (04 328 8112) at relatively reasonable prices from the area, but travel to Al Barsha, Dubai Investment Park or Deira for the same service with the same company, and you could be looking at a saving of more than Dhs100. For example, a 60-minute full-body massage in Jumeirah will set you back Dhs250, while the same treatment in Deira costs less than half that at Dhs120 (04 228 8768). The following spas offer a range of reasonably-priced services, both traditional and more exotic.
Amro Ladies Salon This hair salon has been described as ‘especially amazing’ by Time Out insiders who frequent the spot. Stylists are quick, reliable and listen to exactly what their customers want, and can also create beautiful curls. Cuts from Dhs200, colour from Dhs350, blow-dry from Dhs100. Various locations, including Gloria Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 399 6666).
Yin Yang Connection As the name suggests, this spa specialises in traditional Chinese medicine, offering therapies such as acupuncture and cupping. Look a little closer, however, and you will find some very reasonable massage rates too. Full-body massages from Dhs150 for 60 minutes. Beach Center, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 4211); The Village Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 385 5155); Suha Hotel Apartments, JBR (04 439 0111).
Mehr Mah Beauty Salon Treatments at this salon range from blow-dries to African braiding, smoker-specific facials to henna tattoos. They also offer a great mani-pedi, which you can enjoy in a relaxing massage chair. Mani-pedi from Dhs100. Ladies only. Bahar 1, JBR (04 453 8117).
Lily Pond Spa This calming spot offers good value Balinese and Swedish massages, waxing, haircuts and eyelash extensions (up to half the price of some salons). Massages from Dhs160 for 50 minutes, full set eyelash extensions Dhs250. Various locations including Al Barsha Mall, Al Barsha (04 385 0442).
One-off shops and handi- crafters
Antika Dubai If you’re looking to pick up some unique furniture but aren’t willing to pay through the nose, this independent supplier should be your first port of call. It’s owned by antiques enthusiast Jerome Dhulst, who makes regular trips to Rajasthan to pick up scrap wood and old furniture, brings them back to his Dubai workshop and fixes it up or creates new pieces with it. His collection features everything from jewellery boxes to bookshelves. Jd@antikadubai.com, firstname.lastname@example.org (050 485 1583).
Ragmatazz UAE designer Minakshi Nagu creates beautiful, vibrant one-off patchwork bags and jewellery with a distinct tribal theme from her garage-turned-workshop in Sharjah. She regularly sells her wares from stalls at Dubai events such as ARTE and Dubai Ladies Club garden bazaars (find out where she’s heading by visiting her Facebook page), as well as online through her website. Ragmatazz.myshopify.com, www.facebook.com/ragmatazz.
Totally Creative Pick up handmade jewellery, clothes and accessories, made using paper and crochet techniques, delicately crafted by Dubai resident Fawzia Khatib. Interested buyers can either order online, or visit the Totally Creative stall at the ARTE market, which takes place on the first and second Friday of each month, at Dubai Festival City and Times Square Center respectively. www.facebook.com/totallycreativeme.
Quirky expat communities
Balcony Gardening Club A group of keen gardeners are now taking a creative approach to the small amount of space at their disposal for indulging their passion. As well as regular nursery and garden centre trips, the club also meets for drinks. www.meetup.com/balcony-gardening-club-dubai (no number).
Dubai Round Table Open to all men aged between 18 and 45, this group describes itself as the ultimate young professionals’ club. There are opportunities for organising functions, public speaking, giving back through activities such as raising awareness for charities, and meeting like-minded people. www.dubairoundtable.org (no number).
Ludwig If you have high brow intellectual tendencies and you’re looking to socialise with like-minded people, join the cultural group Ludwig, ‘Le Salon Postmoderne’. Recent events have included guest speaker Hind Shoufani (a Palestinian writer and filmmaker) and the screening of a visual poem by Godfrey Reggio. email@example.com.
The Drawing Club Open to creatives with a passion for video games, film, animation, illustration and design, this brand new group meets to draw together, network and establish a community of artists. www.meetup.com/the-drawing-club (no number).
The Fierce Diaries Dubai-based fashion fiend Nadya Hasan’s style blog shows the 22-year-old modelling pieces from her favourite stores and designers, with a focus on UAE and regional talent. She often reveals hidden gems and little-known boutiques. www.thefiercediaries.com
Secret Vent This tongue-in-cheek Dubai-based blog encourages others to anonymously voice their daily frustrations on the usual grudge-inducing topics including bosses and work, spouses, maids, shopping, traffic and banks. The latest posts include a rant about a phone call-dodger and disdain for ill co-workers who infect others. www.secretvent.com.
Pretty in the desert Emirati-American former beauty therapist Aseya Nasib is at the helm of this beauty blog, which features product, hair and treatment reviews from salons across Dubai. Beautiful images make this blog worthy of your attention. www.prettyinthedesert.com.
Sips and Spoonfuls Judging by the quality of images on this Dubai blog, food blogger Sukaina is more than an expert cook. The Dubai-based mum and freelance food writer and photographer shares her recipes, such as bounty cupcakes with velvety chocolate frosting and argula and clementine salad with walnuts. www.sipsandspoonfuls.com.
Men In Style The local go-to for sartorially savvy gents. The style-focused blog shares updates on men’s fashion events, collections and cool new products in the city. Sign up for the Android app for on-the-go fashion info. www.meninstyle.me.
Did you know? Facts, history and myths
UAE and the World Cup In 1990 the UAE attended its first and only (so far) football World Cup. Unfortunately success was not to be and the team lost all three games to Colombia, West Germany and Yugoslavia.
Nightlife of old Going back 15 to 20 years, when Dubai’s expat population was a mere sliver of what it is today, the pool of watering holes in town was far smaller. According to some long-time residents, the upshot was that some of these stayed open later. After a night at Pancho Villa’s, it wasn’t unusual to find people moving straight on to one of Oud Metha’s all-night dining spots for an early breakfast.
Shamals Despite popular belief that the word shamal describes all types of sandstorms, a shamal can come from only one direction. Shamal refers to a wind that travels from a northwesterly direction only and is the result of strong winds funnelled into the Gulf from the mountains of Turkey and Iraq.
Haunted roads Approximately 20 years ago, rumours deemed Al Ain Road to be haunted. One source says that it became so well-known that the Dubai government had to close down the road and make a new one running parallel to it to quash fears. Apparently the old road still exists, remaining fenced off near Abu Kadra roundabout.
Safa Park Back in the ’80s, gaining access to Safa Park was as simple as strolling right in. There were no fees or fences around it.
While Dubai has no standalone arthouse cinemas (although The Picturehouse screen of Reel Cinemas in The Dubai Mall shows artier fare at times), there are plenty of venues programming interesting screenings. Every month The Pavilion’s Film Buzz programme, organised by the Dubai International Film Festival, screens three themed movies on consecutive nights. Meanwhile Jumeirah Creekside’s Blue Flame screens an all-time classic every Thursday and Friday. And to mingle with some true film buffs, join the invitation-only Scene Club for monthly screenings (thesceneclub.com). Check our weekly Film section for details of screenings.
The Springs skatepark Hidden behind Choithrams near The Springs 7, this surprisingly spacious park features ramps, rails and half pipes for practicing on skates, boards and scooters. Free. Open Sun-Mon, Wed 2pm-8pm, Thu-Sat 11am-7pm, closed Tue. The Springs Village, Emirates Living, www.dorellsports.com (056 253 5407).
Safa Park Running Club Founded only this year, this group aims to create a social running, jogging and walking community. Though group runs are currently irregular, the plan is to soon establish a regular Friday morning jaunt. www.meetup.com/safa-park-running-club (no number).
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Mariah May 18, 2013 05:46 pm
What about Pastamania in Mall of the Emirates? Their pizzas are amazing, Meat lovers, Seafood, Supreme are among my favs and they also have reasonable prices and service is fast. They also have a fab offer currently of 20% off during lunch. I've pretty much tried most of their main courses lol including the Marinara pasta. They also have wholemeal pasta options which is great so I don't feel too guilty for indulging!