Time Out Dubai guide to DIFC restaurants; best places to eat in DIFC defined by price and cuisine, with reviews, contact info, hours and deals.
With its high-end lounges and stylish (and pricey) restaurants, DIFC has become one of the most interesting places for fine dining in Dubai. Time Out takes you on a culinary tour of the city’s most moneyed neighbourhood and asks what’s cooking in DIFC?
Situated in the middle of DIFC, this modern restaurant and lounge tends to attract financial types and is particularly popular mid-week for after work drinks and bites. Be sure to dress to impress in this slick and polished joint to look the part. The food consists mainly of bar bites such as the Kobe barbecue beef sliders and mac and cheese, but with a few posher dishes such as apple endive salad, scarpetta rigatoni malenzana and Cajun blackened shrimp. The baked Alaska – a dish of sponge cake, strawberries, meringue and strawberry ice cream – is simply to die for; this perfect combination of hot and cold desserts is a must-try. Having recently renovated the terrace area, Caramel is perfect for a quick catch-up with friends over dinner or as a place to dine inside in a dimly-lit corner for a more romantic setting. Staff are well dressed and on the ball, so you can sit back, relax and enjoy.
There are no prizes for guessing what they serve at this reduced menu concept restaurant. You do, however, get bonus points for knowing that it’s an import of a ludicrously hyped London restaurant. Whether you go for the burgers or the lobster, the promise is gourmet fast food and affordable crustaceans. And if you opt for the latter, there is a chance you will join a growing legion of people eulogising the garlic and lemon butter sauce.
Sophisticated, stylish, masculine, chic – it is easy to run out of superlatives to describe this venue. It would be easiest to say it does not disappoint on any level, and that is why it is regularly packed with city slickers appreciating the finer things. The chrome fittings, monochrome palette and cow print chairs would feel ostentatious in a less confident restaurant, but here, along with the knowledgeable and stylish staff, it comes across as self-assured. Steaks are the specialty here, and staff will explain the numerous and well-procured cuts at length. Simply put, if you can afford premium prices, you can have a steak here that you will never forget. But before that, try the duck and beef empanadas, and round off your meal with a salted dulche de leche and hazelnut cheesecake. It’s clear that Gaucho is up there with the top tier of Dubai restaurants
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A grand, charcoal-hued Far Eastern-themed dining room with bright red accents awaits diners at this high-class Chinese restaurant and London import. Jellyfish-like chandeliers hang overhead and the place does both a roaring lunch and dinner trade. The food here is fine-dining without being overly fussy nor fanciful, and the service is friendly and attentive. Order the jasmine flower tea to sip while you wait for your starters; it’s an artful creation, which springs open into a bloom once in hot water. The steamed platter of just-prepped dim sum is impeccably fresh, falling apart as you bite into the parcels of prawn and vegetable combinations. The deep-fried and wok-tossed salt and pepper squid is well-seasoned and the batter crunchy. The crispy fried aromatic duck is carved nearby, made into pancakes and then whipped over to the table – they’re the crunchiest we’ve tasted. For veggies, there are a few options, including the bok choy with garlic and stir-fried mushrooms with oyster sauce.
Every once in a while something comes along that demands your attention, without really demanding your attention. Boca never planned to shout from the rooftops. After all, how much could you really have heard above the infernal din created by the award-winning La Petite Maison, Zuma et al with whom it competes with in DIFC. But now you’re listening. In simple terms, Boca is a European tapas restaurant, yet it is so much more than that. Sure, the deli-style menu is enough to attract crowds from outside the financial district’s after-work club just for dinner. French, Spanish and Italian finger food is traditional in style but daring in flavour and presentation. And then there’s the island bar, bang slap in the middle, but unobtrusive to the diners. The buzz comes from all corners. A funky, atmospheric soundtrack encourages plenty of toe-tapping but stops short of becoming intrusive, and the same goes for the buzz of the open kitchen that fills the room. There’s also a cellar, perfect for hosting special occasions for groups of up to ten. Mention it as a highlight, though, and staff will feel you’ve missed the point – they don’t want to be another fancy spot among fancy spots. They’re different, they just don’t need to shout about it.
A terrific seafood menu that specialises in spot-on mussels, but also boasts the likes of poached john dory, chilled razor clams and seared turbot, as well as a fantastic spread of oysters, Café Belge is a great spot for a lazy lunch in DIFC, even if it needs to tighten up a few things around the edges. Mainly the chips, which need to be a whole lot crispier and a whole lot less floury for proper dunking in mussel sauce. Attention to detail is very strong, with everything from the furniture to the music to the extensive hops menu making you feel truly in Bruges, even if its location means an outdoor terrace sorely lacking in views. Still, the menu is one that bears repeat visits, and if they can nail those spuds, they’ll be onto a winner.
It seems no European or Mediterranean restaurant worth its salt is lacking a burrata on the menu. In most restaurants, a stellar turn on the Italian cheese dish might herald great things from the mains, but at Sass Café, it’s the solitary highlight.
Dimly lit, liberally upholstered in black velvet and feeling a little bit like a certain fashion brand’s Dubai nightclub’s scruffier sister, Sass is by no means a café, but something of a supperclub. But from the frosty reception of the hostess to the awkward performance of the live singers, this DIFC venue never quite manages the warmth or intimacy of a classic dinner lounge.
Service is uninteractive – on our last visit, staff preferred to stand in corners talking among themselves. Starters peak at salads – go for either the beef carpaccio or the aforementioned burrata cremosa and you won’t be disappointed, and light eaters can easily leave it at that.
Despite an average price of Dhs200 for mains and high-end ingredients such as truffle and caviar featuring throughout the menu, a lot of the food here tastes cheap and badly treated. Even for the city’s flush financial centre, Sass feels unjustly expensive. And with so many renowned competitors just doors away, it might be time rethink the price, the menu, or both. The bottom line Poor food, but there’s potential if it became solely a bar.
When a restaurant has Marco Pierre White’s name associated to it, you’re naturally going to expect big things. And in some respects, Wheeler’s lives up to the hype. The decor is sublime; dark patterned hues on the floor complement the minimalist white tables perfectly and there’s a separate buzzing bar area. The space wouldn’t look out of place in one of New York’s more trendy suburbs; it’s an exciting place to be. But for the prices you’ll pay, you might leave wishing for a bit more from the food – and the staff. Unfortunately we’ve had the same experience on more than one visit this year – staff are beyond attentive until the mains are served, which is when they go AWOL. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to wait.
Winging its way from the English capital to the emirates, Mint Leaf of London, Dubai has opened its doors in DIFC, promising a contemporary take on authentic Indian cooking. The interior design is unmistakably upmarket – a mixture of textural effects, and stencil-like motifs over walls, ceilings and cushions, all in black and white, with a few softening tones of cream and beige. Service is friendly, and fairly knowledgeable, with staff able to point out signature dishes, and also offer a little information on what the dishes are. To some extent, the menu, has fairly classic roots.
However, some of them are quite unexpected in an Indian restaurant, such as soft shell crab or wild mushroom and fennel soup with white truffle oil. This is an attractive new venue and the menu here is good. However, when we visited it didn't have us raving with delight. Considering the final cost of dining here, that is something of a disappointment.
Originally opened in Milan in 1952, Al Grissino has gone from a small trattoria, to a grand-looking fine-dining establishment. First to wow you when you walk into Dubai’s own version is the bar space, with impressive views of the Burj Khalifa. The dining room; a simple but sophisticated space, with an elegant palette of turquoise, white and gold, and more great views from the arch of windows around the room. Staff are friendly, attentive, helpful and also well versed on the menu, which is helpful considering its size. All of the raw choices are good, but opt for the “yellow thin tuna” and you won’t be disappointed; it’s an excellent dish with an unexpected turmeric sauce giving it an excellent punch of flavour. The green gnocchi is a truly decadent example of creamy and rich dumplings, with the intense background flavour of smoked cheese. It can be quiet here, but Al Grissino deserves a wider audience, which will hopefully come as the word about this excellent restaurant gets out.
Roberto’s stays away from the Italian clichés of chequered table clothes and Roman iconography on the walls. Instead, the venue is designed with classic elegance and simplicity. The tables are dressed with white linen table clothes and tiny tea light candles, creating a romantic setting after dark. The menu is divided into courses of antipasti, soups, pasta dishes and seafood-heavy main dishes. A simple and delicious way to start is with the burrata: a perfect combination of creamy mozzarella and tomatoes. Of the pasta dishes, the spaghetti carbonara with wagyu beef bacon is mouth-wateringly good, though the classic fettucini bolognese isn’t quite as exciting. Between the trendy location and views of Dubai’s skyline, chic setting and overall well-executed menu, Roberto’s is a good spot for a lively dinner out.
A multiple award-winner and established force at the top of Dubai’s Japanese fine-dining scene, Zuma hardly needs introduction. Located in the city’s financial district, it’s a classy, contemporary and enormously popular hangout for the UAE’s most affluent residents and visitors. While its much-loved brunchwas off the cards for half of 214 it is now back and Zuma is still pulling in a regular lunchtime crowd. However, it’s in the evenings (weekend and indeed midweek) where this place really comes into its own as the bustling heart of the neighbourhood. Each and every dish on the menu is consistently impeccable, from starters such as beef tataki and prawn and black cod gyoza to mains including yuzu pepper jumbo tiger prawns and spicy tenderloin, right through to green tea desserts, everything that comes out of the kitchen is so faultless it’s almost fantasy. But have your date pinch you – because this is the real deal.
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.
Dimly lit to an extent that it’s actually quite hard to see, Center Cut is an imposing, fine-dining destination. But despite first impressions, it’s not at all snooty; the staff are warm and friendly, and the atmosphere relaxed. And when it comes to the food, Center Cut shines brightly. The menu is concise, but features everything you would expect from a steakhouse, including some standout starters. You wouldn’t expect a restaurant that focuses on meat to excel at salads, but the organic beetroot dish is a wonderfully tangy creation of sweet and savoury flavours that combine perfectly. Main courses also hit the high notes, with the steaks soft, tender and flavourful – the fillet mignon almost melts in the mouth. Ending with a hearty dessert will ensure it’s a consistently high-quality dining experience. There’s no need to fear a wallet-busting final bill, either, which is the cherry on the top at this satisfying steakhouse.