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?
When a venue has been about a while and is a go-to place for post-work drinks, it’s easy to take it for granted. But Caramel, a permanently-packed lounge bar during the week, deserves to have its food taken on its own merits. And when looked at with a fresh eye, it stands up to scrutiny. There are plenty of small plates for sharing (we love the mac’n’cheese bites, chicken lettuce wraps and kale and quinoa salad), sushi and Japanese-inspired dishes and more substantial main courses (think beef short rib, braised lamb shank and pan-roasted salmon). The vibe is fairly chilled, with a live DJ providing the tunes most nights, and staff are happy to help but know when to leave you to it. The prices aren’t that bad either, especially if you come for drinks after work when the happy hour is on (until 8pm). The menu might not be filled with the most cutting edge cuisine in DIFC, but what the kitchen do is all really good. One to keep on the radar.
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.
Straddling the line between steakhouse and Latin American restaurant, Gaucho is one of the most consistently good venues in Dubai. The stylish dining room has plenty of cowhide in it, should you somehow forget what the main draw is. And we always find the steaks here are of the highest quality. They’re presented to you by a waiter who talks about the different cuts and breeds and how each one tastes. We love the Tira De Ancho, a spiral cut rib-eye dressed in chimichurri sauce. Aside from steak, whole sea bass is a good sharer, grilled red prawns are sweet, charred and absolutely lovely, and the small plates feature a good selection of ceviches, tiraditos and other Latin staples, such as empanadas and causas.
A classy, atmospheric restaurant with a beautiful garden terrace, everything about Royal China gets you in the mood for an excellent experience. From the unintrusive waiters to the deep house playing in the background, it has a relaxing and casual aura. And yet it’s the quality and novel flavours of the food that really make Royal China Dubai’s finest and saw it named Best Chinese in the 2017 Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards. As far as appetisers go, the bite-sized and beautifully battered deep-fried squid is quite simply addictive. The accompanying “special” chilli salt lifts the flavour and adds something different to this well-known dish. Also worth trying are the steamed chicken dumplings and sweet chilli sauce. They have a fabulous zingy ginger aftertaste and the meat inside is wonderfully tender. Roasted duck may be available in every Chinese restaurant in the city but Royal China’s stands out for its impeccable preparation, succulent inside and crispy outside – it’s a must-try here. Head to the restaurant at lunchtime and you’ll be offered a great value business lunch and keep an eye out for special menus throughout the year which see limited edition dishes available, all with their own story.
We know that everywhere now has a “sharing concept”, but it all originated in Spain with tapas. And BOCA, the laidback, funky restaurant and bar, takes tapas as its starting point and runs with it. Most of the dishes on the menu are Spanish but there are also French and other Mediterrannean plates available, all done with the same eye for flair and emphasis on quality, tasty core ingredients. The team at BOCA also update the menu seasonally, making sure they cook with the raw materials that are at their best at that time. That keeps costs down, making it one of the best value places to eat in DIFC, too. We love the black rice and scallops, the gnocchi with truffles and the chips with beef chorizo and crispy fried egg. All three are sensational, but the more simple pizettas are also worth mentioning, and there’s a vegan paella — basically, there’s something for everyone.
Café Belge is both classical and stylish as well as being contemporary and laid-back. Eye-catching from the moment you walk in, its regal trimmings, art deco flooring and excitable buzz of a packed house all toe-tapping beneath the table, transport you to the Gallic jazz cafés of yesteryear. While seafood is most certainly the speciality of the compact menu – the travelling oyster caddy roaming between tables highlights that fact particularly – there is a great deal to attract even the most sea-sceptic diners; pick of the bunch is the gooey beef carbonnade, a Flemish-style stew that is utterly gratifying without being too heavy, even when mopping up every last drop with any one of the selection of breads on offer. From the sea, though, the seared turbot takes the crown thanks to the thick, sweet butternut squash relish on which it is served. Diving into the moules is also highly recommended, with seven styles of sauce to choose from. At Dhs160 you might anticipate if not a bucket, a significantly oversized bowl, and youwon't be disappointed – it’s the perfect metaphor for the restaurant – hearty yet refined.
An institution in Monaco, Sass Café in Dubai operates in the same way. It is a buzzing restaurant, serving French and Mediterranean staples in the early evening, before turning into a party venue with music from DJs and performers and dancing from the beautiful people who frequent it as the night goes on. Small plates are a great way to sample the fresh flavours of the menu, especially the burrata with truffle, king crab avocado and lemon salad and beef tartare. A langoustine risotto is another highlight and is a great example of the venue’s way with seafood. For those of a more meaty persuasion, there are good lamb cutlets, veal chop and beef fillet dishes that will satisfy. For fancy French food and a night out in one venue, Sass Café ticks all the boxes.
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.
One of the consistently high-quality Indian restaurants in the city, Mint Leaf has so far resisted the urge to join in with the molecular gastronomy crowd. And we like it all the more for it. Instead, what you get at Mint Leaf is a fine dining take on classic Indian flavours and ingredients. At the start of 2017 it also widened its menu to take in more international touches (see the shiitake mushroom pizza and the tempura soft shell crab) but at the heart of the restaurant are wonderfully fragrant and subtly-spiced curries (including excellent dhal makhani and sea bass mussalam options) and grills (prawns roasted in Goan coconut sauce and spices and tandoor lamb chops). Everything looks and smells the part as it comes to the table, too. And the restaurant and bar’s décor is cool and modern with a funky vibe. We’re fans of the brunch, which is a great way to sample a wider selection from the menu, and the bar area and lounge are worth visiting regardless of whether you’re planning to eat or not. But we recommend you do sample something from the menu.
Set high up in Emirates Financial Towers, within city slickers’ playground, DIFC, Al Grissino, with its crisp, white tablecloths and Downtown views, should be an easy sell. So why doesn’t it always fill out like others in the area? It’s nothing to do with the setting, nor the faultless service. The answer lies largely within the cooking. Despite a menu almost as vast as the venue itself (an import from Milan, Italy), there’s little to love – portions are equally huge, only serving to highlight each dish’s shortcomings. These shortcomings broadly boil down to a general lack of finesse – pasta dishes are much too soft, while mains such as black cod alle erbette (tomato and spinach sauce) are cloying. DIFC’s diners are a discerning bunch – you’d be wise to follow their lead.
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.
There’s a reason this sleek Japanese restaurant has clinched so many Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards over the years. Set over three levels (there’s a chic lounge at the upper entry level, perfect for a pre- or post-dinner mixed drink), all typically fully booked on any given night, Zuma has earned itself unreserved appreciation for consistency in absolutely everything it does. Service is never short of impeccable and the food – from the robata skewers to the sashimi, tempura to the tataki – there’s never so much as a micro herb out of place. The reputation of the restaurant’s black cod precedes it, as does that of the Chilean sea bass, and the Boston lobster with shiso ponzu butter. Put simply, this is one of the best meals you’ll have in Dubai .
We’ll stake our name on it (and we have, many, many times).
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.
The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC doesn’t do things by half and the majesty of this grand hotel filters down beautifully to its steakhouse. Once through the bespoke iron doors, you’ll find yourself in a large, dark wood-floored dining room with a dazzling centrepiece that floats elegantly up to a skylight. At night, with the lights turned down, this place is very romantic, but what you’ll most likely fall in love with at Center Cut is the standard of service. From the moment you’re seated to the moment you get the bill, the staff here are among the most helpful you’d like to find. They bring out the meat trolley and explain each cut and its origin. The signature Kumano Japanese wagyu sirloin is a little pricey, so we say plump for the Australian wagyu rib-eye, which is hugely pleasing to both the palate and the wallet. Add the delightful dauphinoise potatoes and a portion of the sautéed beans and you’ll soon be in dreamland. If you can awake from your steak-induced slumber, try the signature chocolate dessert. Just perfect.