This saffron-kissed hammour may be the most exquisite take on the local fish we’ve yet encountered. Gently charred and billowing (yes, billowing) shards of fish are so moist they ooze (thanks, we suspect, to a spell in Gharana’s clay oven). Gharana, Holiday Inn Al Barsha (04 323 4333). Dhs55.
Made with green tea, this moist specimen is topped with a fan of thinly sliced, caramelised bananas and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. In addition to its dewy texture, the melding of flavours is what makes this dish. Zuma, DIFC (04 425 5660). Dhs36.
Beef ribs in Massaman curry
These plump morsels have everything going for them. They’re tender, infused with a sweet, peanut-based sauce that offers fleeting hints of spice, offset by chunks of sweet potato. The meat is melting and delicious. Pai Thai, Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730). Dhs120.
Who knew a simple bun could have such complexity? Infused with an espresso flavour, their texture is soft and yielding, while the exterior is crackly and caramelised. Inside is a layer of melted butter. Just brilliant. Papa Roti, The Dubai Mall (no number). Dhs11 each.
Imagine the best mozzarella you ever ate. Now imagine it soft and buttery with an oozy cream interior. That’s burrata – an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. At Margaux, it’s served with some of the freshest, most vibrant Italian tomatoes we’ve had the good fortune of eating. Margaux, Souk Al Bahar (04 439 7555). Dhs75.
The name may be a bit misleading, but ‘cherry’ refers to the type of salmon, not its accompaniment. The smoked fillet has a tauntingly woody taste and is exceptionally moist. It’s served with slivers of courgettes and leeks, making it as fresh as it is delicious. Karma Kafé, Souk Al Bahar (04 423 0909). Dhs125.
If you don’t sample the glistening mounds of Argentinian beef that the waiters pass round on a giant spit, then you’re not dining at Pachanga properly. The meat positively drools, is unabashedly tender and perfectly cooked. Pachanga, Hilton Dubai Jumeirah (04 399 1111). Dhs210.
Cookies ’n’ scream cupcake
We can’t help it – we have a weakness for Sugar Daddy’s cupcakes, and our favourite is this chocolate cupcake with Oreo frosting. The cake is so airy it could float, and the frosting is a chocolatey mound of goodness. Sugar Daddy’s Bakery, The Village Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 8204). Dhs12 each.
As far as we know, Prego’s has the city’s only salumeria, which houses a superb selection of Italian cured meats. It would be criminal to leave the restaurant without ordering the sample plate, which lets you choose five (out of 20) paper-thin tasters of this glorious meat. Prego’s, Media Rotana (04 435 0000). Dhs68.
Dahi batata puri
What we adore about this dish is the vibrantly contrasting flavours. You have puffed rice, sweet tamarind sauce, potatoes, crispy puri shells, yoghurt, coriander and a sprinkling of sev (thin, fried noodles). It’s an odd yet intoxicating assortment. Bombay Chowpatty, Behind Ministry of Health opp. BurJuman Centre (04 396 4937). Dhs7.
Dahi bati churma
Part of what makes the house speciality at this outstanding Rajasthani restaurant so special is its tactile nature. A warm, toasty dumpling comes served with a side of creamy, nutty dahl. The idea is to break up the bun with your hand and get dipping. Manvaar, Karama, near the fish market (04 336 8332). Dhs22.
Cloudlike choux, freshly made jams and an airy slab of cream make these our favourite doughnuts ever. This deli counter-cum-restaurant isn’t always guaranteed to have them in stock, so call ahead. Baker & Spice, Souk Al Bahar (04 425 2240). Dhs12 each.
There’s something both novel and quaint about watching a whole dover sole filleted tableside. The waiters at Café Chic manage the task in seconds, and serve it with finger-licking poultry juice (spiked with hazelnut oil) and rich yet subtle chestnut cream. Café Chic, Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 282 5540). Dhs280.
Dried miso hammour
Paper-thin slices of hammour are topped with dried miso and garlic chips, a combo that’s just about as sexy as sexy can be. The miso is superbly musky, and it has a seductive, mysterious effect on the fish, whose soft flesh quivers under the crunchy shards of crimson powder. Nobu, Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0760). Dhs84.
We never knew falafel could be so good. These ethereal, emerald-coloured balls are made from mashed fava beans (in the Egyptian tradition), and are so light they could levitate. The sandwiches come with a gooey mix of garlic, chilli sauce, tomatoes and lettuce. Sultan Dubai Falafel Restaurant, Al Muraqqabat Road (04 227 5559). Dhs4.
Fish and chips
Ahhh, now this is how fish and chips is meant to be. A golden, crisp batter coats a billowing fillet of hammour. Top with the home-made tartar sauce – a tangy dip made with whole mustard seeds – and vibrant green mushy peas for one of the best bites in the UAE. The Fish Supper, Arabian Center, Mirdif (04 284 5551). Dhs43.
A mince of duck, rabbit and pigeon, formed into a ball with the help of some gloriously smoky liver, combines to make a succulent meaty treat that is saturated in flavour. Rivington Grill then plunks the balls on a bed of rudely musty lentil mash. Rivington Grill, Souk Al Bahar (04 423 0903). Dhs115.
The family-run Bacio Gelato (owned by Italians) takes special orders for its cakes, which are the height of creamy, and are super-fresh. The hazelnut and biscotti combo mustn’t be missed. Book early for a special Christmas gelato cake (it looks like Santa). Bacio Gelato, The Baron Hotel Building, Al Barsha (04 323 2949). Dhs185-285.
We’re not sure what we love more: eating this juicy, saline fish, or watching from the dining room as the Iraqi chefs cook it on a cauldron of burning coals (the traditional Iraqi method for grilling fish). Patrons get to choose their fish (it costs by the kilo) and it takes 45 minutes to cook, but it’s worth the wait. It comes served with raw onions, lemon, Arabic bread and some tongue-tinglingly sharp mango chutney. Plus, it feels refreshingly healthy to consume. Al Bayt Al Baghdadi, Al Muteena Street, near Sheraton Deira (04 273 7064). Dhs60 per kilo.
Juicy slices of guinea fowl meet tender morsels of veal in this somewhat deconstructed (though delicious) take on the traditional roast bird. A rich purée of beetroot adds to the lushness of the dish. The whole effect is the very essence of earthiness. Rare, Desert Palm (04 323 8888). Dhs95.
Japanese mackerel sashimi
With so many new sushi joints in town, it says something special if one batch stands out. We’re enthralled with the Japanese-imported mackerel served at Okku: the flesh is sweet, smoky and subtle, while the texture – firm yet yielding – dissolves on the tongue. Okku, The Monarch Dubai (04 501 8888). Dhs60.
Alternating layers of plump, drooling chicken, perfectly pink steak and drippy slices of green capsicum come basted in a garlicky marinade. If any dish could shatter your preconceptions that all kebabs are the same, this is the one. Sop up the whole thing with an order of mizra ghasemi, the traditional Persian aubergine dip. Abshar, Al Butin Plaza, Al Maktoum Street, Deira (04 223 0555). Dhs55.
We’re not sure how they do it, but the folks at Sarai manage to make the lamb meat in this kebab effervescent. It’s so tender that it’s difficult to grasp with a fork, and the second it hits the tongue, it evaporates – perhaps it’s the rich butter-yoghurt sauce. It’s certainly one of our favourite kebabs in town. Sarai, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Bahar (04 438 0640). Dhs42.
King Island salmon
Juraj Kaina, the masterful chef at The Edge, has managed to magnify the flavour of every ingredient he puts on a plate. Though we’re hard pressed to pick just one favourite, we’re smitten with the King Island salmon, which Kaina serves tartare and smoked in-house, and with an intense puree of pea essence. The Edge, Building 6, DIFC (04 363 7770). Part of a Dhs600 dinner prix fixe.
Konju manga curry
Exemplifying the majesty of the dishes at this south Indian haunt, the union of meaty prawns, creamy coconut and tangy mango is Keralan paradise on a plate. Coconut Grove, Rydges Plaza (04 398 2222). Dhs50.
An innovative mix of top-quality ingredients is just one of the things that define Pierre Gagnaire’s cooking. Nowhere is that more evident than in his handling of the langoustine, which at Reflets comes out as six separate dishes. Describing them does them no justice, although we will reveal that we adore the langoustine mousseline with watermelon and fresh soy. Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, InterContinental, Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111). Dhs310.
La Reale pizza
This may be one of the best pizzas in town. The crust is plump, the buffalo mozzarella is dribbly and exquisite, the tomatoes are fresh and juicy, and pliant strips of buffalo prosciutto make this pizza truly seductive. Fratelli La Bufala, Arabian Centre, Mirdif (050 360 1983). Dhs39.
UAE-based Forrey & Galland sells airy macaroons every bit as good as those you’d find in France. The ingredients are fresh and the fillings are vibrant. Try the Middle East-inspired flavours, such as rose and halwa, or stick to classics like raspberry. Forrey & Galland, The Dubai Mall (04 339 8850). Dhs38 for 10.
It’s easy to fall for mantu. For starters, they’re novel – which we love. But more than that, these steamed Afghani dumplings are delicious. They come stuffed with minced beef and onions and are topped with yoghurt, dried mint and a helping of coriander. Afghan Cuisine, International City, Russia, V14 (04 422 7922). Dhs10.
The traditional, Persian baked aubergine dip is among the best we’ve sampled in Dubai. Topped with a generous helping of crispy, caramelised onions, the spread is elegant, smoky and addictive. Shabestan, Radisson Blu, Dubai Deira Creek (04 222 7171). Dhs42.
Accoutrements are key to making this one of the best burgers in the city. The burger (itself a big, succulent beast) comes stacked on a tiered tray spilling with every topping imaginable – from crispy onions to mango chutney. Pile everything on the meat and dig in. More Café, Garhoud (04 283 0224). Other locations: Al Murooj Rotana (04 321 1111), Gold & Diamond Park (04 323 4350). Dhs55.
Mutton Ïskender kebab
Few words do justice to this lush dish. Large morsels of tender meat come topped with fresh yoghurt, then are doused with sprigs of coriander and a luscious, hearty tomato sauce with chunks that betray it just came off the stove. Istanbul Flowers, Sheikh Zayed Road, underneath Safestway (04 343 4585). Dhs38.
Tender shards of lamb shank (served on the bone for added flavour) fall apart at the merest prod of a fork. We adore the chunky, earthy gravy – soak it all up with the accompanying cloud of cumin-studded rice. Aangan, Dhow Palace (04 359 9992). Dhs59.
Night meals thali
This delicious assortment of tiny curries changes on a daily basis, though the deceptively massive collection aims to hit a range of different tastes. While we never know what we’re going to get, we’re never disappointed at this stark, yet splendid, vegetarian South Indian cafeteria. Aryaas, Al Nakheel building, opp. LuLu Centre, Karama (04 335 5776). Dhs10.
Pla nueng see-iew
In Bangkok, Soi55 is a street notorious for its food stalls, so it’s an apt name for this restaurant, whose food is the real deal – this simple steamed fish is emblematic of anything you’d find in the city itself. This fish is juicy, super-sharp and not a little spicy – everything you’d hope to find on the table in Thailand. Soi55, International City, France, P13 (04 422 1235). Dhs38.
Thick, tender pork ribs come basted in a sticky, smoky barbecue sauce. The portion is easily large enough for two filling meals, and the meat is so tender it comes cleanly off the bones. Loca, Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa (04 346 1111). Dhs82.
There are a lot of wonderful dishes at Duck King (among them, the duck), but there’s something about this unusual item that never fails to delight. This airy, fried dumpling uses potatoes for the base of its shell, with minced veg inside. The whole thing is topped with a clove, which gives it a toasty, spicy flavour. Duck King, Jumeirah Beach Plaza (04 342 8041). Dhs24.
Melting cannons of lamb are so juicy we may have swooned when we bit into them. Served with an earthy aubergine gratin and braised shallots, this dish is worth the Verre price tag. Verre, Hilton Dubai Creek (04 227 1111). Part of the Dhs350 mini prestige menu (served after 9pm) and the Dhs950 prestige menu.
Shanghai smoked fish
While the lack of details on the menu or from staff can be infuriating, we still love this sweet, inky smoked fish (let’s assume it’s hammour). Set in a sweet, tar-like honey sesame marinade, the fillet is crisp and addictive. Hukama, The Address, Downtown Burj Dubai (04 436 8888). Dhs75.
Spicy chicken with cashews
The only way the ingredients could be any fresher at China Sea is if they were running around under the tables. They come raw and shrink-wrapped in a cooler near the entrance – point to what you want, and the waiters bring it out cooked. This crispy dish possesses an unassuming heat that takes its time before making its presence known. China Sea, Al Maktoum Street, Deira (04 295 9815). Dhs42.
This Moroccan dish comes with gentle, buttery chunks of lamb that require no knife for consumption. The braising sauce is a musky mix of onions, garlic, prunes and almonds. Khan Murjan Restaurant, Wafi (04 324 4555). Dhs65.
Tandoori lal jheenga
We adore the effect the clay oven has on seafood. After taking a turn in the tandoor, these thick, meaty prawns, basted in a gloriously fiery marinade, have a consistency so soft they nearly implode on the tongue. India Palace, Near Al Tayer Motors, Garhoud (04 286 9600). Dhs48.
If this fish had any fat, it’s obliterated in the tandoori oven. The result is achingly tender, rare salmon, which, thanks to a honey, yoghurt and chilli marinade, is also smoulderingly sweet. Indego, Grosvenor House (04 399 8888). Dhs75.
It’s hard to believe that any fish could be as supple as Ossiano’s fillet of Tasmanian salmon, which has a sneaky way of evaporating when it hits the tongue. It is such an exceptional ingredient that the kitchen – trained under Michelin-starred Spanish Santi Santamaria – opts to serve it with little more than a sprinkling of salt. Ossiano, Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0770). Part of the Dhs650 tasting menu
A layer of yielding barbecued eel tops a sliver of baked apple and a square of foie gras. The three are then basted in a balsamic reduction. It is actually an inspired combo: soft, musty and sensual. Mirai, Souk Al Bahar (04 439 7333). Dhs85.
We’ve never had a cut of meat quite like the fillet of veal at Ronda Locatelli. It’s as tender as mousse, and it comes in a sweet, spicy mustard crust. Almost as soon as it hits the tongue, it’s gone. Ronda Locatelli, Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 0750). Dhs220.
Wagyu beef carpaccio
Just looking at this dish is pleasurable. The beef – cut as thin as pages from the Oxford English Dictionary – shimmers like rubies on the plate. The marbles of fat are as delicate as capillaries. A drizzle of vinaigrette is all that’s needed to bring out the beef nuances. Signatures, Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa (04 883 6000). Dhs115.
Wagyu filet mignon
There’s a reason we voted The Exchange Grill one of the best steakhouses in town at our Eating Out awards; its meat is excellent. The wagyu filet mignon is one of our favourites, with a texture as tender as mousse. The Exchange Grill, The Fairmont (04 332 5555). Dhs450 for 7oz.
Warmed smoked salmon
Warm smoked salmon and wasabi ice cream – an odd marriage that you’d never think would work, but does. The wasabi is creamy with a subtle hint of spice, and it melts in unison with the salmon as soon as it hits the tongue. Observatory, Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites (04 319 4000). Dhs75.
White tomato soup
The folks at Rhodes are kind enough to serve this excellent soup before the meal as an amuse bouches. The teacup-sized portion is sharp, creamy and utterly delicious. So what makes it white? The staff tells us they peel and seed every tomato before it goes in. Rhodes Mezzanine, Grosvenor House (04 399 8888). Included with meal.
And the five weirdest...
Chikuwa tempura As a snack, chikuwa – essentially a processed fish hotdog – is popular in Japan, but no self-respecting high-end restaurant would seriously consider putting it on the menu, right? Wrong. Kitsune serves it as a tempura. Let’s just say it’s an… interesting dish. Kitsune, The Fairmont (04 332 7660). Dhs58.
Signature maki We know how much some of Dubai’s chefs love shoving luxury ingredients into every dish, but sometimes it doesn’t work. I mean, foie gras sushi? If that’s not enough, the Cavalli kitchen coats the whole thing in gold leaf. Cavalli Club, The Fairmont (04 332 9260). Dhs290.
Skittles sweet and sour light-up spray candy This is liquid candy that you spray in your mouth. Scary. We shudder to think of all the E numbers we ingest with each squirt. Candylicious, The Dubai Mall (04 330 8700). Dhs12.
Trio of chocolate with Fisherman’s Friend ice cream We were terrified when we first tried this throat lozenge-inspired dessert, but to our surprise, it was better than we expected. Perhaps we weren’t the only ones who were perturbed – the venue has since swapped Fisherman’s Friend ice cream for the more palatable liquorice. Observatory, Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites (04 319 4000). Dhs40.
Twice-boiled pear Weird, yes, but wonderful too. This cider-esque pear soup (listed under desserts) comes with smooth bits of white fungus. It’s not the type of dish you’d expect to like, but ultimately, you just can’t help it. Ding Xiu Xuan, Al Khaleej Palace (04 223 1000). Dhs18.