VIDEO: Why we chose the Restaurant Awards 2012 winners
Time Out Dubai staff
It’s been a busy year for Time Out. Collectively, the team has eaten at 473 restaurants across town, reviewing and scoring them according to the quality of food, service, and atmosphere – a long, painstaking (not to mention fattening) process that garnered 20 shortlists, from which two highly commended venues and one overall winner was picked for each category. From these, we also chose an outright winner for Best Restaurant. Of course, we’re not complaining – if anything, our eating feats illustrate the diversity of Dubai’s restaurant scene, as well as showing just how far it has come over the past year.
There seems to be a new opening every week – whether it’s a high-end restaurant, a cosy café or a hidden gem serving authentic, affordable fare. These new restaurants, and the hundreds of established spots we’ve revisited, contribute to Dubai’s ever-growing, always-exciting dining scene, meaning plenty more top-notch restaurants for you, the diner, to check out. With this in mind, happy reading and bon appétit!
If DIFC is the king of the business lunch, Caramel holds court for the area’s workers who demand quality from their after-hours snacks and drinks. Leave the office behind in favour of delicate spicy tuna rolls and light yet substantial kobe sliders. Intimate lighting and bustling, plentiful waiters make for a busy atmosphere even when the restaurant is sparse. True to its name, Caramel is as sweet as it gets when it comes to bar food.
This year’s highly commended accolades go to The Terrace and RED Lounge. The former adopts a less-is-more attitude; classics such as salads, burgers, fish and chips are presented as a gourmet take on pub grub, while the latter takes a distinct Chinese theme, serving innovative and delectable dim sum dishes.
Winner Mina A’ Salam Dhs365 (soft drinks), Dhs425 (bubbly and selected house beverages), free for children under 12. Fri 12.30pm-4pm. Al Muna and The Wharf, Mina A’ Salam, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Spectrum on One Dhs295 (soft drinks), Dhs395 (house beverages), Dhs550 (bubbly). Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 332 5555).
In a year that has seen many of the top-tier brunches hike their prices past the Dhs500 mark, the Mina A’ Salam brunch has kept its fee relatively affordable, while staying true to its culinary principles. No matter how many times you visit this sprawling Friday feast, you’ll always find something new to sample, whether it’s the quesadilla stand, jaw-dropping cheese room or counter packed with traditional Chinese dim sum.
Another waterside to catch our attention is Traiteur on the creek, which serves ups high-end French fare from a sizzling open kitchen – everyone must visit at least once (it’s a worthwhile treat). Spectrum on One is back on our radar – its huge array of quality cuisine and convivial atmosphere make it worthy of the highly commended award.
The size and stark simplicity of Aryaas’s Bur Dubai branch is more than compensated for by warm service and delicious food. Try the rava idli and kal dosa to start, followed by appam, chettinadu paniyara and the special masala. Each dish is light and delicate in its own right, but together they prove a formidable feast.
Over in Karama, another Indian restaurant that serves high-quality food at low costs is Calicut Paragon – try the steaming parathas. And, try as we might, we just can’t wean ourselves off Ravi’s consistently excellent and ever-so-cheap fare (try the chicken jalfrezi).
High-end Japanese restaurant Zuma epitomises the perfect business lunch – swift service, a sophisticated setting and fantastic food. The fact that the restaurant serves an average of 3,300 ebisu set lunch menus every month speaks volumes.
If ever there were a way to impress an out-of-town contact, it’s picking them up in a BMW 7 Series and whisking them off to Al Mahara. Slightly more modest, but just as effective, is the Manhattan Grill set lunch; three courses for a mere Dhs100.
Winner The Lime Tree Café & Kitchen Jumeirah Beach Road (04 349 8498).
Basta Art Café Al Fahidi Street, Bastakiya (04 353 5071).
How can you argue with the Lime Tree’s timeless appeal and consistently excellent offerings? From the wide, rotating selection of salads to the divinely decadent puddings and the thirst-quenching selection of mocktails, the home-made offerings never fail to delight. What’s more, the Jumeirah villa-and-garden setting is a haven for those looking for a little civilised quiet time to read the complimentary magazines and papers.
Baker & Spice has been doing great business using fresh, local produce in delicious salads and sandwiches, as well as selling wonderful jams and cakes. Basta Art Café, meanwhile, is worthy of its highly commended accolade thanks to its beautiful leafy courtyard setting and super salads (think mountains of colourful super-foods served with a fiery dressing and warm bread on the side) – an ideal spot for a healthy start to your weekend.
Winner Jamie’s Italian Marina Promenade, Dubai Festival City (04 232 9969).
More Café Marina Promenade, Dubai Festival City (04 232 6299).
Let’s face it – Jamie Oliver is all about creating tasty, freshly made food for families. The 36-year-old British chef has four children himself, so you can certainly expect your nippers to receive a warm welcome at his first Dubai restaurant. The kids’ menu is presented via viewfinder, there are plenty of games to keep them occupied during dinner and the dishes are healthy too – a win-win option for a fun family meal.
This year’s highly commended awards go to the all-singing, all-dancing Johnny Rockets, which is a great place to take kids for a birthday treat (after all, they can’t eat burgers every day of the week), and the Dubai Festival City branch of More Café, which impressed us with its fast service, waterside setting and tolerant attitude to noisy families.
Winner 101 One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1010).
Highly Commended Majlis Al Bahar Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah (04 301 7600).
Pierchic Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
From the moment you step onto the boat that speeds you to the restaurant’s door to the moment you sit down at this beautifully appointed restaurant, 101 dazzles. It’s a venue that can accommodate all manner of romantic interludes – first-daters can keep it casual by dining outside, while die-hard romantics can impress in the gilt-edged interior. The food is delicate (sparing you from difficult-to-negotiate, potentially embarrassing dishes) and service is discreet.
Majlis Al Bahar, located directly behind the Burj Al Arab, offers a spellbinding al-fresco setting and an affordable barbecue dining option. Pierchic, framed by the turquoise waters of the Gulf, boasts a breathtaking setting and you’ll fall in love with the artfully prepared seafood dishes served.
Winner Pierchic Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Highly Commended Ossiano Atlantis The Palm (04 426 2626).
Peppercrab Grand Hyatt Dubai, Oud Metha (04 317 1234).
Pierchic complements its picture-postcard setting at the end of a Burj-facing pier with plenty of quality fare. Everything from the herb butter and soft bread served at the beginning of the meal to the formidably sized oysters underline the strength and depth of the menu at this Al Qasr venue.
Look past Ossiano’s elaborate, over-the-top setting, and concentrate on the finesse of the seafood offerings, and it becomes clear why the Atlantis restaurant is a worthy runner-up this year. The refurbished Peppercrab restaurant offers exotic and innovative South-East Asian dishes – including the dish from which the restaurant takes its name, which, in our opinion, will always invigorate and excite taste buds.
From the plush carpeted interior and generously spaced tables to the gliding, ultra-professional staff, it doesn’t take long to work out that The Exchange Grill is in a class of its own. Diners are treated to the highest quality steaks, caressed with expertise on the grill and served with well-thought-out accompaniments.
For this year’s highly commended awards, Hunters provides a relaxed, intimate dining experience, which is further complemented by friendly, accommodating staff. Prime cuts are grilled lovingly in the open kitchen, making for a most memorable dining experience. The Rib Room, meanwhile, has proved a quality option after its mid-2011 facelift: a transformation that offers diners fantastic food that lives up to the sleek environs.
Winner Hukama The Address Downtown Dubai (04 888 3444).
The China Club Radisson Blu Hotel Dubai Deira Creek, Baniyas Street (04 222 7171).
Hukama exudes a quiet sophistication, which is substantiated by the weighty menu that blends provincial Chinese cuisine with contemporary fare. À la carte choices sit opposite a perfectly formed range of dim sum, while portion sizes are small, but surprisingly filling – perhaps because each perfectly balanced dish is bursting with flavour.
The hefty prices at Shang Palace are more than justified once you bite into expertly prepared dishes such as sautéed tenderloin with fresh chilli or the poached fish with Szechuan peppercorns. And The China Club offers a serene environment in which cuisine from across China is served by knowledgeable, helpful staff.
Winner Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111).
STAY by Yannick Alléno One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1010).
This category celebrates the innovation of the Dubai chefs who push the boundaries of European haute cuisine. Reflets has managed to retain the award thanks to the attentiveness of the staff and the quality of the food, which tickles, tricks and teases taste buds.
Rhodes Mezzanine continues to capture the imagination of the city’s most discerning diners with its wonderful venue, attentive staff and unique takes on British classics, while STAY by Yannick Alléno is a work of art in terms of aesthetic finesse and the food served – a special mention goes to the splendid dessert library.
Winner La Petite Maison DIFC (04 439 0505).
Highly Commended STAY by Yannick Alléno One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 440 1010).
Traiteur Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
The French almost single-handedly shaped the modern-day perception of dining, which is fitting considering some of modern Dubai’s best restaurants are of the French variety. La Petite Maison is the beating heart of DIFC’s restaurant scene, which, considering its esteemed neighbours, is quite some feat. Everything about it oozes effortless sophistication, from the wonderfully knowledgeable staff to the buzzing atmosphere and the superb Niçoise food.
Though STAY by Yannick Alléno’s contemporary credentials place it high in our regard (especially in the form of its playful, creative desserts), we also love its undeniably French demeanour, which filters into divinely prepared dishes such as wild pigeon chartreuse (served with foie gras, savoy cabbage and perigourdine sauce) and poached goujonettes. Rounding off this esteemed roster is Traiteur. The long-standing Deira restaurant has never once strayed from its Gallic culinary principles, and the result has always been quality, filling, traditional French fare. As clichéd as it might sound, the escargots delight on every visit, while the high-ceilinged setting, combined with the sizzle of the kitchen and charming service, makes for a quite fantastic evening out.
Winner Asha’s Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4100).
Highly Commended Ashiana Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, Deira (04 228 1111).
Indego by Vineet Grosvenor House Dubai, Tower One, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
The elegant, modern decor of Asha’s is complemented by efficient, friendly service. And the food? It sings. The kebabs are guaranteed palate pleasers, comprising the most tender cuts of meat, roasted and grilled to as close to perfection as you’ll likely taste in the city. We’re happy to present the award to Asha’s for the first time, in its 10th year.
This year’s highly commended awards go to Ashiana – the venue is cosy and inviting, while the cuisine itself is packed with rich, colourful spices – and Indego by Vineet, a restaurant wonderfully represented by the statue of Shiva at the door. In the form of Nataraja, Shiva is known to perform a divine dance; divine, being a perfect adjective for the fish tikka or the madras homestyle chicken.
Winner Beach Bar & Grill One&Only Royal Mirage, Jumeirah (04 399 9999). Highly Commended Bateaux Dubai Al Seef Road (opposite British Embassy), Bur Dubai (04 399 4994).
The Observatory Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel & Suites (04 319 4000).
Beach Bar & Grill’s menu features everything from traditional Arabic mezze to club sandwiches to Mediterranean seafood dishes. Try the Portuguese cataplana of shellfish (clams, mussels, prawns, scallops and crabs with cooked beef chorizo, tomatoes, vegetables and fresh herbs) or the simple-yet-delicious seafood and steak. The restaurant is laid back, yet ever so classy, and the kind of place you wish you had the time and money to eat at every lunchtime.
Bateaux Dubai has proved a fantastic addition to the city’s slew of international restaurants with innovative set menus, which are served swiftly and efficiently each and every night as the boat-based restaurant meanders down the creek. The Observatory offers a small but varied menu (grills, steak, fish, pasta and more) and considering its outstanding service, quality of food and memorable setting, the restaurant offers unbeatable value.
Winner Medzo Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4100).
Highly Commended BiCE Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, The Walk at JBR (04 399 1111). Bussola Pizzeria The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi (04 511 7136).
Run passionately by Italian dame Nonna Livia, Medzo has come back to win the top prize for the first time since 2006. The veal loin wrapped in prosciutto, for example, is a triumph in taste and appearance, served with a reduction of veal stock and pan juices that complement the porcini ragout perfectly.
After its renovation, Italian favourite BiCE in Hilton Jumeirah has gone from strength to strength and now offers sleek, understated decor, and impressive food. The second highly commended goes to Bussola Pizzeria, which marries traditional Italian pizzas with a wonderful setting – a perfect place to entertain out-of-town-guests or simply enjoy a laid-back meal with friends.
Winner Zuma DIFC, Gate Village 6 (04 425 5660).
Highly Commended Nobu Atlantis The Palm (04 426 2626).
Okku The Monarch Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 501 8777).
It is a credit to Japanese favourite Zuma that it has been a contender in this section – one of the most hotly contested of the awards – since it opened in late 2008. This year, however, it makes the leap from highly commended (at last year’s awards) to the best Japanese restaurant of 2012, thanks to its eternally vibrant atmosphere and creative takes on Japanese and Asian dishes.
Last year’s winner – and this year’s highly commended – is still a perennial favourite. Okku’s extensive, evolving menu is where the restaurant’s strength lies – the new menu features wonders such as sea bass and papaya. Nobu has a another string in its bow thanks to its new Japanese garden, where dishes such as hamachi jalapeño can be enjoyed in a serene setting. Bliss.
Winner Asado The Palace, The Old Town, Downtown Dubai (04 428 7888).
Highly Commended La Parrilla Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 348 0000).
Maya by Richard Sandoval Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina (04 399 5555).
The dim lighting, dark wood and exposed-brick walls set the scene for Asado, which serves up an array of faultless Argentinian and Latin American classics, from empanadas to Lomaso beef tenderloin. The service is swift and efficient, and the sommelier is the perfect guide to Asado’s huge collection of Argentinian grape.
La Parrilla reclaims its highly commended award from 2011’s awards and still offers guests a perfect combination of South American style and sumptuous substance. Maya, meanwhile, is still going strong with its contemporary Mexican and Latin American servings, which continue to capture the imagination of diners.
Highly Commended Al Nafoorah Jumeirah Emirates Towers (04 319 8088).
Almaz by Momo Harvey Nichols, Mall of the Emirates (04 409 8877).
Reclaiming the award for Best MENA, Khan Murjan is a bustling, atmospheric spot that has enjoyed well-deserved popularity throughout the year. The unique ‘indoor-outdoor’ setting is embellished with lanterns, a water-wheel and Arabic musicians. The staff are prompt and alert, handling the flow of customers with aplomb.
This year’s first highly commended award goes to Al Nafoorah, whose chameleonic decor contributes to a perfect family gathering. Whatever the occasion, all will enjoy the restaurant’s luxury approach to Lebanese cuisine. Also highly commended is Almaz by Momo, possibly one of Mall of the Emirates’ best-kept secrets. Happily, the reverberating din of the mall is lost as soon as you walk into the restaurant’s beautifully wrought interior and sample the tagines and pigeon pastille.
South-East and Pan Asian
Winner Thiptara The Palace, Downtown (04 428 7888).
The Thai Kitchen Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
From its scenic setting to the refined menu, Thiptara offers a near-faultless Thai fine-dining experience. Take a seat with views of the Dubai Fountain and enjoy dishes such as steamed sea bass with chilli and lime, or seafood green curry with scallops, prawns and mussels, brought to the table by friendly staff.
The highly commended awards go to Hoi An, which continues its tradition of exquisite Vietnamese food, and The Thai Kitchen, which has impressed over the year with its commitment to affordable, delicious Thai food, served in a sublime setting.
Table 9 by Nick and Scott Hilton Dubai Creek, Deira (04 227 1111).
In the most hotly contested Newcomer category in memory, kudos is due to this year’s winner, Toro Toro. Dishes such as ceviche de mariscos, picadillo empanda palopmilla steak, and the potato tostones offer hearty yet luxurious fare, while young, enthusiastic staff ensure there’s never a dip in the tempo. What’s more, the venue provides a great setting for a memorable dining experience – Toro Toro has established itself as the new Dubai destination.
Highly commended Gaucho somehow raised the bar for the already excellent steakhouses and Latin American restaurants in Dubai, offering charismatic service, butter-soft steaks and a cracking location. But Toro Toro was pushed all the way by Table 9 by Nick and Scott. Situated in the venue formerly occupied by Verre by Gordon Ramsay, it has become a wonderful platform for the young chefs to showcase their talent. Innovative dishes such as ‘hen’s egg, cepes, vinegar caramel’ make this one of the most innovative in town.
Winner La Petite Maison DIFC (04 439 0505).
La Petite Maison’s contribution to Dubai’s restaurant culture should not be underestimated. The beautifully conceived venue, in many ways, contradicts the pervading attitude in Dubai that ‘bigger is better’ – its dimensions and tightly packed table settings ensure that the atmosphere is always electric and dining there is an exciting, memorable experience. This sentiment is upheld by the ever-changing menu, listing a multitude of sharing dishes that are whisked to your table as soon as they’re ready. Even the smallest, simplest dishes – the salade de haricots verts au foie gras and the Carpaccio de coquille St Jacques – are enough to enthuse and enliven. Perhaps more impressive, however, is the restaurant’s ability to build on the high standards it continues to set itself, rendering it just as good, if not better, than the day it scooped Best Newcomer in 2011. Considering the influx of such quality this year, La Petite Maison will face tough competition to retain its mantle, but right now it’s the best in Dubai.