We pay homage to the quirkier aspects of Dubai restaurants
The winners have been announced, the awards have been collected and Time Out’s professional eaters have already started re-reviewing restaurants for the 2013 Awards. But as the heady celebrations die down and the dust settles, we thought now would be as good a time as any to honour the quirkier side of the city’s dining scene.
So, without further ado, we present the winners and runners-up of Time Out Dubai’s Alternative Restaurant Awards – after all, it’s the little things that make this city tick.
Winner Bento Ya Other than decor, service and food, the quality of a restaurant’s toilet is always brought up at some stage in the evening. And while everyone always remembers a nasty toilet experience, nice ones linger in the memory for just as long, which is why (after much lengthy discussion) we decided the Time Out Award for ‘Best Toilets’ goes to Bento Ya. Admittedly the washrooms of this modestly sized Sheikh Zayed establishment aren’t as gilt-edged as, say, 101 or Reflets, but the fact that the toilet has buttons to raise and lower the seat is enough to clinch this much-coveted award. Lavatories aside, the restaurant also serves a rather good thick-cut, nine-piece salmon sashimi platter and ebi tempura. Open daily noon-4pm; 6.30pm-11.30pm. Sheikh Zayed Road, behind Skechers (04 343 0222).
Highly Commended 101 The washrooms are so pretty you could eat dinner in there. Keep this in mind if you struggle to get a table. One&Only The Palm (04 440 1010)
Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire The mirrored walls may make you feel self-conscious, but they’re an undeniably cool design. InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111).
Most out-of-the-way location
Winner Rare Everywhere is a drive away in Dubai, but there are some places so off the beaten path, you can’t help but wonder how costs are covered (other than having a multi-millionaire local backer, that is). However, some places are worth the journey, which is certainly true of Rare. Follow the Al Awir Road, pass International City and then Dragonmart and, providing you don’t get too frightened and turn back, you’ll find this gem of a steakhouse (which, incidentally, is shortlisted for Best Steakhouse in our awards). And since there’s nothing else by way of civilisation in this neck of the woods/patch of the desert, the setting is really rather lovely – Rare occupies an enviable position at the edge of the resort’s polo field, with an expansive covered terrace providing a panorama of the distant Downtown skyline. The steaks are top-notch too. Open daily 7pm-11pm. Desert Palm Resort & Spa, Al Awir Road, near International City (04 323 8888).
Highly commended Amala We’re big fans of this relatively inexpensive Indian restaurant in Zabeel Saray, but we’re not overly enamoured by the drive up The Palm, all the way round the West Crescent and back to more or less where we started from. But then, this can be said of all the restaurants on the island. The West Crescent, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0444).
Prime Steakhouse Another shortlisted steakhouse in another inconvenient location; Prime is the main reason to go to Dubai’s famous racecourse when the races aren’t on. Note: if you want to get back home by taxi, the hotel will pay drivers the cost of a fare to the hotel so they will come and pick you up. The Meydan, Nad Al Sheba (04 381 3231).
Most novel dining experience
Winner Dinner on a Doughnut If Dinner in the Sky was still in operation (diners effectively ate at a table hanging from a crane), then the outcome of this category might have been different. As it stands, however, the fact you can hire out a small doughnut-shaped boat, which you drive yourself, while cooking on the onboard barbecue station, is enough to convince us to hand over the award to Dinner on a Doughnut at The Boardwalk. We are disappointed, however, that diners/sailors are not administered with any kind of nautical accessories/pirate outfits.
Dinner on a doughnut packages are charged per six people for two hours of sailing time and include the Tasty Mix (Dhs1,200), MeditArabian Delights (Dhs1,550), Creekside Indulgence (Dhs1,950) or the afternoon tea package (Dhs950). A captain to drive the boat cost an extra Dhs200. Available daily noon-9pm. The Boardwalk, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira, www.dubaigolf.com (04 295 6000).
Highly commended Tchaikovsky Eat stodgy Russian food to the backdrop of ballet, go-go and barynya dancing. Amazing. Byblos Dubai Marina (04 448 2222).
The Tomahawk Challenge Eat two kilos of meat and 300g of fries in an hour, and you don’t have to pay. Need we say more? Dhs690 for those who don’t finish in time; free for those who do. Terra Firma, InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111).
Winner Curry and toast at Curry & Toast Balance, flavour, season, presentation – there are so many components to a truly great dish. However, it seems we spend a great deal of time celebrating exquisite culinary creations and not enough focusing on more bizarre offerings. Our review of Curry & Toast back in September 2011 was effectively a protracted rant about how someone, somewhere, has made millions by combining curry and, well, toast because he (or she) was too lazy to boil rice. Having already wowed India with thick slabs of what is best described as French toast and curry sauce prickling with spice. The piece de resistance at Curry and Toast is the minced lamb ‘Round Up’ – essentially like a Big Mac, but with curried lamb instead of a meat patty and Secret Sauce. Very fun, very silly, and worth a visit. Open daily noon-midnight. Trade Centre Road, Karama (04 354 7477).
Highly commended Stir-fried ostrich at Hakkasan How an ostrich found its way into a Chinese kitchen, we’ll never know, but we’re sure it regrets it. Jumeirah Emirates Towers (04 384 8484).
Tomahawk steak at Terra Firma Again: two kilos of meat. Need we say more? InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111).
Most unusual name
Winner Smiling BKK It must be difficult to conjure up an alluring name for a restaurant without falling into tried, tested and positively tired clichés (if we visit another Italian restaurant called Al Fresco or Al Dente, we won’t be held responsible for our actions). The proprietor of Smiling BKK thinks differently to the average restaurateur and just went with the wackiest, cheeriest name he could. And it works: You can’t help but smile when uttering the words ‘Smiling BKK’, a name that’s substantiated by the lunacy of the restaurant itself – think kitsch decor and crazy, cheerful staff. Open daily 11am-midnight. Al Wasl Plaza, Al Wasl Road, behind the Emarat petrol station near Safa Park (04 349 6677).
Highly Commended At.mosphere The dot never fails to intrigue us. Burj Khalifa (04 888 3828).
Student Biryani It’s implausible that a biryani, chicken or otherwise, could or would attendan institution of learning, so why name a restaurant as such? Kuwait Street, Karama (04 336 9992).
Most memorable staff
Winner New Sarhad Darbar This innocuous restaurant near Mall of the Emirates sticks in our memory thanks to one man – a dwarf, dressed as a maharaja, who cheerfully greets guests and shows them to their tables. The fact that most guests at this eatery – which specialises in budget Pakistani fare – are taxi drivers stopping in for a quick bite, doesn’t matter a jot. He still goes about his work as if he was welcoming people celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. All in all, rather heart-warming. Open daily 6am-midnight. Al Barsha, near Mall of the Emirates (04 395 0194).
Highly commended Hard Rock Café They’re so zany, personable and fun, they could easily be kids’ TV presenters. Take that as you will. Dubai Festival City (04 232 8900).
Johnny Rockets They sing, they dance, they make milkshakes and decent burgers – could you ask for more jolly staff? We think not. Just be sure you can stomach at least three renditions of ‘Greased Lightning’ during your meal. Dubai Marina Walk (04 368 2339).