Time Out Dubai guide to JLT cafes and restaurants; best places to eat in JLT defined by price and cuisine, with reviews, contact info, hours and deals.
Pub grub, pizza and great breakfast spots spring to mind when thinking of food in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Organised in 26 clusters (named as each letter of the alphabet), so many great JLT eateries may not be ones you easily stumble upon. But there’s plenty here worth travelling to specifically. Home to Bonnington, Oaks Liwa, Armada Bluebay, Movenpick and Pullman hotels, expect big food chains from across the globe as well as some smaller names, plus gorgeous waterfront views around the famous manmade ponds.
McGettigan’s is an Irish bar that will remind you why Irish bars are so popular in the first place. From the dark wood interiors, exposed bookshelves and cosy log corners, the pub has a homely, welcoming feeling. Customers can perch themselves on a high stool at the counter and watch the latest sports action or gather around a table and take in the daily live entertainment. The venue is packed almost every evening so it can be quite smoky. However, there is a large outdoor terrace with comfy sofas and wooden picnic style tables, which are perfect during the cooler months. The great thing about this Irish bar is that on top of the lively atmosphere, you have a rather impressive range of pub grub dishes. Choose from tasty, filling pie dishes, classic choices such as fish and chips or a traditional all-day Irish breakfast. The food is fuss-free, appetising and you get generous portions for your money. On top of that, with such efficient service, it’s hard to fault this place.
The first thing to say about Nola is that it’s really difficult to get a table. In part, that’s because it’s so popular, but also there’s a chance, as there was when we had a reservation, you’ll be cancelled on the day “because a larger group has just asked to take over your part of the restaurant”.
This is also our fourth attempt to eat at the restaurant, with similar calamities befalling us previously. When we finally manage to get a table, order food and receive it without one of the waiters nabbing a few tortillas from our plate, we’re a little underwhelmed. Yes, Nola feels original for Dubai – a good-looking, partly open-air, ground level nightspot, with live music and a central marble-topped bar that is absolutely heaving.
What it isn’t, is a place where you can really enjoy a meal.
Nola – a name affectionately given to New Orleans – has a menu packed with traditional Southern American foods, but not all of it has the taste to back up the ambition. The veggie jambalaya, for example, is flavourless, despite claiming to have smoked bell peppers and spicy Creole rice. The cornflake chicken, though, has a terrifically crumbly crust and the zucchini waffle is perfectly textured.
Nola almost claws back a win with dessert, providing you can handle the Mississippi Mud Moelleux or Oreo chocolate cheesecake. But by the time you finish your mains, you may well have had enough altogether.
The bottom line A great bar, but an uncomfortable place for a meal.
With its stripped-back decor and great use of large windows that allow in plenty of natural light, this JLT eatery has a clean and, dare we say it, fresh feel, with a menu to match. A hub for business lunchers and families, there’s enough on offer to suit most tastes. A reasonably priced all-you-can-eat brunch is available, but if you’d prefer to not to gorge yourself on egg dishes and croissants, you can go à la carte. The jerk chicken – or, to be precise, organic jerk poussin – is nicely spiced with a fair amount of kick. It comes with a gravy that although perfectly tasty, isn’t entirely necessary. The Maryland burger, a crab patty topped with lemon and garlic aioli, is the real winner though – flavoursome and juicy, with a certain tanginess. The staff are friendly and polite, even if the wait for drinks can be rather long. All in all, it’s a pleasant experience, but it’s a shame the lovely little patio area is out of bounds for those who don’t want to dine with the accompanying whir of the kitchen’s extractor fan.
Nofara is a cool, spacious café in JLT that offers healthy paleo cuisine, home-made juices and desserts in a bright, welcoming space. Seating is available both indoors and on the terrace, and a small number of children’s toys and play mats are on offer for customers with fun-sized people in tow. The menu is well thought out and offers a range of interesting dishes, including the exceptional melt-in-the-mouth French brioche toast with crispy turkey bacon and raspberry compote, as well as toasted date and nut bread. Although the location is great, the venue lovely and the food excellent, Nofara is sometimes let down by its service. If you’re in JLT, you’re hungry and you have lots of time on your hands, then pay them a visit – it will still be worth your while.
Even if you don’t live in JLT, it’s worth making the journey to this little Italian restaurant. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but inside you’ll find a sleek, minimalist dining space with large windows providing plenty of light. But what stands out here is the food, which is hearty, filling and very reasonably priced. It’s definitely worth trying the soup of the day, especially if it’s the mixed vegetable option, which is thick, perfectly seasoned and accompanied by satisfyingly crunchy croutons. The menu isn’t extensive, but what you get are well-cooked classics with a home-made touch. For rustic charm, go for the lasagne, which comes fresh from the oven and slightly crispy on top, with moist layers of pasta, rich sauce and tender meat inside. Service is also excellent, with staff on the day we visited apologising for the restaurant being quiet, and also offering suggestions and information about the dishes. Despite its understated location, this eatery shouldn’t be overlooked.
Ayubowan, Sinhalese for “welcome”, is a new(ish) addition to JLT and it’s certainly a welcome one with Sri Lankan cuisine so sporadically available until now.
It feels like Ayubowan has really thought about the décor and tried to make it feel like home, with dark, glossy, carved wooden doors, stone tiled floors, and staff dressed in colourful saris. It’s not themed or tacky, but an ambient touch of this island nation’s traditional aesthetics.
Staff are friendly and welcoming, but service varies depending on who you get at the table. We hope you get the waitress who guided us through every dish with helpful advice, as well as offering us samples of seasonal juice specials to try and wean us onto something more exciting and Sri Lankan than the lime juice.
From classic rice and curry to whole chilli crab, the choice is diverse. It’s also largely very authentic and really delicious. Try the mild but fragrant white curry with large, buttery chunks of fish, the creamy dahl with plump, whole lentils or the aubergine that arrives dramatically on a sizzling plate and has a sharp, garlic-packed punch in each bite.
Whether you hunger after Sri Lankan cooking or you’d like to venture into a new realm of dining, Ayubowan should be on your must list for value and flavour alike.
The bottom line Great option for authentic Sri Lankan eats.
Operating in Karama since 2007, Betawi has made a name for itself as a place to dine on authentic Indonesian dishes. Now a second outlet has popped up in JLT, serving equally impressive food. Expect no frills decor and low prices with food that is full of spice and flavour. We suspect, like us, most people won't be au fait with the particulars of Indonesian food, and while the menu isn't huge (a few soups, a handful of noodle dishes, nasi goreng and nasi padang) a few pointers from the staff can be very handy. The soto betawi, with chunks of beef in a spicy, coconut soup shouldn’t be missed, and neither should the nasi padang, featuring beef rendang, vegetable curry, an egg and sambal sauce with steamed rice. The nasi padang’s is aromatic with meat slow-cooked until it falls apart, the curry sauce sweet and spicy and the rice cooked perfectly. A word of warning about the sambal, though: ingest too much of the spicy sauce and you'll probably lose your sense of taste for a good five minutes.
There aren’t many occasions when we’re unsure of particular cuisines or strands of them, but when we heard about Café Isan, which claims to be the only restaurant serving Isan food in the city, we had to do a bit of research.
Luckily for us, that research means booking a table in the restaurant and asking the staff about it. Happily, the people who work there are rather fantastic and very passionate about what they do. It’s a small place, quite quaint, with room for about 50 diners (they deliver, too), and the cooking is done in front of you.
It’s clearly is a labour of love for the two co-owners, a British expat who has clearly spent some time in, and fallen in love with, Thailand, and the other a Thai lady who started by cooking food for her compatriots before opening the café. You can feel the care and excitement that they have for their new venture, which is extremely refreshing.
Isan is North Eastern Thailand, and the food there is lighter than you’ll usually find in Thai restaurants. Curries and soups are clear, rather than coconut-based, and it is all a touch more spicy.
With some help, we decided on spring rolls (plenty of vegetables and with a lovely chilli sauce), crispy sun-dried beef (which has a great chew and comes with an excellent spicy sauce), juicy stir-fired prawns that come with green beans, red onion and a garlic-soy sauce, and sticky rice.
Everything tastes clean and fresh, and is spicy in that way that only South East Asian cuisines manage – simultaneously as hot as the sun and as refreshing as a glass of young coconut water.
The prices are reasonable, the service superb, and the food delicious. It’s about time you tried Café Isan for a different slice of Thai cooking.
The bill (for two) 1x poh piaa pak ( spring rolls) Dhs23 1x nua ded dow (crispy beef) Dhs36 1x kra pao goong (wok-fried prawns) Dhs44 1x keo neow (sticky rice) Dhs8 1x fresh young coconut water Dhs16 1x roselle tea Dhs15
The bottom line Like Thailand itself, this is the kind of place you’ll try once and fall in love with.
Hanoi is one of the many unlicensed cafés in JLT. And it’s one of the good ones. Very good in fact. One of the only places in Dubai to serve authentic Vietnamese cuisine. If you’re new to the game, the staff will help you order. What you end up with is a filling and satisfying meal, packed with punchy flavour. The summer rolls (think spring rolls but with healthier rice wraps instead of the deep-friend Chinese version) are big, and while the filling is a little dry, the accompanying spicy sauce livens things up. A side order of pak choi comes bathed in a salty soy sauce; it has crisp stalks and tasty leaves, and while nothing out of the ordinary, is a fine side dish. For a main course, try the hot and sour crab bun; flakes of sweet white crab meat are somewhat overpowered by the punchy broth, but it clings to the vermicelli noodles nicely and the fresh veg to drop into the soup and cook fills the dish out nicely. The rare steak pho is another winner; the spicy broth needs a little extra chilli (but you’ll find a good selection of condiments on the table) and the thinly-sliced beef is tender as well as tasty. A budget, authentic option. There’s not much wrong with Hanoi at all.
The venue in JLT feels surprisingly small once you get inside, with tables almost uncomfortably close together. However, this impression is also a reflection of how busy Friends’ Avenue Café can get. It looks like a neat mixture of urban edge and domestic cosiness. There is table service, but it sometimes goes awry, although the food is worth it when it arrives. Early-risers can enjoy the breakfast dishes, while there’s also a selection of salads, sandwiches and more substantial main courses such as crispy skinned salmon, steak or burgers. Keep an eye on the daily specials, and definitely order it if the beef brisket burger is available. It arrives on a wooden platter with a fat and fluffy sesame bun, crammed with shredded meat and shredded cabbage, making for a rich, greedy and filling lunchtime treat. Other dishes can be a bit hit and miss, but this is an affordably priced little café that’s worth a try.
Memsaab is a welcoming restaurant, with attractive wooden tables and a stylish wall lined with glass spice jars. Staff are friendly and attentive and happy to help with the menu if needed. A grazing platter of aloo tikki (spicy potato patties) egg pakora and hot chicken wings gives a chance to try a few starters from a menu that also includes samosas and soups. For main courses, there’s a good selection of vegetarian and rice dishes as well as curries and options from the tandoor oven. The gillafi murgh seekh (a chicken mince kebab cooked in the tandoor with onion, capsicum and tomato) is juicy and subtly spiced. The Keralan allepey fish curry is more powerful, with meaty flakes of white fish in a punchy sauce flavoured with fenugreek and tamarind. A side of fluffy basmati rice is plentiful and there’s a fine selection of breads. Superb food, and affordable.
An Egyptian street snack and much-loved comfort food, feteer occupies the same place as Lebanese manakish in many expats’ hearts. If you haven’t yet had the utter good fortune of quieting a rumbling stomach with one, feteer is perhaps best described as a cross between the multi-layered, buttery goodness of an Indian paratha and the crisp flakiness of a Greek filo pie. But try it for yourself you must, and new Jumeirah Lakes Towers bakeshop E&T Feteer should be your first port of call.
A small, casual outlet near the Bonnington, E&T, the brainchild of two Egyptian-Canadian and Egyptian-German business partners, has a warm, family-run feel and an open kitchen at its centre. It’s tempting to take a seat outside overlooking the neighbourhood’s waterways, but make sure you peek indoors to watch the chef at work.
Though you’ll find thoroughly traditional stuffed meshaltet here, the more sparing pastry techniques employed are designed to keep the calorie counts down – something the owners believe sets E&T apart.
In addition to flat, stuffed meshaltets, which come with sweet and savoury filling options, you can also try wraps and rolls, ranging from feta to shawarma to hot dog. A more adventurous choice of ratatouille-stuffed feteer roll is rewarded with an oozy, creamy, tangy filling of aubergine, peppers, tomato and cheese, and ordered as a combo, with salad, fries and a drink, is enough to fill two greedy diners. That said, it would be madness not to move on to a meat meshaltet – even if it is huge and hearty enough to share between four (the leftovers will easily keep you in breakfasts for two days).
It’s with a heavy heart and bulging belly we have to pass on a honey and cream-topped ending. Luckily, that’s just another reason to return.
The bill (for two) 1x meat meshaltet Dhs65 1x feteer combo 2 Dhs45
The bottom line Hearty, handmade Egyptian comfort food you need to get acquainted with. Today.