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.
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.
Beautifully decked out in dark woods, this ambient Sri Lankan restaurant has an air of elegance and finesse to it, which defy the very affordable prices. The outdoor seating space by the lake heightens its appeal, offering up wonderfully picturesque views, with the JLT towers as a backdrop. The trio of prawns starter is impressive. It comprises battered prawns marinated in three flavours, the cumin-marinated option is our favourite. The curries are truly authentic – no watering down of spices takes place here. So if you’re new to Sri Lankan cuisine, ask for help – staff are only too happy to oblige. The chicken kalu pol curry is heavily spiced – the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves are overpowering for the uninitiated. The fresh crab, meanwhile, comes in at a wallet-friendly Dhs40. Ayubowan is popular, so don’t be surprised if the most traditional of options aren’t available, but this is a serious budget option where you’ll get truly great, authentic food.
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.
The people who work here 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 a labour of love for the owners. You can feel the care and excitement that they have for their venture, which is extremely refreshing. Isan is North Eastern Thailand, and the food there is lighter than you’ll usually find in more typical Thai restaurants. Curries and soups are clear, rather than coconut-based, and it is all a touch more spicy. Spring rolls have plenty of vegetables and come with a lovely chilli sauce, crispy sun-dried beef has a great chew and comes with an excellent spicy sauce, while juicy stir-fried prawns with green beans, red onion and garlic-soy sauce are excellent, as is the sticky rice. Tastes are clean and fresh, and 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 keen, the service superb, and the food delicious.
Small and simple, with bright green and orange chairs and photographs of Vietnamese rice farmers and fishermen on the walls, this canteen-style eatery is great for a casual lunch or dinner. The classic Vietnamese pho (noodle soup) is the dish to come here for and it’s what patrons here predominantly order. The pho bo thap cam (mixed beef pho) is, if you’ve never tried pho, a great introduction to the simple, flavour-packed dish. The salty-sweet broth comes bursting with rice noodles, veg, tender slices of beef brisket and steak minced and moulded into balls. Every mouthful is so moreish you’ll want to drink the soup straight from the bowl. The menu also includes other Vietnemese staples including fresh, light and delicate summer rolls and bun bowls – all-in-one meals of vermicelli noodles, meat and salad. It gets busy, so don’t expect too much attention from staff. They take your order quickly and efficiently and your meal swiftly follows. It’s a no fuss, no frills place, that will leave you with a full stomach and a smile on your face.
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.