50 to try: Dubai secrets

Where can you drink cocktails in a hollowed-out bus and smoke shisha from a pineapple in Dubai? Time Out knows

Aroma Garden Caffé
Aroma Garden Caffé
Mars bar
Mars bar
The Madras Vegetarian Restaurant
The Madras Vegetarian Restaurant
Al Bayt Al Baghdadi
Al Bayt Al Baghdadi
The Jumeirah Garden Guesthouse
The Jumeirah Garden Guesthouse
The Crêpes Bar
The Crêpes Bar
Up on the 10th
Up on the 10th
The Garage
The Garage
Nail Express
Nail Express
Gaelic Football
Gaelic Football
Gaelic Football
Gaelic Football
Plant souk
Plant souk
Pineapple shisha
Pineapple shisha
1/14
Secret eats

1 Fish shawarma: Whenever we begin extolling the virtues of fish shawarma, someone will inevitably twist their features into an epic show of disgust and exclaim: ‘Fish shawarma?!’, followed by an emphatic ‘eeeuuuwww’. We ignore these cretins, because we’re enlightened: this dish at Al Shera’s Fisheries Centre, hidden down an alleyway beside Toys R Us in Deira (opposite Al Muraqqabat Street, near Aroos Damascus) is even better than the chicken version. Fresh hammour and garlic sauce is packed into a wrap more closely resembling a crisp pancake. Delicious.
(04 227 1803) Dhs8, only served after 6pm

2 Deep-fried Mars bars: At Mirdif Fish & Chips, a cholesterol overdose is yours for just Dhs5.
Street 15, off Algeria Street, Mirdif (04 288 1812)

3 Marzano pizza: We were sceptical when a friend told us Marzano does the best pizza in town, but one blissful visit later and we admit they may be right. Tucked into the back of Al Manzil Souk, the lesser-known (and thus empty) brother to Souk Al Bahar, this warm Italian restaurant serves up the thinnest, crispiest pizza bases we’ve ever had – anywhere. Toppings take in staples such as buffalo mozzarella and basil, as well as more inventive lobster and asparagus. Best of all? The ingredients are fresher than a freshly showered Will Smith circa 1990-96.
Al Manzil Souk, behind Al Manzil Hotel, opposite The Palace Hotel, Old Town (04 420 1136)

4 Buhaiwan Chinese: For Chinese food unlike any other, head to this obscure little spot where the proprietors are Uyghur – a Turk ethnic group that has primarily settled in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (western China, bordering Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). As a result, the cuisine consists of strange mixtures involving kebab meat, potatoes, seaweed and lots and lots of chilli. We’re big fans of this strange, hearty fare, but be warned – it will set your tongue a-tingling. A huge meal for four will set you back about Dhs25 per person.
International City, China, C-07 (04 422 7595)

5 The Madras Vegetarian Restaurant: On Fridays between 11am and 3.30pm, the friendly staff at this Satwa spot serve thali on giant banana leaves. An endless supply of curries, dips, popadoms and rice can be yours for the princely sum of Dhs10.
Opposite Al Hanaa Centre on Mankhool Road, near Satwa roundabout (04 358 1124)

6 Bollywood Café: Open daily until 3am, go for the live entertainment: Bollywood lookalikes sing as you take your supper.
Regent Palace Hotel, Bur Dubai, opposite BurJuman (04 396 3888)

7 Zen Restaurant’s al-fresco deck: We’ve found the most romantic (and reasonable) date spot in town. Head to Zen Restaurant in Za’abeel Park and request a table on the deck overlooking the lake – you’ll probably be the only couple there. Staff tend to adjust the lighting accordingly. Order some of the tasty Thai and Chinese food and accept the compliment when your companion marvels at your secret city knowledge.
Gate 6, Za’abeel Park (04 321 7170)

8 Aroma Garden Caffé: You’ll need to tackle an assault course of construction to get to the entrance, but this quirky spot on Oud Metha Road is worth the battle. The massive interior is overgrown with creepers and foliage; fog billows from plant pots and water fountains made from glowing globes are set into the tables. A thin cloud of shisha smoke hangs permanently in the air, making for a fragrant place to dine, and the big menu of kebabs, pasta and pizza has something for everyone. Plus, it’s open until 2am every day. We love the long list of coffees and mocktails – cherry latte, anyone?
Oud Metha Road, beside Dubai TV (04 336 8999)


9 Park ’n’ Shop butchers: Who’d have though Dubai’s best butchery would be tucked inside the relatively obscure Park ’n’ Shop? Clad in butcher stripes and boater hats, the staff dole out choice cuts of well-priced meat.
Jumeirah Beach Road, between Safa Park and the Iranian hospital (04 394 5671)

10 Outdoor café: In the depths of Al Wasl’s single-storey villa-land, dozens of Emiratis gather nightly to play dominoes.
Behind Mayaza Centre is a T-junction with shops and a launderette. Walk straight ahead with Mayaza behind you: you’ll see the café on the left

11 Al Bayt Al Baghdadi: This Iraqi restaurant cooks fresh fish in a cauldron of burning coals – the traditional Iraqi way. Choose your own fish and pay by the kilo. It takes 45 minutes, but is worth the wait.
Al Muteena Street, near Sheraton Deira (04 273 7064)

12 Jumeirah Garden Guesthouse: The head chef at this boutique B&B has worked in London’s Michelin-starred restaurants and private members clubs, and can now be found dishing up a delicious and ever-changing four-course menu in this pretty garden setting. Best of all, this fine-dining fare will only set you back Dhs200 a head.
14a Street, Al Manara, Jumeirah. For reservations, call Paul on 050 956 2854. Go online for our review

13 The Crêpes Bar: A treat for those with a sweet tooth, this cosy crêperie’s menu is full of every dessert crêpe imaginable – we love the pineapple, coconut, chocolate and ice cream concoction. But the main attraction? They let you draw on the walls (and even give you the marker pens). To bring out your playful side, there’s also a stack of board games.
International City, France, P-05 (04 422 6545)

14 Yum: Every time we go to Yum, we can guarantee two things: a) the food will be as plentiful and satisfying as ever, and b) we will be the only people there. It beats us why this dependable restaurant in Deira’s Radisson Blu is forever short of custom, because its blend of Thai, Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian fare is fantastic, and there’s always enough left over for lunch the next day.
Radisson Blu, Deira (04 222 7171). Take your Time Out City Card and receive 15 per cent off food and drink (including alcohol)

15 Sucré Salé: It takes foresight to open a business in a half-built area, not to mention guts. The owners of new Italian-French café Sucré Salé have both. Situated near the space set to become one of ‘the lakes’ of Jumeirah Lakes Towers and near the as-yet unopened JLT metro stop, Sucré Salé serves sweet and savoury crêpes in a Paris-meets-Milan-in-the-’70s setting. We love the secret toilet door.
SABA Tower 1, JLT (04 448 4648)

16 Cave Privée: When private dining isn’t special enough, Traiteur has a secluded room in its wine cellar where groups gather for French fare and a unique vibe.
Park Hyatt (04 602 1804). Seats 10 to 16 and costs Dhs280-390, depending on the menu


Secret nightlife

17 Up on the 10th: This cosy bar in Deira’s Radisson Blu (on the 10th floor, obviously) has an unbeatable view of the creek by night. We like spotting near-collisions between fairy-light-bedecked dhows and the headlights of abras. From June, buy a large cognac and get a cigar free.
Radisson Blu, Deira (04 222 7171)

18 Secret beach parties: There are regular secret beach parties happening across Dubai. Never heard of them? That’s because they’re a secret! Search ‘Dubai secret beach party’ on Facebook to be in the know.
Various venues across the city

19 Pillagers: A rooftop Mongolian joint on the sixth floor of the Regent Palace Hotel (no, really), we’re told this is the place to head after Rock Bottom (spot the double entendre). It’s full of late-night party animals who often stay ’til the small hours.
Regent Palace Hotel, Bur Dubai, opposite BurJuman (04 396 3888)

20 Private karaoke: Upstairs at one of Dubai’s best Chinese restaurants, China Sea, you’ll find rooms available for private hire, each with their own karaoke machine (complete with a big flat-screen TV). All you need to do is order food worth a minimum of Dhs350.
Al Maktoum Street, by Deira clock tower (04 295 9816)

21 Russian cabaret dancers: Bolshoi’s food is average, but the entertainment – flamboyant, costumed dancers and a band that plays the Benny Hill chase theme – is a camp delight.
Moscow Hotel, Deira (04 228 8222)

22 The Cow Boys bar: This furry-walled bar is a useful place to go for a very quiet drink – though not if you’re a lady alone.
Next to President Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 334 6565)

23 The Garage: How cool – this club at the Ramee International hotel is filled with old cars and an old bus that have been hollowed out to house tables and chairs. If you want character from a club, this is it.
Ramee International Hotel, Baniyas Square, Deira (04 224 0222)


Secret spas

24 Al Manal Salon: For Dhs150, you can choose five beauty treatments from a list that includes a massage, facial, leg and arm waxing, a manicure, pedicure and face bleaching. Eek!
Satwa, next to the bus station (04 332 8391)

25 Revival Beauty Salon: Oxygen facials tend to be expensive and only available at high-end spas, which is why we’re so surprised that this quaint budget spa offers the treatments. They’re said to heal weakened skin and eliminate toxins.
Al Abbas building, Bank Street, Bur Dubai (04 355 7435), Dhs250

26 Formul’a French Hairdressing Academy: Be a guinea pig and get your hair cut for free by hairdressing students.
Knowledge Village, Lot 11, Office G02 (04 438 0122)

27 At-home facial: Sallyann Simmons gives the best facial in Dubai, all from the comfort of your front room. It costs Dhs350: not bad considering you won’t have to change out of your PJs.
(050 462 4329)

28 More free haircuts: L’Oréal Professional Hair Academy offers free haircuts and colours every week. Students are supervised so you should be safe.
Gulf Tower, Oud Metha; email sonia.bentemam@mailmac.net for bookings

29 Nail Express: We love this salon. Pop in for a mani-pedi and you’re given a private DVD player, plus a selection of girly TV classics
(Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and the like). Garhoud, opposite Welcare Hospital (04 283 3828)


Secret sports

30 Gaelic football: Believe it or not, there are regular Gaelic football games in and around Dubai. The sport – a cross between standard football and rugby – is played by the Dubai Celts, who organise internal leagues and matches and also play against teams in Abu Dhabi. Anyone – male or female – is welcome to join in.
Call 050 864 4857 or see www.dubaicelts.com

31 Secret running track: Sick of Safa Park? We’ve found a spongey running track at DIFC. The track is behind Za’abeel stables: just get on Road 312 behind DIFC and head towards Trade Centre, take a right when you’re opposite the Exhibition Centre, then take the next right.

32 Secret skateboarding: A talented bunch of skaters can be found heel-flipping and back-smithing (it’s a phrase, honest) in the area around Union Square metro station in Deira.
Check out skate photos from around Dubai at www.skatearabia.com/evan, or search ‘skateboarding Dubai’ at www.youtube.com

33 Surf-fit bootcamp: Ever wonder why surfers are so toned? Because it’s a physically challenging sport, that’s why. Surf Dubai runs a bootcamp twice a week, focusing on surf exercises to get you ripped. Way to go, dude.
Umm Suqeim, Mondays and Wednesdays, 6.30am-7.30am, Dhs600 for eight classes. Call Jason on 050 459 2672 for info

34 Free kayak rental: Did you know you can rent kayaks for free on Jumeirah’s Kite Beach?
Just ask at the kiosk


Secret blogs

35 Desperate in Dubai: This online novel goes behind Dubai’s closed doors to reveal what life is really like for four very different women in the city. Author Ghost Writer tells us the more controversial material isn’t intended to shock, but rather to help people ‘understand the huge differences between people in Arab culture. Not all Arabs are the same.’ Use it to catch up on the adventures of the UAE’s answer to Desperate Housewives (as long as it hasn’t been blocked yet, that is).
www.desperateindubai.blogspot.com

36 Damsels in Distress: This anonymous girl about town dishes the dirt on Dubai’s socialites.
www.ddamselsindistress.blogspot.com

37 Secret Dubai: This blog may be too secret – you can’t view it in the UAE. What could it say?
www.secretdubai.blogspot.com

38 Dubai as it used to be: Old photos, history and facts documenting how Dubai has changed in the past 50-plus years.
www.dubaiasitusedtobe.com


More secrets

Shopping
39 Plant souk: Find foliage for a fraction of the price you’d normally pay at this souk near Dragon Mart. Hold your nose, though – it’s next to the sewage works.
Drive past Dragon Mart on the Hatta Road, turn right at the big roundabout, then left at the next roundabout towards Warsan

40 Al Khaleej Centre in Bur Dubai has plenty of small computer goods sellers who are open to bargaining.
Mankhool Rd (www.alkhaleejcentre.com)

41 Desert Frames in Satwa: is primarily a framing shop, but we love its antique German and Iranian radios. Mostly from the ’30s, the old radios don’t work, but they contain all the old parts and just need some love and an antenna. Prices start at about Dhs650.
Plant Street, near Al Maya Supermarket (04 349 1181)

Sights
42 For the best place to take photos of Dubai Creek climb to the top floor of the car park next to the Spice Souk abra station.

43 There’s a beautiful park amid the villas of Nad al Sheba where you often only have the security guard for company. Dubai’s most peaceful place?

Art
44 Majlis Gallery in Bastakiya has a secret back room – The Art Shack – that contains amazing artworks from past exhibitions. Ask and they’re happy to let you take a peek.
Al Fahidi roundabout, near Dubai Museum (04 353 6233)

45 The Flying House is home to contemporary Emirati art It has no official opening hours and is by appointment only, but interested visitors can call 050 284 9396 or 050 345 6160. Find it around Dubai’s art hub, Al Quoz.
www.flyinghouse.net

46 B&B: Fusion is a fantastic boutique B&B with massive rooms and a very nice pool with an (unlicensed) bar. A great getaway.
Off Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah (050 478 7539)

47 Hidden beach: JBR’s secret beach is a tiny, secluded spot that’s perfect for barbecues – it’s a great antidote to the chaos of the nearby public beach. Drive past the Sheraton, take a right before the bridge, then follow the dirt track out along the marina entrance.

48 Free learning: Follow the Eton Institute on Facebook or Twitter and be the first to sign up for regular free language courses, available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Shisha
49 All-night shisha café Sultan’s Palace doesn’t usually wind down until about 5am each morning. It’s even subject to occasional visits from Lebanese superstars.
Off Diyafah Street, Satwa

50 Head to Jebel Ali Village and discover The Secret Garden a pretty spot for shisha set on a hill.
Jebel Ali Club (04 884 6628)

51 Pineapple shisha Smoke shisha from a pineapple at Chef Express. It’s not on the menu, but ask nicely and they’ll rustle it up for you. They do a mean burger too.
International City, Persia M-04 (04 420 0600). Open daily until 2am.

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