Here at Time Out we’ve been scouring the streets to bring you some fresh, never-before-printed secret spots in Dubai. So what do we consider to be ‘a hidden gem’? For starters it needs to be somewhere we haven’t ever written about before. Second, it needs to be somewhere you’ll really want to go to – somewhere worth the trip off your well-beaten Dubai tracks.
Read on to discover a whole new side to our fantastic city.
7 Hidden Restaurants
1 Order off-menu: So much of Dubai is about being ‘in the know’ – where to go, when to go there and what to order. So imagine this: you turn up to one of Dubai’s trendiest restaurants and order an aperitif that isn’t even on the menu. La Petite Maison’s Le Petit Mistral (featuring Italian bubbly and French tipple Prucia) was developed in Dubai and is now being served at LPM in London. If this doesn’t impress your date, nothing will.
Dhs50. La Petite Maison, DIFC (04 439 0505).
2 Eat for a good cause: Decadent dining isn’t the first thing you’d associate with charity, but the good people at the Dusit Thani have combined the two in their tom yum talay (basically a tom yum seafood soup). What makes this dish special is its ingredients – fresh blue lobster, abalone, turbot and pure gold leaf – which are flown in on request, and you’ll need to order 48 hours in advance. The dish costs a jaw-dropping Dhs2,200 (officially priced at US$600), but all profits from the dish go to Dusit Smiles Charity for children with facial deformities. Each bowl should be able to sponsor up to four operations.
Dusit Thani Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 343 3333).
3 Unique oysters: BiCE’s pink diamond oysters have a subtle nutty taste, plump flesh and a unique rose-blushed shell. What’s more, the restaurant is the only place that serves them in the UAE.
Dhs34 per oyster. BiCE, Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, Dubai Marina (04 399 1111).
4 Desert dining: Enjoy dinner among the dunes at Bab Al Shams. The desert resort offers a little-known tailored dining package that’s perfect for popping the question or rekindling romance.
Prices vary. Call for further details. Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa, Dubailand (04 809 6100).
5 Lassi love: So you thought there wasn’t room for another excellent Indian restaurant in Dubai? Discover Radhe O Radhe, which serves delicious (and healthy) satvik food and possibly the best lassis in the city.
Opposite Sharaifi Building, near Snow White, Karama (04 336 5339).
6 Tasty thali: And while we’re at it, we may as well recommend the best thali in Dubai. Rajdhani is a restaurant specialising in Gujarati food.
129 Rolla Street, Bur Dubai (04 393 4433).
7 Secret Korean: It’s usually their northern neighbours who are partial to secrecy, but South Korean venue Yuejun doesn’t like publicity – they didn’t even want Time Out’s photographers to visit. But now the secret’s out. Visit for a great barbecue and the ‘special’ tea.
Above Safestway, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 321 1400).
10 hidden bars and clubs
1 Duke’s Bar: You may feel you’ve stumbled into an ’80s living room – wonky curtains included – but that’s part of the charm of this Deira pub. Forgotten by most long-term residents and largely undiscovered by tourists, it’s a cosy spot with charming staff, views of the creek and bargain drinks.
Al Khaleej Hotel, Deira (04 221 1144).
2 Rock City: A far cry from some of Dubai’s newer live music venues, this place is dark, grungy and pleasingly scuffed around the edges. There are tributes to famous acts plastered all over the walls and the resident band play a wide variety of covers.
Howard Johnson Hotel, formerly Highland City, Bur Dubai (04 393 9911).
3 Czar Club: Prepare to be dazzled – not least by this venue’s sparkly gold interior. This Russian club boasts energetic dancers and live music, with covers of both American and Russian pop hits. Tell them you’re celebrating and they’ll do a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You’ like you’ve never heard before.
Capitol Hotel, Satwa (04 346 0111).
4 The Deck: Next time you visit the Byblos in TECOM, don’t march straight into the Crown & Lion. Instead, head upstairs to The Deck, an open-air terrace lined with sofas and dotted with stools designed for unwinding with a shisha and a saj if you’re feeling peckish.
Byblos Hotel, TECOM (04 448 8000).
5 Captain’s: There’s little chance you’ll wind up at the Jebel Ali Golf Resort by accident, but the hotel’s little-known beachfront bar means it’s certainly worth the trip. If Barasti is a little too raucous for your tastes, there are few more relaxing places to enjoy a cold one than Captain’s.
Jebel Ali Golf Resort & Spa (04 804 8604).
6 C Mondo: This is certainly a slightly more unusual spot for a drink if you find yourself thirsty in Al Barsha, but the kooky artwork and guest-heavy clientele make this a good place to hide out if you don’t fancy bumping into any familiar faces.
Centro Barsha Hotel, Al Barsha (04 704 0000).
7 Ratsky: Famous among the Filipino community, this Dubai branch of the famous Manila bar often plays host to visiting celebrities from the country, so prepare to find yourself rubbing shoulders with star-struck Pinoys. A great place to head en-masse for a few warm-up drinks and air guitar.
Karama Hotel, Karama (04 336 6607).
8 Nine Lounge: This poolside spot launched a few months ago to little fanfare, though it makes for an extremely pleasant alternative to more worn-in Sheikh Zayed Road haunts such as Cin Cin. Enjoy the bar’s themed snacks and five-star drinks.
The Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 311 8316).
9 MyBar: This relaxed spot on the ground floor of the Dusit Thani hotel does a superb range of grape beverages, and there’s often live jazz. It’s rarely packed, making it the perfect spot for pre-drinks if you’re on date two or three and fancy some space.
Dusit Thani, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 343 3333).
10 The Stag’s Head: Though you’ll soon be laughing off the theme of this rather un-Scottish Scottish pub, it’s a great spot to try if you fancy a game of pool in friendly, unfussy environs. As the place doesn’t often fill up, you’ll have the table to yourself.
Avari Dubai Hotel, Deira (04 395 6666).
3 Film secrets
1 Film swapping: Looking to get your hands on some classic cinema but don’t want to part with your precious dirhams? Look no further than the ‘Dubai Real Film Lovers’ group on Facebook, with more than 160 members regularly swapping movies and discussing all things film.
2 Alliance Française’s media library: Fancy combining your passion for film with a cultural education? Sign up to Alliance Française Dubai’s media library for either six months for Dhs600 or a year for Dhs800 and get access to two DVDs and two videos a fortnight, plus five French books and a CD.
Alliance Française Dubai, Oud Metha (04 335 8712).
3 Be a film star: Locally based casting agent MediaCubed has put out calls for extras in Mission Impossible IV and more recently the lead in Sky TV’s Sinbad. There are rumoured to be more opportunities for budding actors coming soon, so start following the team on Twitter for updates.
20 Random secrets
1 A hidden squash court: These twin squash courts aren’t being used 90 per cent of the time and for Dhs20 each you can turn up at the security counter and ask for the key, then return it when you leave.
ARY Marina View, Dubai Marina.
2 Mohammed Anwar tailor: This awesome tailor could knock the socks off Kate Moss’s creations. Mohammed Anwar makes trousers from scratch for as little as Dhs60, and is located in a little community of shops including a laundry, typing store, barber shop and café.
Behind Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah Beach Road.
3 Wet fish market: Snap up some superb fresh king fish, hammour, sherry, crabs, prawns and plenty more from this local fish vendor, who sells the catch of the day.
Behind Rydges Plaza, Satwa, within the line of shops.
4 The best place for a sunset: For one of the best-kept sunset secrets, go to the top of the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. You’ll find a great view of the skyline including the Burj. Entry is free.
Off Sheikh Zayed Rd, Oud Metha (04 338 2324).
5 Banana daiquiri shisha: Probably the most unusual shisha flavour we’ve come across to date, little pots of this stuff cost from Dhs50 upwards, and will last you for hours.
Sun Village Herbs Trading, Souk Al Kabeer, Near Rado Watch Showroom, Deira (04 225 8280).
6 The black beach: An unscathed, intimate bay that sits behind the palaces on Jumeirah Beach Road, this is usually nice and empty so you don’t have to contend with screaming kids or dodge flying footballs. To find it, look for the small pathway off Jumeirah Beach Road between the palaces. Warning: it may take you a couple of attempts to find the turning.
Between JBR and the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah.
7 Go to an astronomy camp: The Dubai Astronomy camp has set up a permanent location to gaze at the stars with telescopes and equipment. Want to know its secret location? Follow Emirates Road out of Sharjah and along Sheikh Salem Bin Sultan Al Osaimi Street, head past the Enoc petrol station on the right, then turn right just before you get to the crossroads. You’ll be on a small, dark road with no street lights. Pass a few houses until you get to the desert. On the left, look out for the semi-permanent portacabins.
8 Fly across the room: In these aerial silk classes, you’ll learn to hoist yourself up with a swathe of cloth and use the weight of your body to create flowing movements. Classes cost Dhs55 and take place every Wednesday at 11am.
The Fridge, Al Quoz (04 347 7793).
9 Great-value art: Al Quoz’s young artist auctions are a great Dubai secret for those wanting to buy art, but don’t know how to start without risking a fortune. This will not only allow you to practice the process of art buying, but you’ve got a good chance of picking up a collector’s item from a budding prodigy. Regular auctions take place every month and are free to attend.
10 Hand-made Cuban cigars: If you’re sick of smoking shisha and want something a little flashier, Smokers Centre sells a surprising amount of exclusive Davidoff cigars from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Cigars cost between Dhs20 and Dhs8,000 (although, of course, the best option is not to smoke at all).
Smokers Centre, Mall of the Emirates (04 340 1783).
11 Bespoke carpentry: Talented wood-crafter Oliver Dolz will create everything from art canvas frames to tables, wedding stands and even catwalks at different wholesale prices.
Al Quoz, near Mall of the Emirates, firstname.lastname@example.org (04 340 5025).
12 Street food: Get a mixed bag of 10 samosas, aloo tikki, pakoras and bhajis for the bargain price of Dhs10 (it’s possible to barter even lower) at this little veggie stand in Bur Dubai’s souk, near Bastakiya.
Al Shaab Restaurant, near the abra station, Bur Dubai (04 353 1465).
13 Home recipe of Iranian spices: Try Rise Stores’ home recipe for Iranian lali green curry – they claim it has been handed down in their family for generations. It’s a mix of 48 herbs and spices and is delicious on meat, chicken, and fish. Ask for Jaber, who’ll give you bags of the stuff from as little as Dhs10.
Rise Stores, Old Iranian Market, Deira (04 226 0019).
14 Alternative deodorant: Strangely, it comes in the form of powder and is sold in bags – all you have to do is mix it with a small amount of talcum powder and you’re good to go. Apparently, a large bag of this stuff will last years (depending on how much you perspire). Get 1kg for Dhs25.
Haffez Saffron General Trading Co, Souk Al Kabir, Deira (04 229 1900).
15 Printed T-shirts: Add your design to tops, vests or even BabyGros at this funky art centre in Al Quoz.
Portfolio Gallery, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Quoz (04 323 2395).
16 Cobbler: This chatty gent will repair your shoes perfectly while you wait for as much as you can afford (agree on a price before he starts or you’ll be taken in by his charm). To find the store, take the first right after Rydges Plaza; next to the watch repair shop you’ll see a polythene window/flap behind which a man is usually sitting crossed-legged.
Near Rydges Plaza, Satwa.
17 Mega-cheap hair cut: If you’re looking for a simple trim or a short back and sides, this is just the place. Rhama’s stylists offer cuts for Dhs25 per person and they’re super speedy.
Rhama Salon, Bur Dubai souk, near the abra station.
18 Basketball by night: Anyone looking for a game of pick-up basketball should head to the court across the road from Sharaf DG metro stop. Every evening, scores of (mostly Filipino) basketball enthusiasts gather to play three-on-three or five-on-five. There’s no Facebook page or phone number, it’s just a matter of turning up.
Near Sharaf DG metro, Barsha.
19 Pimp your ride: At FibraFoil, they can spray your car with a vinyl wrap so you look like a US rap star. The best bit is it only lasts for a couple of years so you can eventually go back to the original colour. Put racing stripes or perhaps a Sheikh’s face on your car, with custom jobs costing from Dhs15,000 to Dhs25,000.
FibraFoil, Al Quoz (04 323 2732).
20 An Aladdin’s cave: You’ve probably never seen a store quite like this – the walls and shelves are stacked with strange-looking gifts, rusty swords, Viking hats, African sculptures and other useless but extremely cool memorabilia. The owner has been collecting goodies for years on trips to the Middle East and Somalia.
Abdul Rahman Isaq Mohd Trading, near abra station, Deira (04 226 1771).