Providing the perfect opportunity for families to relax and have fun, we are big fans of the Dubai brunch. Check out our top five kid-friendly choices
Splurge. Beachcombers, JBH: Serving up a delicious array of Asian-influenced cuisine (think pan-seared fresh prawns, crispy noodles, and wok delights of all descriptions) plus a healthy selection of international dishes too, there’s something to suit every palate. But the real boon here is the entertainment laid on for the kids. There’s a well-supervised kids’ area offering all sorts of arts and craft activities, plus a very busy balloon bender, face painter and juggler on hand. If that’s not enough, they can even learn to spin plates (yes – don’t try this at home, kids), or there’s the hilarious game called monster feet, where kids don huge pairs of scary shoes and attempt to race each other. And if all else fails, there’s plenty of sand and buckets and spades on tap.
Open for brunch 1-4pm every Friday and Saturday. Dhs295-595 (for adults), Dhs140 (kids aged six to 12). Under fives go free. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, www.jumeirah.com (04 348 0000)
Great value. Nomad, Jumierah Creekside: We enjoyed the airy and relaxed style of this family brunch, which offers a great range of international cuisines (so even the pickiest eaters in your family will find something to their taste) and attentive service. On our last visit, we requested a plain banana for our baby, because we’d forgotten her jar of food. We ended up with a banana, a bowl of chopped berries and a platter of sliced fruits, all specially prepared for her. The older kids bolted their plates of pasta and then headed outside, where they spent the afternoon making friends, decorating cupcakes, playing table tennis and bouncing themselves silly on the bouncy castle – all fully supervised. A relaxing time was had by all.
Open for brunch 12-4pm every Friday. Dhs195-295. Kids under 12 go free. Jumierah Creekside Hotel, www.jumeirah.com (04 230 8555).
WIN! Brunch for the family. Mazina, The Address, Dubai Marina: Mazina is one of the best brunches in town for families because it seem to have thought of everything. Little ones who get ants in their pants can head to the kids buffet in the centre of the restaurant, which is stocked with kid-friendly finger food and a chocolate fountain. A children’s film is also playing, and they can munch their meal on little chairs all in view of mum and dad. Afterwards, there’s much fun to be had with the jumping castle, the face painting and the Wii, which is supervised by the kid-friendly staff, so parents can sit back and enjoy their meal. There’s a huge international buffet, with a carvery, sushi station and one of the best dessert counters in town. We like.
Open for brunch 12.30pm-3.30pm every Saturday. Dhs220 (for adults), Dhs110 (kids aged seven to 12). Under sixes go free. www.theaddress.com (04 436 777).
Spice Island, Crowne Plaza Deira: A Dubai institution, Spice Island was possibly the very first restaurant to offer the brunch concept in Dubai. A dazzling array of live stations serve a huge number of cuisines, and the kids area is well supervised, with a resident balloon bender who could probably fashion the Starship Enterprise from latex, if it was requested. Little ones also get to decorate their own mini cakes (proper cakes – not cupcakes) which are then packaged up in boxes, all ready for them to take home afterwards. The old-school atmosphere is relaxed and the table service is attentive, but not annoyingly so. Plus, it’s very reasonably priced too.
Open for brunch 12pm-4pm every Friday. Dhs179-299 (for adults). Dhs69 (under 12s). Under fives go free. www.ich.com (04 262 5555).
Raffles Roast: If you are a family of roast lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this. We found the quality of food available at this brunch, unbelievably sublime, with succulent roast lamb, beef and turkey with more trimmings than we’d ever thought possible. The puddings are amazing too, with traditional apple pies and crumbles with real custard, and feather-light summer desserts sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh berries. There are plenty of activities for the kids too, including video games and cartoons to watch, pizza and cookie making sessions with the resident chef, arts and crafts and even a the chance to feed the fish in the ornamental pond garden.
Open for brunch 12-4pm, every Friday. Dhs235-385 (for adults). Children under 12 go free. www.rafflesdubai.com (04324 8888).
Let’s do lunch
Good kids’ menus, fast service and fresh family fodder are the hallmarks of our favourite lunchtime outlets.
Carluccio’s, Dubai Mall: This spacious and airy restaurant provides the perfect venue for a weekend lunch. Not only is the Italian menu varied enough to suit all palates, but in keeping with the Carluccio’s brand, it’s fresh and delicious too. We opt for the risotto and Milanese di pollo, while the nippers happily tuck into their penne with tomato sauce. You have a great view of the Dubai Fountains, which keep the kids wonderfully entertained if you pop in for a bite at supper time, but be warned, Carluccio’s is very popular and busy – especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Open daily 9am-11pm. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.carluccios.com (04 434 1320)
More Café, Gold and Diamond Park: We personally like the Gold and Diamond Park setting because it’s not in a mall and there’s an outside area with fountains where the kids can run off their excitement without annoying other diners. We parents opted for the chicken Ceaser salad, as you can ask for all sorts of tasty additions. Meanwhile, the nippers choose the hotdogs, which came before our adult dishes and were piping hot. The kids’ food also comes with a beetroot salad (to make up for the fries perhaps?) which the children actually enjoyed eating – another bonus. Our only gripe is that even though this restaurant is so family-friendly, there are no baby changing facilities, which we find quite strange. Hopefully this is something that will be remedied soon.
Open daily, 7am-7pm. Gold and Diamond Park. www.morecafe.biz. (04 323 4350).
Urbano: The dark-wood interior and clatter from the open kitchens make Urbano a great place to dine out with little ones. Firstly, the acoustics ensure any noisy kiddie chatter is well-absorbed and because Urbano is spacious, you can be far enough away from other more grown-up diners to relax. The extensive adult menu serves up a range of enticing offerings, including gloriously fresh antipasti, while the main courses comprise of mouth-watering roasted sea bass, rack of lamb and wood-oven-baked pizza. We happily tucked in while the children enjoyed their traditional kids’ serving of spaghetti bolognaise. We liked the fact that they also got to choose their own antipasti and pudding and fresh juices, all for the princely sum of Dhs49 per nipper.
Open daily from 10.30am-midnight. Souk Al Bahar, Ground Floor, www.urbanorestaurants.com (04 435 5777).
Great value. Shakespeare and Co.: With its charmingly quirky decor, which is an eclectic mix of doilies, chintz and chic, it’s no wonder this chain of cafés has become popular with the mum-set. However, the Al Safa branch has another weapon up its sleeve to attract families in the form of a kid’s playroom complete with little seats, a well-stocked toy box and a large TV. And the food is great. We favoured the breakfast menu with its neat poached eggs and jenga-style chips, while the kids tucked into a tasty barbecue pizza, big enough to share. Dishes range from Dhs14-80, and a family of four can enjoy a light lunch for less than Dhs200 all in. Great value and good food, Open daily, 7am to 10pm.
Al Safa Centre. www.shakespeareandco.ae (04 329 1040)
Jones the Grocer: This high-end café has proved a big hit with Dubai’s families, especially at the weekend when the wait for a table can be half an hour or more. With café fare such as baguettes, and salads, an extended breakfast menu at weekends and larger mains like burgers and pies, prices aren’t cheap, but portions are hearty. Traditional fish and chips is so large it threatens to dangle off the serving board – the batter is light and very crispy. The colour-in children’s menu offers healthy takes on kids’ classics such as penne covered in a flavoursome tomato-y sauce. Service can be a little bit dozy during the busiest periods, but on the whole, this is a great family choice.
Open Sun-Thu 8am-10.30pm, Fri-Sat 9am-10.30pm. Sheikh Zayed Road (opp Times Square), www.jonesthegrocer.com, (04 346 6886). Restaurant Awards winner for Best Family.
The Lime Tree Café & Kitchen: Never quite as crowded or hectic as the original Jumeirah venue, The Lime Tree Café at Ibn Battuta Mall is a bright and breezy, family-friendly respite from the mall. Food is displayed in large cases and service is canteen-style so you can see exactly what’s going to be on your plate. The emphasis is on healthy ingredients and big flavours, such as a chicken and beef bacon lavash (toasted flatbread), wild rice salad and pumpkin tortellini. While the price points for individual items are reasonable, the bill starts to add up if you want a salad or side with your main. Kids are well looked after, with a selection of colouring books and toys, plus a healthy menu that includes mini pizzas and gluten free pasta, with one free side per meal, such as raw veggie bites.
Open Sun-Wed 8am-9pm, Thu 8am-10pm, Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 9am-9pm. Ibn Battuta Mall, China Court, www.thelimetreecafe.com (04 366 9320)
Social House: This huge space on the lower-ground floor of The Dubai Mall is an eclectic addition to its many dining options. The ambitious menu aims to cover all corners of the globe, ordered by East and West, with everything from sushi to oven-baked pizza and curries. The set kids’ menu is also a hit, with crayons and colouring in sheets, and the usual favourites, including tomato-y pasta washed down with free fizzy drinks and followed by a generous scoop of ice cream. The one let-down for families is the lack of loos inside the venue (you have to venture into the mall), but otherwise, it’s a solid option.
Open Sun-Wed 9am-10.30pm, Thu-Sat 9am-midnight. Lower-Ground Floor, Dubai Mall (04 339 8640).
Splurge. The Rivington Grill: Elegant interiors and its superior take on British cuisine belie the fact that it’s also a great (if pricy) option for families. With ample high chairs and ultra attentive, friendly staff, young diners are made to feel at home from the moment they sit down – from the colouring books and crayons to the kids’ menu that suits even the fussiest eaters, with simple baked beans on toast or tomato soup to pan-friend salmon and veg. The kids’ food arrives first, and breaded fish goujons with mayonnaise are very moreish. Save room for dessert; kids can try the delectable Eton mess or ice cream (try the honeycomb), while adults should not miss the malted chocolate and caramel pie. Two-course lunch for Dhs100 per person (Sun-Thu, 12-5pm), and a kids a la carte costs between Dhs15-65 a pop.
Open daily 12 noon-11pm. Souk Madinat Jumeirah, www.rivingtongrill.ae (04 366 6464).
The Talk: This all-day dining restaurant offers an international buffet with better-than-average fare. During the day there’s an à la carte menu and sushi bar, plus large buffet selection, including a vast mix of salads, mini-plates of starters and cold, fresh seafood offering a healthier alternative to pasta, grills and tandoori. But it’s the children’s offerings that really stand out. Like other Movenpick hotels in the region, The Talk serves the ‘power bites’ menu – a fun and nutrient-rich take on kids’ favourites, such as lamb and lentil burgers or crispy crudités.
Open daily 6.30am-3am. Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach, JBR (04 449 8888).
You can make dining out a whole lot easier if you plan ahead and have realistic expectations, says mum-of-three, Joanna England.
Way back in the days before we had babies, we admit we often sneered at friends who’d become parents and vetoed the traditional ‘paint the town’ brunch. After all, just how difficult could it be to bring baby along too, bung them in a highchair and let them do their worst with a bowl of salty French fries?
Then dear readers, we joined the parent club, and suddenly realised how ignorant we’d been. Eating out became a whole new ball game – and one we hoped would get easier.
We thought it was bad enough when they were tiny, and we had to attempt to eat in a civilised manner with a baby in one hand and a fork in the other. But naturally, as those of you who have toddlers will know, once the little blighters start walking, it becomes a battle of wills (and strength) to wrestle your erstwhile child into a highchair and keep them there.
Once they get older, things get trickier still. Dining chairs, according to most three-year-olds, are most definitely not made to be sat on, and restaurants provide the perfect opportunity to play a rollicking good game of ‘dodge the passing waiter’ or ‘round and round the table’.
To our shame, we once had brunch at a very good Asian place with an open kitchen in the centre of the restaurant. We watched in cringing horror as our older kids, naturally ignoring our reprimands, began to chase each other round and round the said kitchen in a speeding frenzy, which naturally ended in a kiddie punch-up at the sushi counter.
The first thing to remember in coping with this type of ulcer-inducing situation is that no matter how embarrassing it seems at the time, every other parent on the planet has been there too. They are not looking at you in horror and thinking ‘what awful parents’. They are watching you with sympathy, and thinking, ‘thank goodness it’s not just my children...’.
And, you can minimise the stress with a bit of careful pre-planning. Check out our family dining sanity-saving tips.
Just because you’re eating out, doesn’t mean routine should go out of the window. Children are much more likely to play up if they are hungry and their blood sugar levels drop, leading to tantrums, rudeness and general misbehaviour. If lunch is going to be an hour later than usual, pack snacks like raisins, bananas and cereal bars in your handbag as a pre-meal soother.
Pack a selection of toys
Complimentary crayons only suit older kids who won’t try to eat them. Toddlers also have very little concept of time, and even just five minutes in a highchair with nothing to do, can for them, feel like hours. Make sure you have a selection of table toys in your handbag for them to tinker with. The mark of a good family friendly restaurant is one that serves its youngest guests as soon as possible – whether it be with a few complimentary breadsticks or their main meal.
Pick your restaurant
If your children are very young, there are several factors that make dining out less stressful. Bathrooms with changing facilities within a short distance of the restaurant (lots of mall-based restaurants don’t have on-site bathroom facilities) makes life easier for obvious reasons. Kids’ menus with sensible portions and options for little ones can help ensure your children actually eat some of their food. Patient staff who are willing to make an effort and serve the little ones quickly are also a huge bonus. Background noise is a good thing too, because there’s nothing worse than telling off your naughty nipper in a ‘hear a pin drop’ restaurant.
Have a pre-meal discussion about behaviour
If your children are aged three or over, make a point of having a pre-dining chat before you leave home. Explain that eating out is a treat, so they must behave themselves. Bargaining works well too; ‘if you don’t behave, you won’t be allowed pudding’ can get results, but only if they know it’s a serious threat – and you’ll follow through. Once you get in the car, repeat the discussion and ask them what will happen if they don’t behave. This makes sure they really understand – and refreshes the matter in their minds. That way, you should only need to give them gentle reminders once you reach the restaurant.
Don’t expect too much
If you were hoping to have a relaxing lunch and sparkling conversation with your spouse, you probably should have booked a babysitter. Your meal will have gone well if you have managed to consume two courses without too much disruption.
When dining out with kids, it’s often best to quit while you’re ahead, too. Leave lunch a few minutes early and get coffee to go, rather than staying too long and risking a tiredness tantrum.
Just for kids
Eating out doesn’t have to be just about the food. These themed family restaurants also have their plus points.
Cafe Ceramique: Admittedly, the service can be a little hit and miss, especially if you visit during one of the Cafe Ceramique birthday parties. However, the food is fresh and tasty, with Arabic and international options. Crispy potato wedges are served too, rather than flabby, anaemic French fries, so it’s worth waiting for. Meanwhile, the kids will be happy to get stuck into some ceramic art work. Do keep an eye on the prices though, as this is where it can get really expensive.
Open daily, 8am-midnight. Dubai Festival City. www.cafeceramique.ae (04 232 8616).
Rainforest Cafe: Prepare to be dazzled by the sheer number of animatronic creatures that sneakily come to life in this jungle-themed eatery at Dubai Mall. There’s a thunderstorm complete with lightening and chest thumping from the resident gorillas, and the elephants are pretty impressive too, which is good because the service is quite diabolical, and the food is mediocre at best. However, when it comes to keeping the kids happy, it really can’t be beaten.
Open Sat-Wed, 11am-midnight, Thu-Fri, 11am-1am. Dubai Mall. www.rainforestcafeme.com (04 330 8515).
Spur: While mums and dads can tuck into hearty steaks and burgers, the kids have an extensive menu too, with everything from onion rings and fish fingers to ice-cream sundaes. What we really like is the mini playroom with games consuls and a climbing tower. Tuesday evenings are good for families too because children under 12 eat for free from 6pm onwards. Open Sun-Thu, 10am-11pm, Fri-Sat, 10am-midnight. Dubai Festival City. www.spur.ae (04 232 8866).