Thai 04 557 9778 Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT)

The people who work here are rather fantastic and very passionate about what they do. It’s a small place in JLT, quite quaint, with room for about 50 diners (it delivers, 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 in 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 beef has a great chew and is accompanied by 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 yet as refreshing as a glass of young coconut water.

The prices are keen, the service superb, and the food delicious.

Indian 04 335 8700 Al Karama

Absolutely unmissable. If there are only two words you should know about of Calicut Paragon, it’s these. This brilliant budget restaurant deserves every single plaudit it has received over the years and more – even if it’s just for one dish (more on that later).

Nestled in the heart of Dubai’s “Curry Corridor” of Satwa, Karama and Bur Dubai, is Paragon. Forget the no-frills décor, this place is all about incredible Keralan flavours where mains often cost Dhs25.

While there are plenty of meat and vegetarian dishes, it’s seafood that reigns supreme in Paragon. And, for us, the stunning crab tushar takes the crown for the best.

Served in a clay pot is a full crab broken up inside – so be prepared to down tools and jump right in with your hands. It’s coated in a caramel-coloured spicy sauce that earns this dish the title of king. If we only ate this thick, bubbling, fiery-yet-creamy gravy for the rest of our days we’d consider ourselves beyond lucky. Mop it up with up an appam, or five.

If you’re not a shellfish fan then the Peralan chicken curry is a must. Although milder in spice, the coconutty sauce still packs an almighty punch and the poached chicken falls off the bone. Order a palak paneer bhurji and some steamed rice and brace yourself for many, many months of telling anyone who’ll listen about this restaurant. We know we have.

The bottom line
Truly brilliant South Indian eats.

Sri Lankan 056 320 1986 Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT)

One of the first things you’ll notice about Ayubowan is the amazing smell – scents of curry and fresh spices greet you as soon as you walk through the large wooden doors.

The restaurant is small, with only a handful of tables, of which all are empty when we arrive. However, this means our service is excellent.

Our waiter greets us like we’re old friends and talks us through the menu, advising us on which local Sri Lankan dishes he recommends. With curries starting from as little as Dhs20 you might think taste is compromised, but not in this restaurant.

The (admittedly slightly alarmingly neon yellow) potato mustard curry is a highlight for us. It’s spicy, yet sweet thanks to the coconut sauce, with a kick of mustard at the end. Order it with a portion of rice and you’ll be one happy diner. For meat lovers we recommend the string hoppers (circular noodle patties) with beef curry.

A whopping 15 hoppers arrive with a side of steaming spicy beef curry. We insist you add coconut paste to this dish, as although it’s brilliant without, it’s even better thanks to this addition.

Portions are on the large side, so arrive hungry and sit back for an excellent, traditional Sri Lankan meal.

If you’re planning on heading to this quirky, unlicensed grill house in Karama (and we recommend you do), make a reservation.

The dining room is tiny and it gets very busy with groups of friends and families. As the name would suggest, it’s not ideal for vegetarians, but there are a few bites that are suitable (onion rings, corn on the cob, and vegetable “naanza” – pizza-style naan breads).

The menu is frankly all over the place, but it’s the Indian dishes that dominate – and they’re the ones we recommend most.

We try the Mexican-style corn, but while we like the lime and chilly coating, we aren’t overly impressed with the corn itself, which could do with more charring so the kernels pop a little more.

The Atomic Prawns also fail to wow, they’re not as spicy as the name suggests, though the portion is good for Dhs36.

Chicken tikka is a hit, though, cooked perfectly in the tandoor, spicy and with a cooling yoghurt and mint dip. Another Indian stalwart, dhal makhani, hits home, too. You can tell it’s slow-cooked and is a velvety, rich warm cuddle of a dish.

The assortment of breads we order are all excellent, too. We look on in envy at the next table’s mixed grill and wished we’d stuck to the venue’s modus operandi.

Quite why some of the more out there dishes on the menu are there remains to be seen, but stick to the grilled meat and Indian dishes and there’s lots to like here.

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