For all its cosmopolitan credentials, this city noticeably lacks a lunch culture. Of course, we all eat a midday meal, but come lunchtime Dubai’s restaurants are rarely bursting, unlike those in New York or London.
It seems that many of us live by Dubai’s ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra and would rather grab something on the move or eat at our desks, and save our sit-down meals for evenings or Friday brunches. And then there are logistical issues. Dubai is not a pedestrian-friendly city, so unless you work somewhere such as DIFC, with its multitude of restaurant options, you’ll have to get a taxi or drive, which means the hassle of navigating traffic and parking. In short: we just haven’t the time for a good lunch here in Dubai.
This isn’t to say that no one in Dubai lunches any more. ‘The biggest difference between Arabs in the region and Westerners is that while Westerners tend to have a quick salad and sandwich, Arabs take time for lunch and enjoy it properly,’ says chef Uwe Micheel, director of kitchens at Radisson Blue Deira Creek. He explains that at Shabestan, the Radisson’s flagship restaurant, Arabic customers will usually arrive for lunch no earlier than 2pm and will leave around 4pm.
Not only do Emiratis and Arabs tend to take more sociable hours for lunch, they eat more sociable dishes. Rather than hunching over a sandwich, they’ll enjoy shared mezze platters, regardless of whether they’re dining with friends, family or business associates.
In short: we should all take a bit more time over our lunch, which is why we’ve decided to pay homage to the midday meal by rounding up some of Dubai’s best lunch deals. So step away from your desk, snub that soggy sandwich and see what this city has to offer.
The food: A mammoth of a menu, so keep things simple and go for the buffet option, which serves up plenty of scrumptious gems for an impressive Dhs60. The ever-popular scallop dumplings and spring rolls will have you beckoning the treasured trolley closer and closer.
Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek (04 205 7333). Set lunch menu Dhs90. Naughty (bad for us, but we don’t care), Impressive – good for closing a deal. City Card.
The vibe: The restaurant may seem tucked away in a random location, but the room is packed with tables full of Japanese businessmen. A good sign, we think.
The food: The sushi is easily the best in Dubai, and thoroughly Japanese grade. Bento boxes are also a decent deal.
Al Khaleej Palace Hotel, Deira (04 221 1293). Average cost per person Dhs65-85. Healthy, Long and leisurely, Impressive – good for closing a deal, Unusual and unique, Best for tourists.
The Dubai Mall and Downtown Burj Khalifa
The vibe: Though it’s a mall café, the al-fresco area, which looks out over the Burj Khalifa, is serene.
The food: Good for the humongous salads and traditional sandwiches (the molten cheese is our favourite). Skip desserts.
The Dubai Mall (04 423 8888). Average cost per person Dhs30-50. Healthy.
The vibe: Evocative of a Turkish canteen, this popular DIFC lunch haunt is packed almost every day.
The food: Delicious and traditional Turkish options, including kofta and bean stew, dished out of steam trays at supersonic speed.
DIFC (04 370 0377). Average cost per person Dhs15-30. Budget.
The vibe: Boasting a laid-back, light-filled venue, Rivington is a perfect place for those in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area to kick back for a relaxing lunch. When Time Out visited, there were very few customers, meaning service was swift.
The food: In short, the lunch menu is functional if a little uninspiring. Happily, there are plenty of options on the regular menu in case the lunchtime offerings fail to capture the imagination.
Souk Al Bahar (04 423 0903). Two-course business lunch Dhs80; three courses Dhs100. Best for tourist.
The vibe: Take lunch downstairs on sofas and low-slung tables, or choose a three-course, four-course or six-course meal upstairs. While the downstairs dining area is fairly busy, the first floor was completely empty when we visited.
The food: We opted to eat lunch from the four-course set menu, which started with salmon amid smouldering dry ice, followed by wild mushroom set in tortellini, foie gras atop prime tenderloin and cinnamon ice cream aside a slice of sweet cake. This opulent affair is time-consuming, not to mention totally devoid of atmosphere at lunchtime, so we’d suggest heading downstairs for the cheaper options instead.
DIFC (04 363 7770). Four-course set menu Dhs400. Long and leisurely, Impressive – good for closing a deal.
The vibe: The clientele mainly comprise well-attired professional types who, when they’re not crunching deals in the boardroom, are talking shop over sushi. As for the venue, it’s light, airy, super-trendy and serviced by numerous sleek and efficient staff.
The food: Each course is delivered without fuss and you’ll whisk through them before you know it. We particularly recommend the half-barley miso-marinated baby chicken, which compensates for the somewhat lightweight (yet expertly prepared) portions that precede it.
DIFC (04 425 5660). Three-course set menu (plus miso) Dhs110. Healthy, Impressive – good for closing a deal.
The vibe: Light and spacious, and a good thing too – this place is heaving during lunch.
The food: Scrumptious Italian fast food without the grease, these guys throw together a deliciously crisp, thin pizza and toss a mean salad.
Dubai Media City (04 437 0786). Two-course lunch Dhs60-100. Healthy, Budget.
Garhoud to Festival City
The vibe: Warm and surprisingly sophisticated, full of intricate wood panelling and ceiling paintings.
The food: Very well executed North Indian fare. We’ve never made a misstep when ordering (and we’ve ordered a lot).
Garhoud (04 286 9600). Average cost per person Dhs30. Naughty (bad for us, but we don’t care), Budget.
The vibe: Relaxed, airy and friendly, with a terrific view of the marina and the Festival City helipad.
The food: Delicious – the enormous menu ensures there’s something for everyone. We particularly recommend the meat pies, made with shortcrust pastry.
Dubai Festival City Promenade (04 232 6299). Three-course lunch Dhs150. Healthy, Long and leisurely, Best for tourists.
Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire
The vibe: Sophisticated and formal without being snooty. The slick staff are all incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.
The food: Endless courses appear – the small amuse bouches pack in so much flavour, followed by two mains and two desserts. None of it disappoints, but be sure to wear something elasticised and have a few hours to spare; you’ll need it if you want to get the best out of the lunch. This impressive venue is an ideal place to close a deal (your business associates will be wowed).
InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111). Business lunch served on Wed and Thu only. Open Fri-Tue 7pm-1am. Set business lunch Dhs180. Long and leisurely, Impressive – good for closing a deal, Unusual and unique. City Card.
The vibe: Design-forward decor, views of a polo field and the deli-style food make this the perfect spot for a long, leisurely lunch.
The food: The menu is varied and we often get extreme ordering anxiety, but the Thai chicken pizza is flavoursome, the bread and sundried tomato pesto starter perfect and the fresh juices delicious. That said, on our last visit the burger came out well done when we asked for it medium rare – tsk, tsk.
Desert Palm, Al Awir Road (04 323 8888). Average cost per person Dhs100. Long and leisurely, Unusual and unique, Best for tourists.
Burj Al Arab Culinary Flight
The vibe: Overblown and surreal: being inside the famed seven-star hotel is a little like visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
The food: Moving between four of the Burj Al Arab’s restaurants for each course, the food is somewhat of a side attraction – lucky, really, because it’s pretty standard fare.
Burj Al Arab (04 301 7600). Four-course lunch Dhs690. Long and leisurely, Unusual and unique, Best for tourists.
Le Pain Quotidien
The vibe: The excessive wood lends a European air. The feel is relaxed, although the service is sporadic.
The food: Hit and miss. The salads are sensational (try the prawn), while the creamy egg dishes are, at best, unappetising.
Jumeirah Beach Residence (04 437 0141). Average cost per person Dhs35. Healthy, Long and leisurely, Best for tourists.
Lime Tree Café
The vibe: During the week, this ever-popular Beach Road restaurant is full of those who work nearby, plus a scattering of freelancers and ladies who lunch. It’s very relaxed, yet ever-so-slightly pretentious.
The food: Healthy deli options – although the portions have shrunk and the choice is less inspiring these days.
Jumeirah Beach Road (04 366 9320). Average cost per person Dhs30. Healthy, Naughty (bad for us, but we don’t care), Long and leisurely, Best for tourists.
The vibe: This modern venue feels more like a bar than a restaurant, so is only on half-power during the day. The service, however, is super speedy.
The food: Heavy, economical Mexican fare, the burritos especially so.
Dubai Marine Beach Resort (04 346 1111). Á la carte menu, same throughout the day (average cost per person Dhs30). Naughty (bad for us, but we don’t care), Budget.
The vibe: This place oozes class, with its slick service and authentic Chinese decor.
The food: The dim sum is delightful, stir fries are fresh and the braised meat dishes served in sticky sauce with Chinese buns have become an official new obsession.
Mina A’Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Sufouh Road (04 366 8888). Average cost per person Dhs125. Long and leisurely, Impressive – good for closing a deal, Best for tourists.
Mall of the Emirates
The vibe: This is very much a mall eatery, with lots of foot traffic coming directly from the escalator running alongside the restaurant. However, the service is reasonable and the food (French café fare) is excellent.
The food: We can highly recommend the fillet steak with vegetables as a main. The takeaway service is good too.
Mall of the Emirates (04 341 4844). Average cost per person Dhs30. Healthy.
Oud Metha to Karama
The vibe: No-frills Indian restaurant that’s obviously a local favourite.
The food: The South Indian Lunch is effectively a thali, meaning lots of pots containing an array of flavoursome daals, vegetable curries and sauces, which are mopped up with handfuls of fresh naan.
Karama (04 335 5776). South Indian lunch menu Dhs14. Healthy, Budget, Unusual and unique.
The vibe: An immaculate space that is also near-empty during lunch time. Staff, however, are eager to please.
The food: Expect mild but flavourful Indian cuisine, including naans, daal, chicken (or veggie) tikka, rice, dessert, soft drinks and a lassi.
Grand Hyatt (04 317 2222). Three-course set menu Dhs100. Budget.
Sushi Grand Hyatt
The vibe: This cute little Japanese spot is pretty, petite and accomplished.
The food: High-grade, splendid, authentic Japanese food assembled with exemplary attention to detail, but you’ll be hoping the person in front of you goes halves with the final bill because it’s a little on the pricey side. The grilled sea bass (suzuki shioyaki) is the menu highlight.
Grand Hyatt Dubai, Oud Metha (04 317 2222, 04 317 1234). Sushi and sashimi yari set menu Dhs160. Healthy, Impressive – good for closing a deal, Best for tourists.
Sheikh Zayed Road
The vibe: Sleek and sophisticated – an ideal venue for business lunches. The food is high-end and the service is exemplary.
The food: Guests are given the choice of an express lunch or normal steakhouse menu, but whatever you do, don’t leave without trying a dish containing the completely divine melt-in-the-mouth beef.
Fairmont Dubai (04 311 8316). Two-course express lunch Dhs150. Impressive – good for closing a deal.
The vibe: Okku’s classy, club-like ambience is perhaps better suited to evening dining, but the dark interior makes it a great place to eat in privacy.
The food: Flawless. The meal begins with the obligatory bowl of miso and a cup of refreshing green tea, which are then followed by a choice of immaculately prepared starters, ranging from delicious wagyu beef dumplings to melt-in-the-mouth saski tuna. The mains that follow are equally delectable – we particularly love the perennially popular miso black cod.
Monarch Dubai (04 501 8777). Soup and donburi Dhs59; miso, starter and donburi Dhs79; miso, starter donburi and dessert Dhs99. Healthy, Impressive – good for closing a deal, Unusual and unique.
Oscar’s Vine Society
The vibe: Loosen your collar and enjoy yourself in this hip yet inviting barrel-filled cellar.
The food: Some would say the closest thing to Europe (say southern France) in Dubai. We’d just say very good, honest grub. The cheese selection and cold meats are fine, but if you really want to nail that deal, go for the quintessential duck leg.
Crowne Plaza Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 331 1111). Dhs350. Healthy, Long and leisurely, Unusual and unique.
Lunches of the world!
Time Out takes a glance at three of the globe’s most traditional lunches.
Japan: O-Bento (‘the honourable lunchbox’, to give it its more usual, honorific title) is a traditional Japanese lunchbox, usually consisting of rice, pickles, salad and some kind of main course. This could be traditional washoku, such as sushi/sashimi or tempura, or it could be modern, such as a beefburger (minus bread), pasta or – our personal favourite – chicken nanban, which translates roughly as ‘Western barbarian-style chicken’. Japanese housewives traditionally send their husbands to work with a lunchbox wrapped in a knapsack. In the early days of marriage, when Cupid still sings, this is known as the ‘aisai bento’, which translates as ‘beloved wife lunchbox’.
USA: Right, before we get started, we’re not saying that all Americans eat hot dogs for lunch – this would be a gross (albeit slightly amusing) generalisation. We’re merely stating that the hot dog is a popular lunchtime choice in the US of A. So much so that the food even has its own season (the aptly named Hot Dog Season), which takes place between Memorial Day and Labor Day. During this time, the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (www.hot-dog.org), estimates that 818 hot dogs are consumed every second.
UK: After the traditional Sunday lunch and fish and chips, the ploughman’s lunch is probably the best-known (and most edible) dish to come out of the UK. Traditionally, it’s a platter featuring stilton or cheddar cheese, pickle or chutney, pâté, an apple, pickled onions and chunky bread. However, these honest ingredients betray a somewhat sinister past – based on the minutes from an English Country Cheese Council meeting, a BBC documentary concluded that the ploughman’s lunch was ‘invented as a marketing ploy to sell cheese in pubs’. The English Country Cheese Council was, unfortunately, unavailable for comment.
Five reasons not to eat at your desk
We humanoids are dirty creatures, and the same can be said of our workplace. Several studies (including the oft-quoted report by the University of Arizona) have shown that the average desk, keyboard and telephone handset are 400 times dirtier than many kitchen work surfaces and even toilet bowls. Still hungry? Thought not.
Sitting in the same position all day makes it difficult for food to pass through the digestive system, which can lead to stomach cramps and wind – something you should spare yourself and your colleagues.
Even if you’ve made the effort to cook at home, you’re still more likely to overeat if you’re focusing on Facebook instead of your meal.
Not only does a short walk at lunchtime help maintain sanity, it also maintains basic fitness. Even a quick stroll produces endomorphines, which not only keep you alert and focused, but also help to speed up the digestive process. If you have the time, go one further with a quick visit to the gym.
There’s always someone scoffing stinky food in the office. This definitely won’t win you any friends, so take your tuna melt elsewhere.