Food. It’s the one thing in this city that unites us all. If we’re not talking about it, we’re thinking about it, and if we’re not thinking about it, we’re stuffing our faces with it. Because whatever Dubai might lack, it certainly boasts a vibrant and thriving culinary culture that’s going from strength to strength. Whether it’s gourmet creations at fine-dining restaurants, street food from the local shawarma den, or snacks from your friendly neighbourhood supermarket, we all have our opinions on the best grub in town. Time Out spent a while ruminating – and drooling -– over some truly wonderful and weird dishes, and chomped the list down to the 50 best things, in no particular order, we’ve eaten in Dubai.
1. Tenderloin beef with wild mushrooms at Zheng He’s
It doesn’t happen very often, but when a dish comes along that makes you drop your chopsticks in sheer delight at its masterful flavours and luxurious textures, you know you’re onto a winner. Smothered in a crimson drizzle of sweet red wine fermentation, each slice of expertly seared tenderloin beef makes time momentarily stand still with its tenderness and intensity. And the wild mushrooms aren’t bad either.
Mina A Salam, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 8888)
2. Gosht korma awadhi at Handi
This potent fusion of boneless lamb, cashew nuts, almonds, onions and spice is no wimpy korma for kids. The gosht is an awadhi dish – a style of Indian cooking originating from the city of Lucknow, where the Nawabs of Awadh once ruled and took their food very seriously indeed. As a result it is alive with fiery flavours and only the sweetness of the nuts mellows proceedings. One for those who take their curry seriously.
Taj Palace Hotel (04 223 2222)
3. Steamed fish with ginger at The Noodle Bowl
If you flick to the back of the extensive menu, bypassing the outlandishly popular noodle dishes and stopping before you reach the desserts that the manager hesitates to let anyone but their Chinese clientele order, you’ll find this oft overlooked dish. Served on a rectangular plate, a generous ladder of plump, steamed white fish rests in a soy-based sauce, riddled with transparent ginger slices and spring onions. Not only does each tasty morsel melt in your mouth, it’s good for you too. An undeniable win-win.
Al Dhiyafah Road, Satwa (04 345 3381)
4. Sweet lassi at Zaika
It might sound like something a Scotsman would whisper to Miss World, but the sweet lassi at Zaika is a wonderfully thick, mercifully cooling and gloriously refreshing ice-cold yoghurt drink that’ll take the sting out of the spiciest curry.
Al Murooj Rotana (04 321 1111)
5. Gadh fish tikka at The Bombay
Every mouthful of the gadh tikka goads the senses with gloriously smoky hints and ocean bursts. It may be just a starter, but these giant marinade-soothed rocks of spice-whipped fish, huddled on a jumbled mass of thinly sliced fresh onion, would rival most main courses at many of Dubai’s top-end Indian restaurants.
Marco Polo Hotel (04 272 0000)
6. Pan-seared foie gras starter at JW’s Steakhouse
Foie gras isn’t to everybody’s approval, but this stunning starter has got it all going on. The incredulously soft pan-seared goose liver disintegrates in the mouth next to toothsome slices of caramelised apple. The result is a myriad of complex flavours that end with an intensely smoky twist.
JW Marriott (04 262 4444)
7. Peking duck at Lan Kwai Fong
The speciality dish at this unassuming Oud Metha restaurant, the Peking duck is ceremoniously prepared so that the beautifully glazed bird is carved at your table, where it is wrapped up in paper-thin pancakes with freshly chopped spring onion, cucumber and sweet hoi sin sauce. As soon as you taste the crispy skin, rich flesh and cool vegetables, you’ll know it’s well worth getting your fingers sticky for.
Oud Metha, opposite Mövenpick (04 335 3680)
8. Honey jackfruit from Spinneys
This Southeast Asian favourite is all too rare on the shelves of Dubai’s supermarkets. Give thanks to Spinneys, then, that these addictively sweet chunks of yellow goodness are available, pre-peeled, packed and ready to eat. With a flavour vaguely similar to – but immeasurably more refreshing and wholesome than – Juicy-Fruit chewing gum, the jackfruit is wonderfully versatile (you can even deep-fry them in coconut oil to make chips, and the seeds can be roasted like chestnuts), but they’re best as nature intended – fresh, fleshy and more-ishly sweet.
Trade Centre Road (04 351 1777)and various locations around the city
9. Kibbe nayeh at Al Qasr
The secret to great kibbe nayeh – raw minced lamb pulverised with bulgur wheat and spices then drizzled with olive oil – is freshness. Whoever’s making it must be in league with a master butcher. But judging by the blushing pinkness of this stupendous offering, the fellows at Al Qasr are clearly mates with the bloke from the abattoir. Creamy, savoury and with the appearance of strawberry mousse, it’s enough to tempt the most squeamish of unadventurous dullards into necking a mouthful.
Dubai Marine Beach Resort (04 346 1111)
10. Lobster tawa masala at Gazebo
It’s worth perusing the 150 items on Gazebo’s comprehensive menu to seek out this true gem. The tawa masala features meaty chunks of succulent lobster, stir fried in a curry of spring onion, tomato and black pepper. It’s a truly distinctive dish that says much about this independent restaurant’s ambition to spread the word about excellent north Indian cuisine.
Kuwait Street, Bur Dubai (04 359 8555)
11. Roasted sea scallops with caramelised pork belly and pan-fried watermelon at Verre
What else would you expect from the back-to-back winner of the Time Out Restaurant of the Year award? This dish is truly magnificent. The roasted sea scallops are incomprehensibly tender, the pork belly astoundingly intense and the pan-fried watermelon gushing with coolness. The sweet symphony of flavour and texture is tempered by the mellow twist of ginger emulsion, to make every mouthful an experience you’ll wish could last as long as the time it took you to earn the cash to pay for the dish in the first place.
Hilton Dubai Creek (04 227 1111)
12. White chocolate soup at Nineteen
Chocolate soup? As desserts go, a bowl of thinned and melted white chocolate, caramelised pineapple chunks and a dusting of basil sounds like the sort of concoction that would be as sickly and as hard to stomach as a Richard Curtis video marathon (not that we’d know, of course). But, amazingly, it not only works, it’s stunningly good, and we think this velvety cocoa consommé is perhaps the most original and memorable end to a meal in the city.
The Montgomerie Dubai (04 363 1275)
13. Foie gras and veal tenderloin at Amwaj
OK, we admit it – we’ve run out adjectives to describe a dish that, for want of a better word, is simply delicious. We can enthuse about the astoundingly tender and deeply pink veal, and gush about the creamily melted foie gras on top. But to really understand why this is one of the 50 best things we’ve ever eaten in Dubai (or anywhere else for that matter), you’ll really have to try it for yourself. And you’re waiting for what, exactly?
Shangri La Hotel (04 343 8888)
14. Carrot cake at the Lime Tree Café
This giant wedge of calories might be something of a diet buster, but if you’re going to pile on the pounds then do it in style. The body of the cake is always moist and moreish, and the sweet icing on top is wildly slathered on as if applied by a blind plasterer rather than a Parisian pastry chef. The Lime Tree have been serving it up for years, but there’s still no slice of cake in the country that can even come close to it.
Beach Road (04 349 8498)
15. ‘Classic’ chocolates at Patchi
This luxury chocolate brand from Lebanon shuns nasties like preservatives, artificial flavourings and vegetable oil in favour of pure cocoa butter when making its fine pieces. Combining a rich variety of exquisite hand-wrapped creations, including both dark and milk chocolate, plain or crammed with fillings of pistachio, hazelnut and almond to name but a few, the ‘classic’ gift box makes for the perfect present – to yourself.
Mall of the Emirates (04 341 1117)
16. The Madrid paella at Al Hambra
It may look like the glorified tar-based sludge you’d like to flick at your boss, but this premium dish is a favourite among seafood aficionados in Dubai. Cooked in black squid ink, the paella is packed with shrimps, fish, mussels and, of course, squid; but like all black squid ink dishes, every morsel of mushy rice, no matter how small, will colour your mouth a faded black, often leaving you picking bits from between your teeth. Clearly this isn’t a dish for the self-conscious, but the chance to tuck into a fiercely fishy Madrid paella outshines any evening spent flashing perfectly pearly whites.
Al Qasr (04 366 8888)
17. Strawberries in balsamic vinegar at Certo
Sometimes it’s the simplest of pleasures that the heart craves. Like these perfectly succulent strawberries in one of our favourite Italian eateries. The balsamic does wonders for the flavour and draws the juices out. Add in a pristine vanilla ice cream for a straight-to-the-throat winner.
Radisson SAS Media City (04 366 9111)
18. Blue cheese burger at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen
If you’re going to have a cheeseburger, do it properly. Rather than a limp patty with a square of cheese-flavoured rubber, this is a juicy chunk of Aberdeen Angus Scotch beef with aged Stilton, salad and relish wedged into a sourdough sesame-seed bun. It’s so big it comes with a wooden spike to hold it all together and lays a solid claim to be the best burger in Dubai.
Uptown Mirdif (04 288 9057) and Dubai International Financial Centre (04 393 2646)
19. Murgh Ashiana at Ashiana
Brought to you by the winners of the Time Out award for best Indian restaurant 2007 (no mean feat in a city with a plethora of superb sub-continental options) this dish is a triumph of spice. With great shreds of silky chicken tikka basking in an arresting sauce of blushing tomato, pungent garlic, soft onions and bold capsicum, you’ll wonder how you ever ate Indian without it.
Sheraton Dubai Creek (04 228 1111)
20. Szechwan lamb at The China Club
Here’s a dish that’ll cement your affinity with The China Club. The boiled lamb comes in substantial slices of finespun flesh that fall apart like a lover spurned, then explode in wild tantrums of screaming flavour as the Szechwan sauce joins the rumble.
The Radisson SAS Deira Creek(04 205 7333)
21. Balik salmon fillet Tsar Nikolaj at Salmontini
Following the traditional recipe and methods of salmon smoking as used in the court of the Russian Tsar, the Balik heart of salmon at Salmontini is the piscine equivalent of wagyu beef. The substantial strips of firm, fresh fish lie splayed on the plate like pink piano keys before they dissolve in the mouth with a smooth density made all the more intense by a herby cream cheese. The perfectly carved, delicately smoked and stupendously fresh salmon is dizzyingly flavoursome and so tender it renders your jaw obsolete.
Mall of the Emirates (04 347 5844)
22. Yorkshire pudding at Waxy O’Conner’s
Bulkier than a pregnant gnu, the Yorkshire pudding at Waxy O’Conner’s is a giant, quivering thing of rare beauty. A monstrous hemisphere of baked dough, containing a lake of rich, meaty beef casserole, this mighty treat tramples all competition into the dust, for home-cooked flavour and dimensions. The epitome of comfort eating for homesick British.
Ascot Hotel (04 352 0900)
23. Suckling pig at Hofbrauhaus
They only trot it out on special occasions like Oktoberfest and New Year at this Bavarian beer hall and restaurant, but it’s well worth waiting for. The suckling pig’s a little fellow, to be honest, but he’s wonderfully glazed, nicely plump, raucously crackly and succulently tender. You’d have thought they would have let him finish eating that apple before they roasted him, though.
JW Marriott (04 607 7977)
24. Pan-roasted sea bream provençal at Pisces
Size doesn’t matter at Pisces, but quality certainly does. Virginally fresh and artfully presented, the dainty and delicate pan-roasted sea bream provençal floats on a bed of courgette and risotto nero, which is blackened by rich squid ink as dark as the deepest sea. It may be small, but it is perfectly formed.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 8888)
25. Mini pizzas at Bakewell Bakery
A dirham won’t get you far in this town (especially not with Salik now up and running) but it will get you one of these dollops of delight. Hot from the oven, a Bakewell mini pizza will urge a coo out of the most ardent dough dodger. Eschew the over-fussy chicken and mushroom options and go for the classic margarita – the base is lighter than a helium-stuffed supermodel and the topping zings with tomatoey flavour, offset with a tinge of delicate sweetness. These small objects of desire take half an hour to prepare, so phone ahead, order a dozen or two and enjoy.
Rolla Road, Bur Dubai (04 397 1200)
26. Chocolate soufflé at Café Chic
It’s hardly shocking that the chocolate soufflé is the most requested dessert at Café Chic. A light dish of divine magnificence, its oozing centre flows like heavenly lava into pistachio caramel and vanilla ice cream when you break the surface. Chocolate nirvana.
Le Meridien Dubai (04 282 4040)
27. Lamb tagine at Almaz by Momo
Mixing cutting-edge funkiness with traditional style, the atmospheric Almaz by Momo has been open little more than a year, but the lamb tagine here is so delicate and tender they must have started slow cooking it while the interior designer was in nappies. The unreasonably soft and moist meat slips from the bone like dew into a dusky swamp of rich, dark sauce that’s bundled with fervent flavour. Great with mounds of crumbly couscous.
Mall of the Emirates (04 409 8877)
28. Crepas de cajeta at Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop
Basking in a drowsy drizzle of thick caramel, each fluffy pancake of this supremely fresh and sweet dessert is balanced by a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to slices of dewy kiwi fruit. If you’re anywhere near Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop and you’re badly in need of a sugar rush, it’s worth popping inside for a hit of this stuff on its own.
Umm Al Sheif Street (04 395 4454)
29. Palette Duo caviar at Caviar House & Prunier
Glistening like moist charcoal-tinted pearls, the St James caviar – produced according to an ancient Persian recipe that provides the perfect balance between salt and egg – slides off the miniature mother of pearl spatula and onto the back of your hand, between thumb and forefinger. The caviar is then taken into the mouth, which it floods with exquisite and expensive flavours. This is the way to eat caviar. And with the Palette Duo, you get another modest dollop of Tradition caviar for good measure. Gloriously decadent.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 368 6282)
30. Tadig at Iran Zaman
It might not sound too appetising, but this brown, slightly burnt, burger-shaped block of overcooked saffron rice, which is scraped from the bottom of the pan after cooking, is considered a great delicacy in Persian cuisine. Similar to the toasted rice (or socarrat) at the bottom of Spanish paella, the crispy, caramelised side order is scrumptious, and very right almost by virtue of its wrongness.
Concorde Hotel (04 229 2931)
31. Shrimp avocado sandwich at Le Pain Quotidien
It’s easy to get befuddled while ambling through the monolithic Mall of the Emirates. Whether you’re after clothes or candlesticks, there’s just too much to choose from. That’s why this simple sarnie is such a pleasure. Delightfully soft organic brown bread forms the foundation upon which rests a curlicue of plump prawns and a fan of perfectly ripe avocado. It’s the spicy tomato salsa dribbled over the top, however, that makes this uncomplicated stomach-filler stand out from the crowd.
Mall of the Emirates (04 341 0041)
32. Tobacco and Cognac ice cream at Tang
Dining at Tang isn’t for people who know what they like and like what they know. That’s because Chef Stephane Buchholzer’s brand of molecular gastronomy takes all your preconceived ideas about food, plonks them in a test tube for extensive experimentation and turns them into something completely different. His tobacco and cognac ice cream is like a night out on a plate – smoky tobacco hints curl around rich, warm cognac to transport you to somewhere you never expected.
Le Méridien Mina Seyahi (04 399 3333)
33. Oysters at The Rib Room
Yes, The Rib Room in The Emirates Towers is not only a fearsomely popular steakerie, it’s also no slouch when it comes to seafood, as exemplified by these jolly little chaps, the quite exceptional Tsarskaya oysters fresh from France. Ripe, plump and oozing flavour, these molluscs arrive with a range of accompaniments, ranging from lemon to mango basil, beetroot, fennel, mint and even honeydew melon.
Jumeirah Emirates Towers (04 319 8088)
34. Green tea mochi at Kiku
Somewhat bizarrely, even by Japanese standards, mochi is believed to be made on the moon by a giant rabbit. Back on planet Earth, however, it’s more likely to be made out of sticky glutinous rice that has been pounded into a paste, mixed with sugar and dusted with green tea powder – probably by a human, in a kitchen. But who cares how or where it’s made when it’s so delicious?
Le Méridien Dubai (04 282 4040)
35. Mille feuille at The French Bakery
When it comes to a successful mille feuille, it’s all about texture. If one building block isn’t quite right, the whole thing collapses into a big gooey mess. Luckily for those with a penchant for pastry, the French Bakery has perfected the art. Here, when you slice into the fondant-coated rectangles of superfine puff pastry, the Gallic masterpiece gives way to a generous slab of thick vanilla custard, while still maintaining its form for the perfect bite. Not only is this mille feuille a sweet-tooth’s delight, it’s an engineering feat to rival that of Gustave Eiffel – well, almost.
Sheikh Zayed Road (04 343 6444)
36. Chilli prawn linguini at Medzo
There’s a wild combustion of temperature and texture going on in this explosive Italian dish. The al dente linguine tangles and coils around podgy pink prawns that tumble among shards of fiery chilli in a cooling lime sauce reduction, causing an incendiary rush of flavours that set your palate alight. If things get a little hot, a nice glass of crisp, clean pinot grigio will capably stand in as an extinguisher.
Wafi Pyramids (04 324 0000)
37. Filet mignon at The Exchange Grill
A proud, stout chap, oozing flavour and cooked with élan, this filet mignon is a revelation. Tender, juicy and perfectly prepared, it raises the bar for steak eateries across the city. A combination of 1855 USDA certified Angus beef, with excellent accompaniments (the steak can be topped off with sweet and tender Alaskan king crab legs), this is most certainly our meat of choice.
The Fairmont (04 311 5999)
38. Confit of pork belly with kipfler potatoes and pineapple chutney at P2 Brasserie
Yes, OK, we know that it’s the stellar seafood that draws in the crowds to Pisces and its little brother P2, but we really must mention the pork belly, as just the thought of it gives us goose bumps. The generous wedge of melt-in-your-mouth meat and salty crackling launches you into a stupefied haze of contentment, while the tasty kipflers keep you grounded and the pineapple chutney is zesty enough to bring you back around for the next bite.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730)
39. Hotpot at Xiao Wei Yang
This is one of the most exciting, authentic and enjoyable dining experiences in the city. The hotpot combines fresh Chinese vegetables such as cabbage and kankong, wafer-thin whispers of meat, buoyant fish balls, exotic black fungus and shiitake mushrooms, chunks of gleaming hammour, handmade fresh noodles and more or less anything else you can think of in a roiling bluster of stock. Choose your own ingredients, throw them in the pot, cook them your way, eat – simple.
Baniyas Road, Deira (04 221 7177)
40. Eggs benedict at More Café
More might have a reputation for giving you rather more food than you can handle, but – rather uncharacteristically – the eggs benedict is a manageable and magnificent dish. A creamy dollop of hollandaise sauce is perched atop a glowing pink fold of silky smoked salmon. This adds texture to the main attraction, a marvellously poached egg, which oozes its luxurious runny yolk into crumpled sautéed spinach on a sweet and crisply toasted bun. You’ll be hard pushed to find a better breakfast.
Garhoud (04 283 0224)
41. Margarita pizza 800PIZZA
Going for a pizza in Dubai with an Italian mate usually results in them launching an impassioned diatribe about the lack of a thin crispy base and the horrifying presence of mozzarella that is neither imported from Italy nor created from buffalo milk. But getting in an 800PIZZA margarita does something truly extraordinary – it gets them to shut their gob for at least ten minutes. The quality of cheese is second to none, the basil-infused tomato sauce exquisite and the base melt-in-the-mouth yet with enough resilience to avoid going as limp as a sedated slug. Bellissimo.
Al Barsha (800 74992)
42. Moussaka at Greek Taverna
A dish cooked with genuine affection always stands out. And eating the moussaka at Greek Taverna is like joining the Athenian chef’s extended family for an evening (assuming her extended family like to smash plates and dance to ‘Zorba’s Theme’). The aim here is for food that tastes like it was cooked at home. The melted cheese, soft aubergine, moist grains of mince and silky cheese sauce in this dish accentuate everything that’s great about traditional Greek cuisine.
Carlton Tower Hotel (04 222 7111)
43. Kunafa at Firas
Getting stuck into the planet-sized pans of bright orange kunafa in the window of Firas is a daunting prospect, but those put off by such lurid luminosity will miss out on a fantastic Syrian snack. The ingenious combination of sweet shredded dough, melted cheese, pistachio flakes and a flood of honey, all buttered, sugared and deep-fried to devilishly calorific extremes, is enough to make the damage to your waistline seem a tiny price to pay for such a glorious lick-your-lips indulgence.
Al Dhiyafah Road (04 398 8881)
44. Flambé margarita at La Parrilla
The pomp and ceremony of this exquisite dessert matches its fresh and flame-licked flavours for sheer showiness. A mobile cooking station arrives at your table, and the performance begins. Tossed through flashes of leaping fire, the Grand Marnier-laced strawberries and syrup-sodden crêpes emerge onto the plate to cause further dramas in your mouth. If you’re looking for a bit of South American passion on a plate, this is hard to beat.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel (04 348 0000)
45. Falafel sandwich at Al Mallah
At a paltry three inches long, Al Mallah’s falafel sandwiches aren’t particularly impressive at first, but they cram enough flavours inside to give even the most adventurous eaters something to reel about later in the evening. But gas leaks aside, these tiny little numbers feature fresh tomatoes, verdant parsley, zingy onions, pressed falafels and tarator (tahini sauce, lemon juice, garlic and parsley), all wrapped in Arabic bread by a loud Egyptian. The city’s best version of Beirut classic.
Al Dhiyafah Road (04 398 4723)
46. Abesinian special agelgel at Abesinian Restaurant
That fact that you can eat authentic Ethiopian food in Dubai is impressive enough, but the Abesinian special looks and tastes like something from another planet. Housed in a goatskin basket, this monster arrangement comprises a chicken stew with hard-boiled egg, a rich dark sauce punctuated by pluckily spiced lamb, a sturdy mound of minced raw meat like steak tartare and a crumbling white scattering of soft cheese among other unexpected anomalies. Everything gets scooped up with pliant folds of spongy grey injera flatbread. Go explore.
Somali Road, Deira (04 273 7429)
47. Makanek samak at Flooka
It may come as a surprise that these dainty little Lebanese sausages, which look like lamb and have the consistency of lamb, are in fact made from fish. Once you munch on one, it floods your mouth with a welcome revelation of smoky hammour and compels you to get started on another.
Dubai Marine Beach Resort (04 346 1111)
48. Spaghetti arrabiata at Bella Donna
The secret of this delicious arrabiata is all in the tomatoes – you have to peel them first, then reduce the sauce over many hours. While the tomato base is both smoky and delicious, it’s the delicate measure of chopped green chillies that give the dish zest without leaving you gasping. The generous knot of spaghetti, made fresh on site, is also cooked to al dente perfection.
Mercato Mall (04 344 7701)
49. Raam buzkazzi lamb at Khazana
A treat for all the senses. First the lamb is cooked slowly in the tandoor before being sliced and tossed in the pan. Then, still sizzling, the aromatic dish is brought to your table where it is flambéed with a glug of rum before your eyes. The second the flames have licked their last, you’ll be desperate to get your tongue around the impossibly tender and spicy meat.
Al Nasr Leisureland (04 336 0061)
50. Bistec at Malécon
If the stereotype is to be believed, the Cuban proletariat chow down on little but mouldy bread and the occasional limp vegetable. However, the scrumptious bistec (Spanish for steak) at Dubai’s only Cuban restaurant, Malécon, challenges such preconceptions. Two juicy beef medallions, lightly seasoned and cooked perfectly to order, are matched with a sticky scoop of bean-addled rice and fried sweet plantains – it’s a simple transatlantic jumble of Mediterranean-Caribbean deliciousness.
Dubai Marine Beach Resort (04 346 1111)