Despite Dubai’s reputation for pampering its residents to the extreme, Penelope Walsh gets back to basics, with this pick of restaurants where you can mix, pick and fire up your own dinner.
Whether it’s a handbag or hamburger, Dubai loves the word ‘bespoke’ and its implied sense of exclusivity. Unsurprising then, is the wealth of eating out options that challenge you to devise your own recipe, rather than just picking ‘off the peg’ plates, à la carte. That’s half the fun of cooking, creating and trialing fanciful combinations, but once you’ve come up with your winning formula, in true Dubai style, someone else will make it for you. Starting with that ‘bespoke’ burger, satisfy your cravings for a burger made to your precise requirements with the build- your-own burger at More Café (www.morecafe.co). The beef sandwich is served on a four-tier cake stand with condiments and salad served separately so that you can put the burger together however you like. Or head to Crossroads (04 314 9888) at Raffles Dubai, where the signature make-your-own burger offers diners a choice of patty (angus or wagyu beef, chicken or vegetarian), cheese and condiments.
For more bespoke dish combinations, head to the Pantry Café in Al Wasl Square (04 388 3868) to select your own pizza toppings from an extensive list of ingredients that includes locally made scamorza smoked cheese and wagyu beef bresaola. At Mercato Mall, new French pasta concept Le bar à pâte (04 344 3405) makes their own fresh pasta, and allows you to pick your own combination of pasta (for example basil, tomato and gnocchi) sauce and cheese toppings. From Italian to Japanese, the focus at Chez Sushi (800 78744) is the ‘roll your own’ customised sushi rolls, which even gives diners a choice of white or brown rice, in addition to fillings and toppings. Salad kings Richy’s (800 742 497) will also give you the option of tossing up your own delicious mix.
And for dessert? Those with a sweet but creative tooth should visit new Mirdif-based bakery Yellow Mellow (04 259 1500), where you can create your own cupcake combination by selecting a flavour, filling, frosting and toppings. Ice-cream fans can also head down to Cold Stone (www.coldstone.ae) or Marble Slab (www.marbleslab.com), where your choice of ingredients will be mixed together into an ice-cream, by using ice-cold stone as a work surface.
If you want to prepare your own dinner, you could of course join one of the regular classes at Miele (800 64353) or Scafa (04 379 4044), which allows you to tuck into a meal composed of your own creations after the lesson. Scafa holds classes on Wednesday evenings, themed around a cooking style such as healthy eating, Peruvian or tapas, where teams of two (take a friend or spouse) can learn to prepare their meal together.
But you can in fact hone your kitchen skills whilst dining out. If you must make sure your steak is cooked to the most precise distinction of rare, medium or well done, visit NY-inspired steakhouse Soho Bar and Grill in Century Village (04 286 8520). Here you can order your choice of steak cut and then opt to cook it yourself on a hot volcanic stone.
For those who like Asian food, there is a plethora of cook-it-yourself options to experiment with, from Chinese hot pot at Xiao Wei Yang (04 221 5111), (our highly commended Chinese restaurant in Deira), Japanese hotpot at newly opened Shabu Shabu in J3 Mall (050 624 6117), which you can also try a budget version of at Filipino venue Lola’s Best Restaurant in Satwa (04 398 9193). Also worth trying is yakiniku, a Japanese concept inspired by Korean barbecue, available in Dubai at Sumbiya in the Radision Blu Deira Creek (04 205 7033), or sample the original from which it evolved at Korean eatery Dae Jung Kung in Bur Dubai (04 355 8500).
If you don’t fancy doing all the hard work when you go out for your dinner, but still want to take an active interest in what you’re eating, then the best bet is to find a spot in Dubai where you can see and select what you’re eating first. Many of Dubai’s seafood restaurants offer an excellent chance for fussy diners to feel truly satisfied with their plateful. Opt for one of the city’s restaurants where the selection of seafood and fish is on display for you to choose from, with live specimens in tanks and fresh fish laid out on shaved ice. It is perhaps the modern day Dubai way of quelling our hunter-gatherer instincts.
Once you’ve chosen your crab, lobster, shrimps, sea bream or sultan Ibrahim, you can also choose your method of cooking and sauces or seasonings too. Popular options to sample include Seafood Market at Le Méridien Dubai (04 217 0000), where the walls are lined with tanks of different seafood species, Fish Market in the Radisson Blu Deira Creek (04 222 7171) and Fish Bazaar at The Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa (04 399 5000). For more budget- friendly options try Sea World on Sheikh Zayed Road (04 380 8009), where they’ll pack your choice of fish into a shopping trolley, which then gets wheeled into the kitchen to be cooked up. Sallet al Sayad also has a modest choice of fresh seafood to choose from, but the new Arabic-style seafood restaurant in Karama (04 335 5722) is highly affordable.
If however, your inner carnivore tells you those hunting instincts must be satisfied by meat, some of Dubai’s best steakhouses will also do their best to give you an informed choice, by presenting you with a board of their different steak cuts raw. Do ask for advice if you are unsure and the waiter presenting the steak should be able to explain the difference in the varieties available, such as how the fat distribution will effect taste. Beef-heavy Argentinian spot Gaucho in DIFC (04 422 7898) does an excellent job (its signature cut is the ‘churrasco de ancho’ or spiral rib-eye), as do Blue Flame at the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel (04 422 7898) and Centre Cut (04 372 2323). And in case you’re taking the hunting concept literally, at Prime 68, you can even select your steak knife (04 414 3000).
Hard day at work? Try taking your frustrations directly out on your dinner. At Aprons and Hammers (04 454 7097) you can protect yourself against wayward splashes with a bib and order a bucket of crab (or other seafood) in the shell. Then get cracking, tearing and smashing with the tools provided. You can try a similarly messy crabshack experience at the newly opened Claw in Souk al Bahar (04 432 2300).
Guacamole, that humble Mexican creation of creamy mashed avocado may not seem like the most intensely exciting dish. In Dubai, however, guacamole has been taken to theatrical new heights with the concept of ‘live guacamole’, where the dip is made fresh at your table for you to witness. The beauty of this is that you can choose the preferred balance of seasoning. Mexican restaurants Fuego (04 449 0977) and Loca (04 346 1111) both offer live guacamole.
Witness another style of dramatic table-side display at M’s Seafood (04 702 2700), where you can choose between lobster thermidor or American-style, which are then both flambéed at the table – all purely for your viewing pleasure.