A few months ago, we’d wager you wouldn’t be able to tell us what exactly Armenian food is. That all changed as Downtown Dubai became a mini-hub of Armenian eateries after the opening of two new restaurants; Mayrig (04 453 9945) and Zaytoni (04 432 9106). While Mayrig dubs itself Armenian food of the diaspora, and Zaytoni offers Lebanese and Armenian cooking on one menu, both represent a strand of this cuisine heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and Levantine regions in which many Armenians have settled.
Despite being a world favourite for dining out and ordering in, Chinese food has not been represented in Dubai quite the way it deserves. In fact, when it comes to a swanky evening out, Chinese restaurants have been overshadowed by their Japanese neighbours (masters of the lounge bar and chi-chi restaurant model) for too long. Hot on their heels, we’re now seeing a new wave of Chinese restaurants, which follow this upmarket and stylish Japanese model. New venues Bã (04 457 3388) and Yuan (04 426 2626) not only offer classic (and really, very good) Chinese fine dining, but give the likes of Zuma and Okku a run for their money in the style stakes. They are original to Dubai concepts too. In fact, even the city’s old guard of Chinese cool-kids, Hakkasan (04 384 8484) has had something of a makeover of late, including a new bar space and re-launched brunch.
While Dubai has lacked sufficient representation of Emirati food for some time, there is a wealth of strong Middle Eastern dining, from Lebanese to Iranian, with plenty in between, all across the Emirate. And yet, one other aspect of the scene that has surprisingly never been represented is a modern and sophisticated vision of Arabic dining – fine Arabic fusion, if you will. Right on cue, welcome Qbara (04 709 2500) to the scene; a sophisticated, stunning and vibrant new restaurant, that has become to Arabic dining what Zuma is to Japanese, or Izel to Latin cooking. We’re predicting this is just the beginning too, with Lebanese-Australian chef Greg Malouf due to open his own chi-chi concept (featuring not one but two lounge bars), with a modern Arabic menu in DIFC this April.
Once upon a time in an emirate fuelled by its knockout restaurant scene, the city was full of foodies mourning the lack of local cuisine. Klayya Bakery and Sweets (04 325 5335) came along, serving an Emirati-inspired breakfast menu and Al Fanar (04 232 9966) offered us a funfair of a restaurant. Then suddenly, over the course of 2013, the number of modern Emirati dining options increased, each with a different way of representing the nation’s food culture, from khameer specialists Mama Tani (04 385 4437), low-key café Local Bites (04 338 5855), Emirati dining with a twist (including fusion pizzas and a perfume course) at Milas (04 388 2313) and a more formal dining experience, overlooking the beach at Bait 1971 (04 394 4441). We’re not quite there yet, but we are seeing the start of the revolution.
It’s fair to say 2013 was the year of Latin cooking, with Peruvian, Mexican and Brazilian openings blowing up the restaurant scene from January through to December. Meanwhile the rest of the world has been debating for some time now, ‘what’s cooler? ceviche, or a Catalan superchef?’ Now, Spanish dining has begun to bloom in Dubai, with our first taste of El Bulli-esque modern Spanish cooking at El Sur (04 399 7700), brought to you by chef Juan Carlos González Hernández, who has worked with both Ferran Adrià and Joan Roca). Representing the traditional side of Spanish cooking, and also growing in force, is a laid-back and lively tapas bar model,with the launch of Salero Tapas & Bodega (04 409 5888) and Cielo (04 295 6000).
This year, look out for an increasing number of fine dining chefs, and big name restaurant brands opening up a more casual and accessible side line. Examples include Sapori di BiCE (from the Italian mega-brand BiCE), Pierre Gagnaire’s first standalone patisserie, Choix Patisserie and Restaurant and Rhodes W1, which promises to be a more young and relaxed side of Gary Rhodes’ restaurant empire.
Fighting against their Italian and Spanish cousins in the Mediterranean, 2014 will be the time for Greek food to shine. Impending openings include Eat Greek on The Walk, and a new Greek restaurant concept opening in September this year at Madinat Jumeirah.
Yes, we all know pizza and pasta now, but Italian food has being pulling up its socks in Dubai, with mega-brands and mega-chefs opening their doors. Adding to the Michelin-level Italian calibre of Alta Badia, is the opening of Social by Heinz Beck (who holds three Michelin stars for Italian food in Rome) at the new Waldorf Astoria The Palm. Following suit is Italian brand Cipriani, which is building a standalone complex on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard to house Dubai’s answer to this global restaurant concept.