Dubai Food Festival 2017

Eat your way through 17 days of citywide culinary experiences

Al fresco dining in Dubai
Etisalat Beach Canteen

The flagship event, Etisalat Beach Canteen runs for the length of the festival, is four times the size of the arena last year and has moved to a brand-new home behind Sunset Mall to accommodate a host of exciting new areas. As well as all things food, there will be live entertainment, sport and fitness classes, and a kids’ play zone. And the best news of all is it’s totally free.

If all you’re interested in is eating then the Truck Stop is the place for you. There’ll be a host of home-grown food trucks moored up for the full 17 days serving street food from around the world. If cooking is more your thing then the Al Islami Kitchen Stage will provide plenty of tips and hints for the kitchen. Every day sees multiple live demonstrations by top chefs from Dubai restaurants (including Gaucho, Ramusake and Mayta by Jamie Pesaque) as well as international celebrities, such as Brit Jason Atherton whose restaurants span the globe, with venues in Hong Kong and New York, as well as his Marina Social restaurant here in Dubai. Also appearing will be three-Michelin starred Annie Féolde, the first woman outside of France to be awarded three stars, for Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Italy. The Artisan by Enoteca Pinchiorri is the brand’s Dubai presence. There will be a more local presence from Bader Najeeb Al Awardi, a 20-year-old self-taught Emirati cook who has his own YouTube channel and presents TV cookery shows. “Queen of the Arabian Kitchen” Manal Al Alem will also be holding masterclasses at the Al Islami Kitchen stage.

Away from food, there’s an “Art Park” that will have exhibitions on throughout the festival, a live stage for bands, comedians and open mic nights, a fitness zone where there will be classes every day, a beach football pitch and a kids area that will have cooking classes for youngsters as well as other interactive sessions.
Thu Feb 23 to Thu Mar 23. Behind Sunset Mall, off Jumeirah Beach Road.

Miele Dubai Restaurant Week

You have a ten-day window to take a seat at 15 of Dubai’s top restaurants knowing that your food will come to no more than Dhs199 per person. Why? The Miele Dubai Restaurant Week is back. Whether a classy Lebanese meal at Al Nafoorah is for you, or British and European classics at Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, Rhodes W1 or Marina Social is more your thing, there’s plenty of choice. There are eastern flavours at Namu, Okku and Pai Thai and Indian at Rang Mahal, too. For the full list, check out our guide, free with paid-for copies of this week’s Time Out Dubai.
Thu Feb 23 to Sat Mar 4. Tables must be booked at

Taste of Dubai

Now in its tenth year, this three-day event is one of the most popular in the city’s foodie calendar. From Thursday March 9 to Saturday 11, Dubai Media City Amphitheatre will be filled with stalls from some of the city’s best restaurants. There will also be bars and live music. Last year, more than 27,000 people turned up to the event, and with even bigger names appearing this year, organisers will be hoping to eclipse that number.

One of the biggest draws will be soul legend Billy Ocean, singer of hits including Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car, Caribbean Queen and Red Light Spells Danger. Other bands on the line-up include Dubai favourites The Boxtones and The Maplejacks.

When it comes to eating, there’s plenty to enjoy, with 24 restaurants setting up to show off their culinary skills. They include Weslodge Saloon, Spice & Ice and Cook Hall, and span cuisines from Korean to Canadian.

There will also be the usual retail stands and cooking demos, this year coming from stars such as British legend Gary Rhodes, Michelin-starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar and housewives’ favourite Jean-Christophe Novelli.
From Dhs75 (in advance), from Dhs90 (on the door). Mar 9-11, times vary. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre,

Eat the World DXB

One thing that Dubai has not been short of over the past few months is food truck events. And, arguably, the one that kick-started the current trend was the first Eat the World DXB last year. It saw a dozen or so food trucks from the UK rock up in Burj Park to show off the variety of innovative vendors available in the British Isles.

Never ones to be outdone, this year, the US has got in on the act, and is sending over its own food truck delegation to take on those plucky Brits.

The UK will be represented by cheese toastie specialists The Cheese Truck, seafood vendor the Crabbie Shack, and pizza-makers Made of Dough, among others. The US team will include Far-Eastern truck Sushi and Seoul, comforting Harlem Seafood Soul Truck and Mexican-influenced The Peached Tortilla. But that’s not all – a third wave of trucks will be threatening to upset the special relationship between the UK and the US. Six top food trucks from Singapore will be hoping they’re not the metaphorical spare wheel. The pedigree of the scene in Singapore is strong, after hawker stand Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle won a Michelin star last year, so hopes are high for the six stalls coming to Dubai. They include:

Bjorn Shen
We’re not just saying this because the notorious chef writes a column for Time Out Singapore, but this is the sort of culinary visit we’re most excited by. It’s brash, spontaneous and comes with oodles of style and noodle dishes, such as the famous Chiang Mai curry noodles. Shen is the culinary driving force behind the hip Artichoke restaurant.

Kerbside Gourmet
Good food for a good cause is the idea behind this Singaporean favourite. Labelled “inspiring” by Time Out Singapore, it has a socially enterprising side to it and promises fine dining at street level. Sample dishes such as the classic chilli crab bun by founding chef Luan Lin.

Okay, we’ll admit it, Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Popiah is not the catchiest name. But after one bite of the hand-twisted popiah it serves you will forgive the lengthy name and will be back in line for more. Best described as a kind of giant fresh spring roll meets a wrap, a popiah is a favourite eat across Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

Shen Tan
Chef Shen Tan ditched her corporate suit for the foodie life to lead a wave of Mod Sin (Modern Singaporean) chefs, serving up lamb char siew, fish curry pasta and a beef rendang pizza. It is the nasi lemak Malay rice dish, however, which makes Tan hugely popular in Singapore’s food truck circles.
Feb 23-25. Burj Park, Downtown Dubai.

Hidden Gems

When you live in a city that offers up meals from Michelin-starred chefs as a matter of course, it can sometimes be forgotten that on street level, there are thousands of casual cafés, canteens and restaurants serving food from around the world at prices that won’t break the bank. Happily, the team at the Dubai Food Festival set up a poll to find Dubaians’ favourite “hidden gems”. The result is two lists of ten restaurants – one including only venues that serve Emirati food, and one for all other cuisines. Here they are:

Al Ustad Special Kabab
Proudly open since 1978, this no-frills Iranian kebab joint serves up huge portions of grilled meat and breads.
Open Sun-Thu noon-4pm, 6.30pm-1am; Fri 6.30pm-1am. Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai (04 397 1469).

Aroos Damascus
This Syrian restaurant has a menu with dozens of delicacies on it.
Open daily 7am-4am. Al Muraqqabat, Deira (04 221 9825).

Desi Adda
Street food from Pakistan and India feature, including samosas, kebab rolls and biryanis.
Open Sun-Thu noon-midnight; Fri 8.30am-midnight. Damascus Street, Al Qusais (04 275 3169).

Ka’ak Al Manara
The Lebanese “handbag” bread is the only thing on the menu, and there are scores of fillings to add.
Open Sun-Thu 8.30am-midnight; Fri-Sat 8.30am-1am. Mercato Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 258 2003).

Rasoi Ghar
Pop in here for unlimited vegetarian thali and taste the flavours of Gujarat, Kathiyawad and Rajasthan.
Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Zainal Mohebi Plaza, Karama (04 388 5711).

Singapore Deli Café

Karama might be known for its Indian restaurants, but this venue serves up sumptuous Singaporean meals.
Open Sun-Thu noon-midnight; Fri 3pm-midnight. Karama (04 396 6885).

The Açai Spot
This healthy café makes a mean açai bowl.
Open daily 9am-midnight. Centurion Star Tower, Deira (050 644 9514).

The Smokin’9
This quirky slider joint in JLT offers a mix of beef, chicken and veggie patties that you can customise with various toppings.
Open daily 11.30am- midnight. Al Seef Tower, Cluster U, JLT (800 6464).

Tuk Tuk Thai
A restaurant full of fragrant flavours dished up at low prices.
Open daily 11.30am- 11.30pm. Uptown Mirdif Mall (04 239 3373).

This tiny restaurant has an in-house bakery and offers plenty of sweet treats alongside Japanese omelettes and sushi burgers.
Open Sun-Wed 8.30am-1am; Thu-Sat 8.30am-1.30am. Al Ghurair Centre, Deira (04 255 5161).

Emirati Hidden Gems

It’s not your typical sit-down meal. Guests take a place on the carpeted floor for a traditional dining experience.
Open daily 10am-1am. Baniyas Street, Deira (04 235 4444).

Al Barza Restaurant & Café
Start the day with a traditional breakfast here, or enjoy meats hot off the grill for an evening meal.
Open daily 7.30am-1.30am. Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim (04 343 5910).

Al Gharshoob
Emirati cuisine dominates the menu, with a vast selection of main courses as well as authentic breads.
Open daily 6am-3am. Bel Remaitha Club, Nad Al Hammar, Rashidiya (04 285 2555).

Al Jalboot
The restaurant serves fresh, grilled seafood served in biryanis and machboos.
Open Sun-Thu noon-11pm; Fri-Sat 9am-midnight. The Souq at Fishing Harbour, Umm Suqeim (04 321 5177).

Bait Al Bahar
A beachfront restaurant with ocean views and seafood dishes.
Open daily 8am-2am. The Beach House, next to Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, Umm Suqeim (055 394 4441).

Local Bites
An unassuming spot on Jumeirah Beach Road, it serves a great traditional breakfast.
Open daily 8am-12.30pm. Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim (04 388 3659).

Local House
A real celebration of Emirati culture, with a menu packed with local delicacies, including a platter of camel meat.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood,

This restaurant was set up with the mission of bringing Emirati home cooking to Dubaians.
Open daily 8am-midnight. BoxPark, Al Wasl Road (800 56462).

This restaurant celebrates the modern Emirati lifestyle in a menu containing everything from beef shawarma bites to Emirati chicken pasta.
Open Sun-Thu 9am-noon; Fri-Sat noon-2am. Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 388 2313).

Zaman Awal
On the doorstep of the Creek, Zaman Awal offers traditional food, plus views from a scenic vantage point on a first floor bridge.
Open daily 9am-midnight. Al Boom Heritage Village, Umm Hurair (04 324 2664).

The best of the rest

While that lot might seem like enough to keep you going for months, never mind 17 days, there are still loads more events across the city taking place. Keep an eye out in The Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina Mall and BoxPark for pop-up activities and chances to win prizes. More food trucks will be rolling up and parking at Marasi Drive in Business Bay from Thursday March 9 to Saturday 11. Dubai Festival City Mall will host Darnival, which has live demonstrations from the stars of Arabic food TV channel Fatafeat Kitchen on Friday February 24 and Saturday 25. Street Nights will take over Bay Avenue in Business Bay on Thursday March 2 and Friday 3, with live music, a foodie market, graffiti artists and a breakdancing competition.
For more information on all of the events, visit

The Italian Job

London-based Italian chef Aldo Zilli will be hosting a series of live demonstrations at this year’s Taste of Dubai. Time Out catches up with the award-winning celebrity chef, restaurateur, food consultant and adviser to talk life, shop and, of course, food.

How do you feel about coming to the UAE?
I have heard so many great things about it. There are lots of great chefs opening restaurants here. So it’s an interesting prospect, you know. As chefs, we always look for opportunities, so you never know.

Yes, we certainly do have some fantastic restaurants here. From what you know, how would you say the food scene compares with other cities?
Because the UAE is such a multicultural place, there is a fusion. So you’ll find Italian ingredients being used to make dishes from other cuisines. And that’s amazing. Chefs get inspired to work with different ingredients. And that is what I love the most about this job, even though I’m traditionally an Italian chef.

Food festivals like these have become so popular these days, why do you think that is?
You may not know this, but I was one of the first creators of Taste of London. When I first came up with the idea, I had four restaurants. And I thought sometimes people want to eat a little bit from different restaurants. They don’t necessarily want to sit down in one place. And that is what inspired me. And it’s the concept of sharing. When you go to festivals, you see families sharing different things. Someone’s bought something from one spot, the other person from another. And they all come together and it becomes a conversation. The sharing concept really works. Food festivals are for everybody – young, old, families. It’s a great experience and they are informative and educational, too. We need to have a better understanding of food. After all, we are what we eat.

What are your thoughts on the rise of food trucks?
It’s a big movement in London at the moment. It is probably the most inexpensive way of starting up a restaurant. If you’re going to open a restaurant, start with a food truck – you can put it anywhere. I think it’s a great idea, I wouldn’t mind doing it myself actually, as a pop-up. We’re very lucky we have the concept of pop-ups nowadays. In my days, there was a lot of work involved in starting a restaurant – it was a nightmare. With a food truck, if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, nobody is going to be worried about it.

What led you to your passion for food?
I am the youngest of nine children. We were poor, and so food was a premium. I always used to help my mum in the kitchen so I could eat. Growing up in that environment, that is where it stems from. My mother had to cook three meals a day, for nine children and one husband, and for her it was like running a restaurant. I was 11 years old when I started helping her in the kitchen. That is what inspired me and has made the person I am today.

Do you recall the first dish you cooked?
Yes, I made gnocchi. And I will be sharing it with you guys at the festival.

Now that you play the role of adviser and consultant to a lot of new restaurants, what is your advice to them?
Do your homework. In the restaurant business the work has to come first, you can’t open a restaurant because you are passionate about doing this and doing that. You can be cooking fantastic food, but that doesn’t mean you are going to fill a restaurant. You have to be prepared to work at all hours of the day. And you have to have a connection with it. If you’re detached from your own restaurant, why will customers come?

You’ve written books, judged TV shows, made guest appearances on programmes and even hosted your own TV documentary – do you get any time to yourself? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I have a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old, and I spend all my free time with them. We cook, we walk, we play, we do all sorts of things. My family is as important as my business, and I understand that now, with my second family. I have been lucky to get a second chance and I’m taking it with my arms open.

Cooking with your kids sounds like you’ve come full circle from where you first started.
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Cooking with my kids brings back all the memories. My children are so connected and so engaged when we are together. We talk, we discuss everything at the table.

You’ve also been a great champion for healthy eating, especially for children. Tell us how you manage to strike that balance.
Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. As chefs, we’re always looking to build flavour. I think by using seasonal food you can’t go wrong. It tastes better, it’s inexpensive and it’s healthy. That’s what I concentrate on most, seasonality. Secondly, when I cook, I think of colours, I think of what is available and I think about flavour. Flavour for Italians is very, very important. It has to be strong; everything has to be well-seasoned.
Catch Aldo Zilli’s live demonstrations at Taste of Dubai. Dhs75 (in advance). Mar 9-11, times vary. Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. For more information and tickets visit

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