As a cosmopolitan city that’s home to hundreds of nationalities, you’d expect Dubai to offer food to suit all tastes and budgets. Even so, it’s difficult not to be impressed when casting an eye over the local offerings. Having placed a huge emphasis on attracting Michelin-starred silver spoon maestros in recent decades, today you’d struggle to find a better destination to gorge on. From fine dining to laid back, traditional eateries, if you’re in town, with a rumbling stomach, but aren’t sure of exactly where to head, consider this your essential guide.
Think like a local
Like anywhere, Dubai has certain local customs that you’d be wise to consider. For starters, booking a table to eat dinner before 8PM will guarantee you’ll be surrounded by tourists. Most resident expats go out for food from about 9PM, and the Arabic community would consider 10PM early.
Get to know the rules
Whilst many of Dubai’s hotels have established themselves as premiere destinations for culinary adventures, there’s plenty on offer outside these glistening residences. Be prepared, though, if you’re not eating in a restaurant you won’t be served alcohol, although you can expect to pay very little for your food in comparison with the more luxurious options.
Persian indulgence meansShabestan
Rightly regarded as the best Persian joint in the city, Shabestan offers both great food and romance thanks to its position overlooking the twinkling lights that line Dubai Creek in the evenings. Naturally, the likes of charcoal oven kebabs and slow cooked lamb are par for the course, meanwhile traditional ice creams made with saffron and rose water offer something unique to polish off the meat with.
A taste of Britain, in Dubai, via celebrity chef genius
There are a number of well-known culinary faces from the U.K. that have set up shop in Dubai, but our pick would be Gary Rhodes’ Rhodes Mezzanine at Grosvenor House. Updating some British favourites for the 21st Century, with red meat top of the menu both here and at Rhodes Twenty 10, the chef’s second address in Dubai (a dedicated steakhouse).
When in France... Reflets Par Pierre Gagniere
Rated by many a critic as the best French restaurant in Dubai, and one of the best anywhere outside the Gallic territories thanks to Michelin-starred mastermind, Pierre Gagnaire. Intimate in design, and pricier than most, nevertheless the set menu with matching wines is a must, with helpful staff on hand to give you information on every morsel of food on your plate. Definitely one for refined taste buds.
Sub Continental stars at Indego
The brainchild of Michelin-starred Indian chef Vineet Bhatia, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived in India itself thanks to the interior decor. Easily the best destination for this type of cuisine, think classic flavours from the sub-continent, but with the kind of contemporary twists you’d expect from an epicure at the top of their game.
Kitchen dreams from Table 9
Headed up by two of Gordon Ramsay’s proteges, Nick Alvis and Scott Price, Table 9 is less formal than, say, Reflets, but matches in terms of quality. Themed on an upmarket bistro, the main stars of the show here are the tasting menus, which come in three, four and six cours varieties, with fish a particular speciality.
Arabic secrets at Awtar
The ideal place for anyone who wants to escape the tourist and expat traps and find some real local offerings, Awtar is a firm favourite amongst Arabs living in the city, which, as we’ve already suggested, means you shouldn’t bother turning up until gone 10PM. After that, though, expect incredible Lebanese and Middle Eastern food (think mezze and grilled meats), live music and, as you’d hope, belly dancers.
Street food, en masse - Al Dhiyafah Road
If Dubai is a city of contrasts in terms of wealth, then Al Dhiyafah is arguably one of the best destinations of you want to experience what life is like for those outside the super-rich set. Here you’ll find one of the best (and, typically, worst presented) curry houses, in Ravi Restaurant, a Pakistani establishment that’s sure to spice up your evening. Sidra offers great salads and mixed grills, Lebanese style, and Pars Iranian Kitchen could bring tears to your eyes, such is the quality of its seafood and grilled lamb.
Not quite full?
This represents just a handful of the restaurants, cafes and eateries we could recommend. Dubai is a city that’s all about exploring what’s on offer first hand, smelling the spices in the air and trying new, exotic flavours. As such, once you’re done with these our best advice is to hit the streets and see what floats your boat.