Visitors from many parts of the world along with a multi-ethnic resident community have ensured that a sophisticated and innovative food culture has developed in the UAE. Almost any type of food is available, from classic European to Pacific Rim. You can eat Mexican, Polynesian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Italian and French cooking, and more, at some of the finest restaurants in the Middle East.
In recent years, celebrity chefs have launched a variety of fashionable pricey restaurants in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Gordon Ramsay’s Verre (04 227 1111) at The Hilton Dubai Creek was the first to open. It is now run by Michelin-starred Head Chef Scott and is famous for its chef’s table.
Gary Rhodes’ Mezzanine (04 399 8888) features many of his original British-inspired dishes in an elegant setting at Dubai Marina’s Grosvenor House. Rhodes has also opened the Rhodes Twenty10 grill at the nearby Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort .
Vineet Bhatia, the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star, is shining bright and clear at Indego (04 399 8888) also in Dubai Marina’s Grosvenor House.
Renowned Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa produces some of his signature dishes at Nobu (04 426 26260) in Atlantis Hotel at the tip of The Palm.
Three restaurants were also launched at the newly opened One&Only The Palm resort in Dubai under the guidance of the Michelin-starred French chef Yannick Alleno. Whilst Michelin-starred French chef Pierre Gagnaire recreates French style at his richly-decorated restaurant Reflets (04 701 1111) in Dubai's Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City.
Abu Dhabi has not been left behind in the rush to open up branded restaurants with a focus on fine dining. Hakkasan (02 690 7999), famous for its flagship Michelin-starred London-based Chinese restaurant, is making a name for itself at Emirates Palace Hotel on the Corniche.
Marco Pierre White, who operates a branded restaurant Frankie’s on Dubai’s JBR Walk in conjunction with the jockey Frankie Dettori, has also opened a steakhouse and Frankie's Italian Restaurant and Bar (02 654 3238) at Abu Dhabi’s Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.
The world-famous Italian restaurant brand Cipriani’s (02 565 0010) can be experienced in all its splendour at Yas Marina Yacht Club on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island. And if you are on Yas Island, don’t forget to try Nautilius (02 656 0760) at the Yas Island Hotel, which has been getting ravishing reviews for its seafood fare.
Gourmet food, including cookery demonstrations by renowned chefs can be experienced at two unique festivals in the UAE, the Taste of Dubai Festival, which usually takes place in March at Dubai Media City and Gourmet Abu Dhabi, a celebration of culinary superlatives held in February.
International fast-food chains, serving the standard fare of hamburgers, chips, pizzas etc (McDonaldss, Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Hardees, Wimpy, Dunkin Donut) are also located in the larger cities. Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be a particular favourite. International theme restaurants such as TGI Fridays, Planet Hollywood, Fashion Café, Hard Rock Café and Henry J Beans are all represented in the Emirates. If you cannot find anything to suit in that list, small ethnic cafés and corner stalls are ubiquitous. Shisha cafés offer an opportunity to smoke a shisha (hubble-bubble pipe) and serve food, coffee, tea and fruit juices and corner stalls serve sharwarmas and other sandwiches.
Gulf and Middle Eastern food is also available in a wide variety of venues, from expensive restaurants to local cafés. Fresh fish from the Arabian Gulf is always good try lobster, crab, shrimp, or grouper, tuna, kingfish, red snapper, grilled, stuffed, or fried with spices. But it is not just a question of variety, make no mistake the food is generally good and the standard of service is high.
Time Out Restaurants
Best Restaurants Dubai Website
Dubai Marina Yacht Club
Muslims are prohibited from eating pork so it is not included in Arab menus. Hotels frequently have substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labelled as such.
Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars (but not in Sharjah). Exceptions are some clubs (e.g. golf clubs) and associations. Restaurants that are not associated with hotels are not permitted to serve alcohol.
One of the most exciting aspects of travelling to a new destination is the opportunity to sample local food. Gulf food is, of course, very similar to Lebanese and other Arab cuisine. However, there are some variations.
Mezze (starter or hors doeuvre) as it is served in UAE restaurants is a wonderful treat, comprising some or all of the following:
Hummus (chick pea dip or spread)
Kibbe (meat patties made from minced lamb, bulghur and onions)
Tabbuleh (salad of couscous or bulghur with diced tomatoes, onions, mint and parsley)
Moutabel (aubergine or eggplant dip)
Kussa mahshi (stuffed courgettes or zucchini)
Warak enab (stuffed vine leaves)
Felafel (bean patties- often served in pitta bread at corner stalls)
Pitta bread (unleavened bread)
Khuzi (a stuffed whole roast lamb on a bed of spiced rice) is the dish that would have been served at a mansaf, a traditional bedouin feast, where a selection of food would have been placed on the floor in the centre of a ring of seated guests. Makbus (casserole of meat, usually lamb, or fish with rice) is a particular favourite in the UAE. So too are hareis (slow-cooked wheat and lamb), biryani (meat or fish cooked with Indian-style spiced rice) and shurba addis (lentil soup). Try a traditional Arab breakfast of ful medames (a bean dish in a tomato sauce on which is sprinkled chopped onion, egg and other condiments, accompanied by local yoghurt and pitta bread), or snack on fattayer (deep fried pastries stuffed with cheese and spinach). Local seafood such as hamur (grouper), chanad (mackerel), beyah (mullet) are usually charcoal grilled. Local lobster and crab are particularly delicious. Sharwarmas slivers of spit-roasted lamb or chicken, served with salad in a warmed pitta bread pouch or felafel sandwiches are widely available.
Desserts are generally very sweet, frequently pastries filled with honey and nuts. Try Umm Ali, a delicious bread pudding with raisins and nuts. Dates, of course, are a standard staple and excellent local fruit and vegetables are increasingly on display in restaurants and shops.
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