Here are 53 of the greatest eats, party options, fitspo’ spots and cultural events our city has served up this year…
Your votes are in. These are the city’s 53 best spas, restaurants, bars and concerts, as chosen by you. In fact, if you need to decide where to go over the next year, bookmark this: it’s your essential list…
THE BIG WINNERS
This category is selected by the What’s On team – while the others are voted for by you…
FAVOURITE INDIE RESTAURANT: 3 FILS
When it comes to hidden gems in the city, our favourite indie hotspot tops the list. It’s tucked away in Jumeirah’s fishing village, and has only a handful of tables inside. It has some of the best tuna and foie gras in town, but it also serves instant noodles and elevates them to superstar status. In short, it’s still fine dining, just without the tablecloths, china and silver cutlery. Come and visit, and the Singaporean owner/chef will feed you well and you’ll have a wonderful experience – without having to spend a fortune.
FAVOURITE NEWCOMER: SEAN CONNOLLY AT DUBAI OPERA
Our favourite newcomer this year is run by British-born chef Sean Connolly, who has more than 25 years of experience in kitchen. His trademark down-to-earth cooking style and infectious enthusiasm for food has earned him an array of awards and industry accolades throughout the Southern hemisphere. Since opening this year, his stylish brasserie in Dubai has become the spot for fresh oysters, hearty grub, and the perfect pre-theatre meal. It is, after all, located in what has become one of the city’s most iconic buildings – a building that is no stranger to a few standing ovations. Now, there’s reason for one more…
FAVOURITE CHEF(s): NICK ALVIS AND SCOTT PRICE
As always, when it comes to Chef of the Year, we love to champion those who have helped shape the dining scene here in Dubai. This duo has been integral to propelling the UAE’s status as a foodie destination. Our winners are some of the most active chefs in the city. They’ve been the brains behind Table 9 and Taste Kitchen, and with the help of Viktorija Paplauskiene in charge of the front of house, their latest venture Folly at Souk Madinat Jumeirah has quickly become one of the best restaurants in the city, with outstanding views to match a spectacular Modern European menu.
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR: IL BORRO
Here’s a fast fact about our Restaurant of the Year: you’ll find no cans in their kitchen. That’s because the restaurant grows all of its own produce, in Tuscany to be precise, and delivers it to their restaurant located in the new epicentre for excellent food – Jumeirah Al Naseem. The results speak for themselves; simple dishes that nonetheless sing with flavour. After all, everyone knows that the key to Italian cookery lies within the ingredients – and when those are being flown in from a famous Tuscan estate run by the Ferragamo family, you’re bound to get nothing less than excellence.
BEST RESTAURANTS (over Dhs400 for two)
This category is voted for by you: it rounds up the city’s best eateries where a meal for two would cost over Dhs400…
FAVOURITE MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT: RÜYA
Chef Colin Clague has managed to nail it once again with this wonderful newcomer to the Dubai restaurant scene. Ruya wowed everyone who ate there in 2017, serving Anatolian food – that’s Turkish to you and me – with a contemporary twist. The three cheese pide will make you want to cry (in a good way).
FAVOURITE BRITISH RESTAURANT: THE SCENE BY SIMON RIMMER
For a real taste of home for the city’s Brits, it doesn’t come much truer than The Scene by Simon Rimmer. Having won the favourite British restaurant three times now, it’s the one to beat when it comes to a proper fry up and a real roast dinner (and the Marina views are a nice Dubai touch too).
4th Floor, Pier 7, Dubai Marina, daily 8am to 2am. Tel: (04) 222 2328. Metro: Dubai Marina. thescenedubai.com
FAVOURITE CHINESE RESTAURANT: HAKKASAN DUBAI
Yes, the signature oak latticing is eye-catching, as is the lush, exotic greenery on the terrace at this pretty restaurant; but the food more than matches the surroundings. There are delicate fish courses, dainty dum sum platters, great duck options and satisfying noodle dishes. Hakkasan has it all.
FAVOURITE FRENCH RESTAURANT: BAGATELLE DUBAI
A decadent serving of sleek interiors and fine dining French food, Bagatelle merges a party atmosphere with carefully executed cuisine. A night there often leaves us torn between whether we should really focus our attention on their famed escargot or dance on the tables with the waiters.
FAVOURITE INDIAN RESTAURANT: RANG MAHAL BY ATUL KOCHHAR, JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS HOTEL
Atul Kochhar is a master of Indian cuisine, and his high-end Dubai restaurant serves some of the city’s most tender grills and aromatic curries. The space itself is majestic, and the service exemplary: if you’re going to plump for Indian fine dining, this is the place to do it.
FAVOURITE INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANT: THE BEACH HOUSE, ANANTARA RESORT & SPA, THE PALM DUBAI
For a tranquil lunch that will make you feel like you’re on holiday, you shouldn’t look any further than this Palm Jumeirah spot. Choose a table on the terrace, soak up the sunshine and tuck into pizza, tapas and seafood while you pretend you’re in the Maldives.
FAVOURITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT: IL BORRO TUSCAN BISTRO
Say the name of this restaurant to any foodie in Dubai and they’ll smile, utter a little ‘oooh’ in appreciation and then tell you how much they love it. It’s a beautiful dining room with proper service from staff who know the menu back to front and make you feel special. The food is created with ingredients flown in from Tuscany. This is Italian at its very best.
FAVOURITE JAPANESE RESTAURANT: OKKU
From its famed Sunday night dinner party, to a foodie-focused ladies’ night that serves up food as good as its drinks deals, Okku has cemented itself as a staple on the lively dining scene in Dubai. It was one of the first fine-dining Japanese restaurants in the city, and it’s still one of the best.
FAVOURITE MODERN EUROPEAN RESTAURANT: BOCA
Book a table on the terrace at this cool restaurant in DIFC and pretend you’re on holiday for an evening. The paella is excellent, as are the sharing plates of classic dishes such as lobster roll, burrata and tiger prawns.
FAVOURITE PAN-ASIAN RESTAURANT: MR. MIYAGI’S
Kooky décor aside, the authentic street food menu at Mr Miyagi’s offers some of the best Vietnamese soups and Thai curries in the city. It’s a relative newcomer and yet already a firm favourite, especially among the Media City crowd.
FAVOURITE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT: THE MAINE OYSTER BAR & GRILL
Not only is the food excellent at The Maine, but the vibe is too: this Marina eatery is always buzzing, whether you’re seated on the gorgeous terrace, in the dining room or at the long communal bar, you’ll have a fun night. Menu-wise, there’s a North American seafood focus, and you’ll find a crudo bar, as well as seafood towers and oysters aplenty (personally, we can’t visit without ordering the chargrilled octopus, which is always perfectly cooked).
FAVOURITE STEAKHOUSE: HUNTERS ROOM & GRILL, THE WESTIN DUBAI MINA SEYAHI BEACH RESORT & SPA
Sleek and modern in design, this steakhouse means business. The steaks are organised by the cut of meat and, once chosen, are cooked to perfection – in fact, even just picking your meat from the cabinet might take you some time as there’s so much choice.
FAVOURITE THAI RESTAURANT: PAI THAI, JUMEIRAH AL QASR
This is arguably one of the most picturesque restaurants in the city – book a table on the jetty-like terrace at Pai Thai and get there at sunset and you’ve got a guaranteed romantic dinner experience. Thankfully, the food and service is excellent too – we’ve never had a bad meal at this Dubai classic.
FAVOURITE THE AMERICAS RESTAURANT: WAKA
In a sea full of Peruvian restaurants, Waka stands out: it has a Latin American flare and beautifully presented cuisine. The modern décor coupled with a night brunch that’s worth staying in all Friday for makes this a lively new addition to the Dubai dining scene.
BEST ENTERTAINMENT & EVENTS
This category is voted for by you. It rounds up the city’s best events, nightlife spots and days out.
FAVOURITE DAY OUT: LADIES’ DAY AT ZERO GRAVITY
It was one of the pioneers of the now famed Dubai Ladies’ Day, and it’s no wonder that ladies flock to the popular Marina beach club each and every Tuesday. As well as offering free entry to all ladies on the guestlist, you’ll find us snapping pics at their see-through poolside, or atop the 10-metre inflatable unicorn.
FAVOURITE SPORTING EVENT: EMIRATES AIRLINE DUBAI RUGBY SEVENS
Any event that has fans from all over the world swarming to the city is worthy of this top gong. Top level sport is at the centre of a festival of fun renowned for hilarious fancy dress and after-parties that run through the night until the second day of play, when it’s done all over again. And again.
FAVOURITE CONCERT: JUSTIN BIEBER PURPOSE WORLD TOUR
One of the first people to gain fame via a YouTube channel, Justin Bieber rose to fame as a 13-year-old with a questionable bowl cut. Fast forward a decade and the teenage heart throb is selling out arenas around the world. So, to no one’s surprise, his stellar gig at Autism Rocks arena this May was a sellout show (and Justin clearly had a great time in Dubai).
FAVOURITE FESTIVAL: EMIRATES AIRLINE FESTIVAL OF LITERATURE
The Middle East’s biggest celebration of literature always manages to attract rockstars of the written word. This year saw a particularly diverse line-up, such as comic book creator Sana Amanat, social critic Jon Ronson and The Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain. Next year we can look forward to even more big names, including Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Anthony Horowitz and David Walliams.
FAVOURITE SHOW: LES MISÉRABLES
When the greatest musical artists from Broadway and the West End combine to create an all-star cast, you know you’re in for something special. That’s exactly what happened when Les Mis was staged in Dubai last year. It was single-handedly the greatest theatre performance the city had ever seen, and marked a new era for theatre shows in the Middle East.
FAVOURITE LADIES’ NIGHT: LUCKY VOICE DUBAI
A bar that needs no introduction, Lucky Voice brings it all when it comes to their bi-weekly ladies night. On Tuesday, there’s unlimited drinks until 1am for the ladies, 20 per cent of the dining menu and 30 minute karaoke pod taster sessions for those needing to unleash their inner popstar. On Saturday, a second serving offers all the girls four complimentary beverages, and 20 per cent off the dining menu too. Fun, fun and more fun.
FAVOURITE NIGHTCLUB: ZERO GRAVITY
From bringing some of the world’s best loved DJs and artists, to consistently re-inventing itself with weekly new nights and bumper brunches, Zero Gravity is a nightclub that knows how to throw a party.
FAVOURITE BAR: BARASTI
Few can contest the legendary status of Barasti. The day-to-night beach bar has remained a stalwart for bringing live music, beach festivals and most recently introducing a new swimming pool to its ever popular offering of beachside bar vibes.
FAVOURITE HEALTHY EATING RESTAURANT: THE FARM
You’ll need to book if you want to get a breakfast or lunch table at The Farm – especially for one of the tables in the beautiful garden. Breakfast wise, there are classics like waffles and Benedict, but there are also healthy twists like the paleo frittata and vegan tofu scramble.
FAVOURITE CAFE: 1762
1762’s newest cafe looks like it was born to appear on lifestyle blogs. Its airy space, which sits as the only beacon of happiness on JLT’s mind-boggling ring road, sports enormous floor-to-celling windows, a lounging loft space, and an l-shaped countertop displaying its pretty treats. On the weekends, it’s rammed with freelancers, families, pals and even pooches enjoying breakfast on the patio in the shadow of the green double decker bus parked outside. People come for the food – the snow pea avocado on toast is brilliant – but stay all day for the vibe.
BEST RESTAURANT EVENTS
This category is voted for by you. It rounds up the city’s best cafes and the finest regular offerings from its restaurants.
FAVOURITE BUSINESS LUNCH: MR. MIYAGI’S
The decor is quirky and mismatched, the vibe is friendly and they offer a range of Japanese-style bento boxes catering to the business crowd on the go. We love the chicken katsu curry.
FAVOURITE PUB GRUB: THE TAP HOUSE
The Tap House has something for everyone: the dark colours, draught taps and cosy booths inside are reminiscent of an old-fashioned British pub, but sitting outside enjoying the ocean breeze and sea views will firmly remind you that you’re in Dubai. Similarly, the food is a real mix, with pub favourites like fish and chips alongside European salads and Southern comfort food.
FAVOURITE BRUNCH: LUCKY VOICE DUBAI
Their hit Friday brunch books up three weeks in advance thanks to unlimited food and drinks, plus interactive entertainment that includes a party DJ and group sing-a-longs with karaoke songs chosen by you. Even the karaoke shy will find themselves belting out a few tunes on the inflatable microphones.
FAVOURITE FOOD TRUCK: BURGER PIT
This one’s all about classic American fare and is inspired by the ’50s. When we visited Last Exit, this was the only outlet with a long line of cars waiting for food – word is, a prominent royal visited it and started a bit of a craze: one we’re happy to get behind.
BEST HEALTH & BEAUTY SPOTS
This category is voted for by you. It rounds up the city’s best pampering and workout spots.
FAVOURITE FITNESS CLUB: DEFINE BODY & MIND
This relative newcomer in the Dubai Marina has already gained a loyal following thanks to their knowledgeable instructors and the blend of cycle, barre and yoga classes. One thing’s for sure: go to one of the intense barre sessions and your hamstrings will feel it the next day.
FAVOURITE SPA: HEART & SOUL SPA AND WELLNESS
Set in the tranquil gardens of Al Barari, Heart & Soul feels a world away from the buzz of the city, which is really what you want from a spa. There’s a dedicated nail and hair care area, a sauna, hammam and steam room and a children’s area. They also put on lots of wellness-focused events, talks and workshops every month too – from meditation to life coaching, there’s something for everyone.
FAVOURITE NAIL BAR: TIPS & TOES
While many of the city’s nail bars are almost clinical in appearance, Tips & Toes feels like a Balinese spa, which really elevates the mani-pedi experience. There are 30 Tips & Toes branches across the city (the first salon opened in 2004), and so you’re sure to find a branch convenient to you, no matter where you live.
FAVOURITE HAIR SALON: PASTELS SALON
With a salon on Al Wasl and one in the Ritz JBR, the styling and colouring services at this stalwart salon are consistent, professional and friendly (which is all you really want from your hairdresser). We know of many people who have turned to Pastels after experiencing hair disasters at other salons around the city: if you want a safe pair of hands, you’ll find them here.
BEST RESTAURANTS (below Dhs400 for two)
This category is voted for by you. It rounds up the city’s best eateries where a meal for two would cost under Dhs400.
FAVOURITE MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT: SEVEN SANDS EMIRATI CUISINE AND LOUNGE
JBR introduced some local flavours when Seven Sands opened at The Beach two years ago. Since then it has become the go-to for haute Emirati cuisine in a refined yet relaxed environment. Order the Emirati vegetable pie and prepare to be impressed as you take in the sea view.
FAVOURITE INDIAN RESTAURANT: GOVINDA’S RESTAURANT, KARAMA
There’s also an Umm Suqeim branch of this excellent Indian restaurant that focuses on Sattvic cuisine, meaning it’s a great option for both vegans and vegetarians (there’s even an entire oil-free section to their menu). We’re particular fans of their Shahi paneer.
FAVOURITE INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANT: KITCHEN6, JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS
This huge restaurant sprawls over an entire floor of the JW Marriott Marquis – but they don’t forsake quality for quantity. The buffet restaurant features multiple live cooking stations, serving everything from fresh baked goods to fantastic East Asian cuisine. It’s our go-to when we fancy a buffet that’s all about the food.
FAVOURITE CHINESE RESTAURANT: SOY RESTAURANT
There’s a reason this Chinese spot is always busy: it serves delicious Asian fare, overwhelming everyone’s palate with some lip-smacking noodles, Peking duck and faithful dim sum baskets.
FAVOURITE FRENCH RESTAURANT: COUQLEY
No fuss, no frills, just first-rate French cuisine at this relative newcomer to the Dubai dining scene. The steak frites at Couqley has a legion of fans – the meat is cooked to perfection, the fries are skinny and crispy, and the gravy will force you to lick your plate clean.
FAVOURITE ITALIAN RESTAURANT: DA VINCI’S
Little has changed at this old-school Italian eatery over the past 20 years, and we love it for that fact. The food is as authentic now as it has always been: after all this time, it still shines.
FAVOURITE JAPANESE RESTAURANT: IZAKAYA, JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS
The chorus of “irasshaimase” from the staff as you walk in to Izakaya will ring bells with anyone who has visited Tokyo: the cool, casual vibe makes this spot good for girls’ nights out or for laidback dinner dates, but the quirky touches mean its fun for families too.
FAVOURITE PAN-ASIAN RESTAURANT: MAX’S RESTAURANT
A firm favourite among the Filipino community in Dubai, Max’s restaurant should be your go-to location for fried chicken with all the sides – no wonder it’s known as “the house that fried chicken built”. The service is warm and friendly no matter how busy they are, and trust us, it gets overwhelmingly busy and for good reason.
FAVOURITE THE AMERICAS RESTAURANT: LA TABLITA
If you ask any Mexican living in Dubai where to get the best tacos, tres leches cake or huaraches in the city, they’ll tell you to go to La Tablita. The lively restaurant often hosts regular fiestas complete with mariachi (expect dancing and plenty of people singing along to the tunes ).
FAVOURITE STEAKHOUSE: THE BUTCHER SHOP & GRILL
This venture that is dotted all around Dubai is all about the meat. With some of the juiciest halal-certified cuts of beefs in the Emirates, you may forget all the shopping going on around you while eating at their branch in Mall of the Emirates or Mirdif City Centre… we did.
FAVOURITE THAI RESTAURANT: THE ROYAL BUDHA, HOLIDAY INN AL BARSHA
With authentic Thai décor, including a whole load of gold Buddhas, The Royal Budha serves up an extensive menu of Thai food with a focus on dishes without meat, making it a great option for veggies.
FAVOURITE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT (1ST EQUAL): IBN ALBAHR
Dubai revellers can’t get enough of Ibn Albahr’s hearty – and tasty – Lebanese seafood grub. Why? The view of the beach and a table full of mezze and grilled fish. What’s not to love?
FAVOURITE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT (1ST EQUAL): APRONS & HAMMERS
In a city of opulence, this restaurant aboard an old wooden ship isn’t just novel, it’s fabulous. Grab buckets of clams, prawns and mussels, throw on your aprons and get cracking.
FAVOURITE PAKISTANI RESTAURANT: BARBECUE DELIGHTS
A consistent presence at the What’s On Awards for many years, Barbecue Delights serves excellent Pakistani cuisine – we love the grills, which are prepared by a knowledgeable team of Asian chefs.
FAVOURITE MODERN EUROPEAN RESTAURANT: BOARDWALK
Sitting on a wooden-stilted jetty overlooking the Creek, Boardwalk is a bit of a Dubai institution, having been around for more than 20 years. It’s always one of the first places we think of when we have guests in town – the fresh seafood selection and wood-fired pizzas combined with spectacular views of the Downtown skyline never fail to impress.
FAVOURITE BRUNCH: WANDERLUST BRUNCH AT GARDEN, JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS
The sprawling mania of the Wanderlust brunch makes for a super fun day out. Kooky wooden signs guide you through seven themed zones of overwhelming and tasty food choices. In fact, 360 dishes are on offer: sometimes there’s no such thing as too much choice.
FAVOURITE BRITISH RESTAURANT: COPPER DOG
No expense has been spared in recreating the famous Scottish highlands pub in Dubai: everything, including the floorboards, was brought over from Scotland. The effort was worth it. Bar the heat outside, you really do feel like you’re stepping into a little highland pub, with dark wooden floors, warm lighting and a cosy yet lively bar. The high-end but hearty pub grub matches with the décor too.