What's On top picks: 40 restaurants we love in the UAE
Picking these was no easy task…
Here at What’s On, we believe we have the best jobs in the UAE. We get to dine at some of the coolest places in the country – and we get paid for it.
Needless to say, we’ve discovered a few favourites along the way. To mark our 40th birthday, here are 40 restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that have found a special place in our hearts – and bellies.
See if you agree…
Laura Coughlin, Head of Content – What’s On
A shrug of the shoulders. That’s what you would have seen if you’d have asked me what Anatolian food was three years ago. Legendary chef Colin Clague fixed all that when he opened Ruya at the Grosvenor Hotel. It’s predominantly Turkish cuisine where highlights include the glorious cheese pide served with a runny egg, the beef steak lathered in a Turkish coffee rub, and the moreish simit-coated baby squid. In fact, that’s the beginning of my order right there…
2. 21 Grams
With Serbian native Stasha Toncev at the helm, there’s no need to question the authenticity of this brilliant Balkan café near Umm Suqeim park. Stop by for the komplet eggs – a free-range egg in homemade flatbread with cheese and beef jus, or dig into a selection of dips like the white bean hummus, red pepper relish or baked feta cheese. If you can tear your eyes away from your immaculate meal, look around, and appreciate the stunning interior design.
3. The Maine Oyster Bar & Grill
Spearheaded by top restaurateur Joey Ghazal and outfitted with a large shucking counter, it’s hardly a stretch to assume that this brasserie would focus on fresh seafood. While the menu isn’t without whole lobsters, seafood towers, and fresh oysters, there’s so much more to it than that. Surprising highlights including the brussels sprouts side dish, a stellar mushroom and truffle pizza, and the 48-hour short rib.
One of Dubai’s best restaurants is this casual Asian food hall started by Nicky Ramchandani. Come for the piping-hot xiao long bao dumplings, which easily rival Din Tai Fung, and stay for extra portions of the honey-glazed scallion pancakes.
Izu Ani can do no wrong – all we can do is wait for his next right. And he truly got it right with Carine. The beautiful brasserie at Emirates Golf Club plays to our Euro-envy, and not just with the art deco decor: dishes include the filo truffle tart, grilled garlic prawns, and marinated lamb cutlets with spiced eggplant. Weather permitting, nab a spot on the terrace overlooking the green.
6. Flamingo Room by Tasha’s
Flamingo Room in Jumeirah Al Naseem serves up everything residents want in a dining experience – fresh, flavourful food, fair prices, and a stylish space – so it makes perfect sense that after the success of Tashas, the owner would open a second restaurant. Flamingo Room encourages sharing and has plenty of options for vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores. You can’t go wrong with the calamari loaded with shoestring fries – it’s an unbelievably good dish.
7. The Loft brunch
We loved Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera, so it was sad news to hear of its closing. But just two weeks later, new concept The Loft opened under new management. They immediately launched brunch – the playfully named Lofty Caviar Brunch. And what a brunch it is. Among the cooking stations dotted around the glorious sun-dappled rooftop of Dubai Opera are an oyster counter, a BBQ station, and a pasta and risotto counter, where dishes are lovingly prepared in a parmesan wheel.
8. The Oak Room
It turns out that Will Smith and I have something in common – we both love Tom Aikens’ restaurant The Oak Room at the Abu Dhabi Edition hotel. The chef told us Smith loved his meal so much on his first visit he returned the very next night – with a party of 16. Do as we both did and order the 250g Black Onyx striploin from Australia. It’s a cut that required but a chew or two, simply melting in our mouths. It’s a meaty marvel in the capital.
Alice Holtham, Digital Editor
Guarded by a beautiful blue front door, and tucked away on the lower floor of Jumeirah Restaurant Village, Scalini is a chic Italian restaurant that has arrived in Dubai by way of London. It’s old school and thoroughly charming; photos of famous people dining at the London outpost line the walls, and white linen tablecloths cover the tables. You’ll go a long way to beat their ‘Pappardelle al Ragout di Vitello con Tartufo Nero’, that’s homemade ribbons of pasta with ragu of veal and truffle.
Chef Izu Ani is a local hero – and one of the nicest guys in the business. All of his restaurants are brilliant, but his latest opening in DIFC is arguably his finest yet. Go for the freshly-baked bread – stay for the fresh fish cooked to order.
11. Reform Social & Grill
When I’m feeling homesick, I retreat to Reform. Their outdoor space feels like an English pub garden – and they serve up one of the best full English breakfasts in the city. The staff are friendly, the vibe is cosy, and it holds a special place in my heart.
When I moved to the UAE four years ago, Zuma was the first high-end restaurant I went to – and I continue to dream about that first mouthful of black cod. It’s somewhere I associate with where I fell in love with the UAE – and fine dining.
13. Traiteur Brunch, The Promenade
I thought I’d pretty much experienced every kind of Dubai brunch until I tried the Friday feast at The Promenade. It’s unlike anything else in the city – with nautical-inspired bar NOEPE turning into a dedicated seafood room, while the main restaurant Brasserie Du Park opens its kitchens for guests to wander between picking everything from cooked-to-order lobster, freshly carved roasts and endless spreads of cheese, meat and salad. Their dessert room is something Willy Wonka would proudly approve of.
14. Arrows & Sparrows
This cosy café in The Greens is one of my favourite spots for a casual weekend breakfast. It’s got a community feel, the kind of place where the staff know you by name, and know your order before you’ve sat down. The menu has that perfect balance of healthy dishes and naughty treats – and they deliver too, meaning I don’t even have to leave the comfort of my couch for a fix of their truffle mushrooms on toast.
15. Siddharta Lounge by Buddha Bar, Ras Al Khaimah
A day trip to Siddharta Lounge by Buddha Bar, the pop-up at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is the perfect way to leave the bustle of Dubai life behind. It’s a concise menu of ‘Mediterrasian dishes’ that includes sushi and crudo as well as meatier options from the grill, with an LA-cool
vibe thanks to its perfect poolside positioning and chilled lounge beats.
It’s a bold claim, but for me, Alici is a strong contender for Dubai’s best restaurant. Stepping inside feels like stepping inside an Italian trattoria on the Amalfi Coast, and you can tell each dish has been lovingly created by an expert team. Order the scallops – you won’t regret it.
Elise Kerr, Online Reporter
17. DRIFT Beach Dubai
The restaurant at this elegant beach club is an underdog in the industry. With a French menu, there’s a focus on high- quality seafood and taste is never compromised. Go for the truffle pizza and come back for the fresh fish from the raw bar, filleted right in front of you.
It’s bold to say this restaurant in Dubai lives up to the hype, but I really think it does. The quality of meat is exceptional and the showmanship carried through the restaurant is second to none. Not a restaurant that will become your local, but definitely one for the bucket list.
In the mood for fish ‘n’ chips like the ones you’d find on Brighton Pier? This is where you’ll find them. The fish is as fresh as it comes and lightly battered with the perfect crunch. Served with a side of fluffy, chunky chips and a dollop of mushy peas – yum.
20. Zhen Wei
When I first tried this restaurant, I thought I’d enjoy the dim sum, but I didn’t know I’d love it as much as I did. The flavours and textures are far more experimental than what we’re used to in the UAE. The seabass is one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted.
21. The Scene
This unassuming restaurant has everything you could need to make a great local. Stunning Marina views at both its Abu Dhabi and Dubai locations, plus, great quality, reliable
food and a brilliant atmosphere. What more could you want?
Whether you’re planning to pop the question, celebrating something special, or just want the most romantic evening of your life, 101 at the One&Only The Palm Dubai ticks all the boxes. Be sure to pick a table outside overlooking the striking views of the Marina skyline.
23. Walnut Grove
This South-African café makes it onto the list for so many reasons, but primarily the food is just great. From the giant salads filled to the top with everything you could wish for, to the delicious cakes baked to perfection, you really can’t go wrong with Walnut Grove.
24. Ting Irie
It’s not often you come across a restaurant in Dubai with as much authenticity as Ting Irie. From the all-Jamaican staff, to the DJ playing Caribbean covers of your favourite songs, you’ll really transport yourself on holiday when you dine here.
Lauren Fletcher, Junior Online Reporter
25. Asia Asia
Set against the backdrop of the Dubai Marina skyline is this beautiful Asian restaurant at Pier 7. I love the bitesize Asian classics like the sushi, sashimi and dim sum, as well as their passionfruit miso black cod. The atmosphere is electric and it’s perfect for those
special date nights or for wowing visitors.
26. Shakespeare and Co
Shakespeare’s is pretty legendary in the UAE, and continues to be a favourite for breakfast. The signature shabby-chic interior design sets it apart from other venues. Head there for the eggs Benedict or the big breakfast burrito and you’ll leave happy.
27. Jones the Grocer
Hailing from Down Under, Jones the Grocer prides itself on gourmet groceries and delicious dishes. If you’re looking for a burger to blow your mind, I’d say head here. The Jones signature wagyu burger with smoked beef bacon, crisp mixed leaves and cheddar is darn delicious on its own, but add crispy coated brie and it’s next-level tasty.
28. STK JBR
This popular hotspot is always busy on its ladies’ nights and brunches. The star of the show is, of course, its succulent steaks, cooked to perfection and paired with golden fries or a generous heap of dreamy mac and cheese.
The Alps meets Dubai at this rustic alpine chalet-themed restaurant in Madinat Jumeirah. Food here is proper hearty with dishes that will warm your cockles. Think juicy meat, full-bodied sauces, and cheese, lots and lots of cheese. In fact, the cauldron of cheese fondue, the gooey raclette and the penne pasta – prepared in in a parmesan wheel – are the restaurant’s three best-sellers.
I might be biased since there’s a branch of this Italian spot next door to What’s On HQ, but for me, Vapiano’s is the perfect place for lunch. Whether you order the beef pepperoni pizza, a pasta bowl or one of the salad options everything here is made to order from scratch, and that’s what makes it great. Don’t forget to grab some complimentary gummy bears as you walk out.
31. Black Tap
OK, so Black Tap is not exactly the place to head if you’re eating healthily, but if you’re looking for an epic cheat meal, this is the place to find it. It might be famous for its Instagrammable monster shakes, but save your calories and instead dive straight in for the burgers, which are enormous, but excellently executed. Soft buns, juicy meat, and a perfect selection of toppings.
32. The Taphouse
Dubai residents voted this little spot at Club Vista Mare as their favourite pub grub at the What’s On Awards 2018 and I couldn’t agree more. It’s perfect for alfresco dining under the twinkling fairy lights and cute white dreamcatchers blowing softly in the breeze. The menu is modern European meets American portions. If you’re in the mood for a curry, the chicken tikka masala is an absolute must-try.
Aarti Saundalkar, Junior Online Reporter
A multi-What’s On-award-winning Indian restaurant, Gazebo is famed for its Dum Pukth cuisine, which means that your food is cooked over a low flame in a dough-sealed clay pot with spices. You can’t come here and not try their legendary briyani, but you should also order the butter chicken, dal makhani and paneer tikka.
34. Downtown Cafe
Diners are spoilt for choice at Downtown Cafe in Karama. They even serve up salads, sandwiches, pastas, burgers and pancakes and crepes. I love the volcano prawns. The staff are very friendly and they have board games if you want to make a night of it.
35. Al Hara Café
Believe it or not, this hole-in-the-wall Karama café draws in crowds from all across town. Swing by here in the evening and you’ll find cars lined up in the parking lot with people waiting for their Dh1 cup of ‘Disco Tea’ – a long-stewed brew of milky deliciousness. You also need to try the spicy shawarma, which is the tastiest shawarma in Dubai. Fact.
Tel: (04) 396 5133
36. Pancake House
This is my go-to breakfast spot when I’m craving a good hearty American brekkie. The big breakfast platter includes two pancakes, eggs, baked beans and bacon for Dhs35.
Moshi is so good that it turned me from a sushi hater to a lover. Try the crazy crab maki roll. If you’re a fan of Oman Chips – and if you’re a long time Dubai resident, then of course you are – make sure to order the Cheesy Chips Oman sushi – a roll mixing soft cheese with chips. There are two branches in Dubai, but I recommend going to the Oud Metha branch.
38. Little Lamb Hot Pot & BBQ
This Chinese hot pot chain is very popular in Dubai, and for good reason. You basically cook your own meal by adding ingredients to the huge soupy cauldron in the centre of the table. You can add things like thinly sliced chicken or beef, mushrooms, prawns, crab balls, and noodles to a broth of your choice: spicy, plain or half and half. Don’t be shy to ask for more broth.
39. Darjeeling Cafe
This café is located in the inner roads of Karama and while it may be hard to find, it’s worth tracking down. The menu is extensive including delicious South Asian dumplings called momos, noodle dishes, and chaat. The café is so popular in the neighbourhood that the chefs add new dishes to their menu every few months.
40. Little China
Little China serves up tasty Indo-Chinese dishes. Try their Szechuan rice or noodles and pair it with chilli chicken or hoisin chicken sauce.
Tel: (04) 3976068