Here are the dishes that blew our minds – and our taste buds – in 2020

Another year, another inch added to the waistlines of team What’s On. But hey, it was worth it – and necessary, after the year we’ve all had. From tartare to toasties, short ribs to sliders, here are the 40 best things we’ve eaten in 2020…

The starters

1. Maguro pizza at Hanami

Fusion food gets a bad rap, but this globe-trotting starter hit all the right notes. Hanami’s signature starter was a light-on-its-feet combination of ruby-hued tuna sashimi, cherry tomatoes, pickled onion and a delicate kimchi cream, artfully arranged over a crisp tortilla base.
Andaz Dubai The Palm. Tel: (0)45811234.

2. Aubergine mille-feuille at Nammos

If you try nothing else on Nammos’ menu of high-end Mediterranean cuisine, try the aubergine mille-feuille. The thin spheres of eggplant were delicately coated in batter, well-seasoned, and slathered in feta cream cheese so tasty that we were tempted to lick the sharing plate.
Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. Tel: (0)43401002.

3. Truffle and mushroom arancini at Bull and Bear

Arancini appetisers often feels like an afterthought with little care and attention given to them. That’s not the case with Bull and Bear’s rendition. The team has dedicated time to perfecting this simple appetiser and the result is a well-balanced, treat. The cheese is perfectly stretchy and melted while the hint of truffle emulsion adds a touch of richness.
Waldorf Astoria DIFC. Tel: (0)45159999. @bullandbear.difc

4. Balkan meze at 21grams

When appetisers are really good, main courses fade into the background. The beautiful three-tiered Balkan Meze at this What’s On Award-winning restaurant features the multi-layered ajvar (red pepper relish), the tangy urnebes (red hot chilli cheese), hummus of the day, and creamy chicken liver pate with sour cherry compote. It’s so eclectic, so rich and so freshly prepared, you might not even bother with mains.
Park Regis Boutique Hotel, Umm Suqeim. Tel: (050) 8415021.

5. Short rib croquettes at The Maine Land Brasserie

The beauty of these perfectly spherical balls (Dhs89) lay in the contrast between the crispiness of the coating, and the soft texture of the fragrant pulled short rib enhanced with beef bacon, gruyere and the faintest jalapeno kick.
Ground Floor, ME By Melia Hotel, Opus by Zaha Hadid, Business Bay. Tel: (052) 2050447. @themainedxb

6. Deconstructed fattoush Salad at Inked

Normally we just order the fattoush salad as the healthy bit to our Lebanese delivery. But at Inked, the brilliant pop-up concept in Alserkal, chef Hadrien Villedieu served up the most incredible version with mixed herbs, icy tomato sorbet, and chopped cucumbers hidden beneath a wafer thin, crispy bread sphere and topped with radish slivers.
Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz. Tel: (050) 8451359. @inkeddubai

7. Khong wang at Pai Thai

A bitesize parcel, which you should eat in one glorious mouthful, the Khong Wang is filled with white turmeric, cashew nuts, dried coconut, lime, red onion, green mango and Thai chilli sauce, making it a complete taste explosion, with a different sensation in every bite.
Jumeirah Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah. (800) 666353. @paithaidubai

8. Chicken wings at The Pangolin

Chicken wings can be a greasy, messy affair. Not so at the new colonial-inspired, gourmet restaurant The Pangolin. The chicken wings were two large, juicy pieces of poultry, pleasingly milky with a deliciously crunchy kataifi coating. So good, we almost ordered another helping.
The Els Club, Sports City. Tel: (054) 4438 288.  @thepangolindxb

9. Wonton soup at Royal China

Just because we don’t get cold weather in Dubai doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a big old bowl of comfort food. This brilliant dish keeps hot even when it’s delivered, and the five little parcels of pure-shrimp wontons are just joy. Add a touch of the chilli oil (this stuff is potent, so be careful) for extra fiery flavour.
Precinct Building 4, DIFC, Dubai. Tel: (0)43545543, or via Deliveroo. @royalchinadubai

10. Duck lettuce cups at Koko Bay

A spin on the beloved duck pancakes is this tender pulled Hoisin duck, which is stuffed into crisp lettuce cups and served with fried onions, garlic, peanuts and fresh lime. Perfect sundowner fodder at this Bali-inspired beachside restaurant.
Palm West Beach, Palm Jumeirah. Tel: (800) 5656229. @kokobayuae

11. Pantzarosalata salad at Gaia

The menu at Gaia, the award-winning Greek restaurant from Dubai darling Izu Ani, has seven salads. But the pick of the crop was the pantzarosalata salad of beetroot, mandarin, caramelised walnut and green beans. We have no idea how to pronounce it, but eating it was an absolute pleasure.
Gate Village 4, DIFC. Tel: (0)42414242. @Gaia__DXB

The mains

12. Molten cheese toastie at Lowe

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Probably. But when cheese is involved, the more excess, the better. This is exactly how the chefs at Lowe think, bless their gluttonous hearts. Lowe’s Vegemite and molten cheese toastie (Dhs54) features a literal lava of cheese and a thin slather of Vegemite, squeezed between two slices of thick, shiny, buttery toast.
Editor’s note: Word on the cheesy street tells us that Lowe has removed its cheese toastie from the menu. Lowe team, if you’re reading this, please, for the love of all good things, do the right thing. Put. It. Back.
KOA Canvas, Wadi Al Safa 3 (Near Al Barari). Tel: 0(4) 3201890.

13. Beef tartare with caviar at Alici

In order to enjoy this one-bite wonder you first have to sign up for the Alici Solo Crudo experience, which takes place on Wednesdays. During the intimate dinner, you’ll experience the best raw food that Alici has to offer. While every single item prepared was out-of-this-world, it was this delicate beef tartare topped with caviar and a quail egg that blew our minds. Indulgent, rich and powerful.
Bluewaters Island. Tel: (0)42752577. @alicidubai

14. High Burger

This really is everything you want in a cheeseburger: beef patties that are crisp at the edges but juicy throughout, American cheese, a little frill of lettuce, slice of tomato, and a mayo-based sauce. Simple but spectacular, it’s surely one of Dubai’s best cheeseburgers. For best results, order double patties and consume immediately.
Al Manara. Tel:(0)42681586. @high.joint

15. Cheese and jalapeno hot dog at Americano

As unassuming dishes go, they don’t come much simpler than the humble hot dog. But what if it was a perfectly-smoky beef sausage with mustard, gooey cheddar, and jalapenos all encased in a soft brioche bun? Nothing humble about that.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Tel: (0)45846475. @americanodubai

16. Wagyu beef short rib at Netsu

Silky, sticky and fun to share, the wagyu beef short rib is heavy on the wallet at Dhs350, but it’s worth the financial pain. Slow-cooked for 24 hours and finished off on the warayaki inferno, the dish is served bo ssam style, which means you wrap a cube of beef in a lettuce leaf, add sauces and pickles, fold it up and pop it in the mouth.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Dubai. Tel: (0)47772232. @mo_jumeira

17. House special chilli noodles at Din Tai Fung

This warm bowl of fresh al dente noodles smothered in a slightly sweet chilli oil and topped with spring onion is the ultimate mall-trawl comfort food.
Mall Of The Emirates, daily 11am to 10pm. Tel: (04) 2651288.

18. Calamari Mozambique at Flamingo Room by tashas

Ask anyone who regularly visits this beautiful restaurant for their recommended dish and this stupendous platter will be up there – 250g of calamari and squid heads drenched in lemon butter, peri-peri sauce, tarragon and roasted cherry tomatoes almost completely hidden beneath a mountain of crispy shoestring fries.
Turtle Lagoon, Jumeirah Al Naseem. Tel(0)42447278. @flamingoroombytashas

19. Solomillo de res tenderloin at Amazonico

This sublime 250g sliced USDA prime tenderloin demonstrates just how well the Brazilians know how to cook meat. Served sliced on a narrow, hot skillet, the quality of the meat does all the talking. Perfectly seasoned and beautifully tender – we could probably finish a kilogram of the stuff.
Pavilion DIFC. Tel: (0)45713999. @amazonicodubai

20. Mariachi eggs at tashas

This dish gives your hipster breakfast essentials (eggs and avo) a Mexican twist courtesy of chillies, tomato, fresh lime, and a side of crisp tortilla instead of toast. If that’s not enough of a kick for you, use the miniature bottle of Tabasco to turn up the heat.
Galleria Mall, Al Wasl Road. Tel: (04) 38555000.

21. Steak frites at Couqley

Louise Shrigley

An old-favourite that still can’t be beat, this is essentially a posh plate of steak and chips, but the rich beef jus that envelops this dish is among the best sauces we’ve ever eaten. It’s the George Clooney of roux: smooth, rich and well-rounded.
Cluster A, JLT, Dubai. Tel: (04) 5149339.

22. Soppressata piccante pizza at Motorino

Take a thin, slightly chewy base that’s puffed and charred in all the right places. Add a generous smear of sweet-tart tomatoes and milky pools of fior di latte cheese. Then top with slices of spicy beef soppressata, the gentle heat of chilli flakes, and an umami hit from parmesan and pecorino, and you have the makings of one of Dubai’s finest pizzas.
JA Ocean View Hotel, JBR. Tel: (0)48145918. @motorinodxb

23. Asil kebabs

Elevating the traditional kebab, Asil’s signature version uses lamb tenderloin and a highly-seasoned, air-dried cured beef, sprinkled with crunchy pistachio.
Asil, Rixos Premium Dubai. Tel: (0)4520 0055.

24. Scrambled eggs on toast at Birch Bakery

We’re still deeply saddened that its physical café in The Greens succumbed to the Covid chaos this year, but thankful that its delivery option remained. The sourdough bread that makes the base of this hearty dish is easily one of the best in Dubai, and the eggs are rich and creamy with the most generous helping of shaved Parmesan.
@deliveroo or @birch.bakery

25. Chicken souvlaki pita wrap at Kilikio by Mythos

This humble dish is an underdog in its own right, not only because it tastes just as fresh as you’d find in Greece, but the flavour is so unexpectedly drool-worthy, we urge everyone to try it. The vegetables have been grilled to a caramelised perfection and the chicken is plentiful, which is all encased into a freshly baked wrap. It’s the ultimate fresh and tasty dish.
Nakheel Mall, Palm Jumeirah. Tel: (0)42355614. @kilikiobymythos

26. Seafood risotto at The Lighthouse

This light, tomato-based risotto had just the right al dente bite to the rice, topped with a jumble of pan-friend prawns and baby squid, basil leaves for freshness and a smattering of chopped pistachios for crunch.
Corner of Building 6, Dubai Design District. Tel: (0) 422 6024.

27. Lemon taglioni with caviar at La Cantine du Faubourg

There’s a lot to like about the French-Med menu at this chic Downtown eatery, but a standout on our most recent visit was this elegantly simple pasta dish. The perfectly al dente taglioni was bound in a silky lemon sauce and served with a generous quenelle of caviar that added a luscious richness and a salty pop of flavour with every bite.
Jumeirah Emirates Towers. Tel: (0)43527105. @lacantinedubai

28. Calzone at Torno Subito

We haven’t been to a better looking, more playful, more colourful restaurant in 2020 than the 1950s inspired Torno Subito at the W Dubai – The Palm. If you can tear your eyes away from the insane decor, the slices of calzone stuffed with cheese and a simple marinara sauce were superb.
W Dubai –The Palm, Palm Jumeirah. Tel: (0)42455800. @tornosubitodubai

29. Soy-braised beef at folly (food kit)

Lockdown saw us upping our own game in the kitchen (with a little help from some of Dubai’s best chefs). We were particularly fond of the Folly meal kits, which provided us with everything we needed to make a restaurant-quality meal at home. It may have taken a few hours to prepare, but the soy-braised beef with freshly baked focaccia was well worth the wait – and really, it’s not like we had anywhere else to be!

30. Wild vegan tacos at Wild & The Moon

The crispy corn envelopes are stuffed with seasoned vegan mince, tomato chunks, coriander and drizzled in cashew cheese and speckled with lime zest. Expect messy fingers.
Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz. Tel: (0)43450183. @wildandthemoon

31. Yemeni shakshooka at Maisan15

This Levantine breakfast favourite is usually pretty tasty wherever you find it in the UAE. But Maisan15’s version stands out. The sumac and labneh layering, around which the fluffy egg mix sits, makes this dish so vibrant. But the clincher is the homemade zaatar-oozing bread roll that accompanies it – a side dish worthy of a spot on this
list alone.
Al Barsha South, Dubai. Tel: (056) 9484741. @maisan15

The snacks & sides

32. Pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts) at Lana Lusa

Lisbon’s most iconic pastry is the egg tart, a creamy custard tart available in pastelarias across the city. Thanks to the arrival of gorgeous new restaurant Lana Lusa, we can enjoy these delicious treats right here in Dubai. The crust is thin and crispy, the filling creamy but not runny, and the taste subtle, nuanced, and not too sweet.
Wasl 51, Jumeirah, daily 8am to 11pm. Tel: (0)4 380 1515. @lanalusadxb

33. Brussels sprouts at Akira Back

These crispy sprouts are roasted at a high heat and covered in a kimchi glaze for a crisp exterior and a tender centre. Adding puffed rice right before serving adds an unexpected crunch.
W Dubai – The Palm, Palm Jumeirah. Tel: (0)42455800. @akirabackdubai

34. Doors fries

With their super crunchy shell and soft, fluffy innards, these chunky potato treats blew our minds. The presentation, served in a sweet bronze treasure box, was also a lovely touch.
Al Seef Dubai. Tel: (0)42049299.

The desserts

35. Dessert platter at Roka

Why settle on one dessert when you can have the whole menu? Roka’s epic dessert platter is worth a trip to the Business Bay restaurant in its own right. On our visit, it was laden with banana ice-cream puffs, a perfect sphere of smoked coconut parfait, molten-centred chocolate and green tea pudding, and many tropical fruits and sorbets.
Opus, Business Bay, Tel: (0)44397171. @rokadubaiofficial

36. Shanghai Me giant fortune cookie

This show-stopping dessert is one to get your phones out for. The huge dish should be shared, but you’ll have to fight over who gets to read the fortune inside out loud. The crispy chocolate fortune is made to be smashed up into cereal-like pieces – and who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?
Podium Level, Gate Village 11. Tel: (0)5640505.

37. Tuscan olive oil cake at London Dairy

A couple of months ago, we tried and tested eight cakes from different cafes, and London Dairy’s delightful olive oil cake came out on top. Its soft base with a hint of orange gave it a zesty flavour and we loved how the Greek extra virgin olive oil made it so moist.
La Mer North. Tel: (0)43494584.

38. Banana beignets at Indochine

This sultry French/Vietnamese restaurant in DIFC serves what might just be the best dessert we tried in Dubai in 2020. Step forward: banana beignets. Squishy, hot bananas encased in a crispy coating came with coconut shavings and lychee sorbet on the side. It added up to the perfect combination of light and heavy/warm and cold. We won’t forget them.
Gate Precinct Building 3, DIFC. Tel: (0)42089333. @indochinedxb

39. Reif roll at REIF Kushiyaki

Reif Othman provided some delicious light relief this year with this delightful lemon butter sponge cake with yuzu ganache shaped to look like a toilet roll. Covid times made tasty.
Depachika Food Hall, Nakheel Mall, The Palm. Tel: (050) 4231885. @kushibyreif

40. Churro ice cream sandwich at Maiz Tacos

Come for the tacos but stay for the ice cream sando. This swirled churro sandwich comes with vanilla ice cream, and the mix of hot and cold makes for a delicious contrast. Drizzled with lotus sauce, we savour every bite.
Cluster Y, Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Tel: (0)45144712. @maiztacos

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