Perfectly balanced, as all things should be…

If you live in Dubai for any length of time, you learn to expect the unexpected. It’s a city that frequently finds itself at the serrated edge of exciting new trends, and nowhere is it more visible than with dining fads. These are just a few trends we’d pick to see more of, and those we get the ick from, in 2024.

Pick: not sharing


There’s a place for sharing concepts, and that place is not ‘everywhere, all the time’. So it’s with great zesty zeal I’ve been noticing more restaurants brave enough to let you order mains that don’t arrive at the table all carved up and easily divisible between people who are less adept at making good food choices as you. If we’re going for mezze or tapas, what’s ours is yours, if we’ve ordered a burger and you go in for an unsolicited bite, the rules of the jungle (and or prison, which we’ll gladly spend time in if it means lessons are learned) apply.

Ick: being taken on “a culinary journey”

I understand what you’re attempting to get at, I know there is no literal journey (other than the one we’re all taking on a spinning rock, that’s orbiting the sun at 67,000 mph, itself careening through the expanding universe into an only theoretically comprehendible void). But even on a metaphorical level, the use of the word journey is deeply flawed. Thanks to a fevered campaign of overuse as shorthand for experience – the phrase has lost all meaning. At best it evokes nothing, at worst it awakens an instinctual stubbornness against travelling anywhere, especially via the medium of burrata. It’s been taken on a cliched journey into semantic oblivion, along with ‘lavish spreads’ and ‘all the trimmings’.

Pick: merch


NFTs might be primed for a comeback, but it’s IRL merch that tickles my graphic fanny pack. I’m a sucker for a good bit of prêt-à-porter branding. Snapbacks with the detailed stitching, baggy printed tees, to a lesser extent but still valid – boots with the fur, logo stickers for laptops, visors, mugs, shades, water bottles, stationery, socks and boatloads of totes. The restaurant x fashion fit era is here and I am more than happy to do a bit of free human billboarding if I believe in the business, and the people behind it. Let the brands cook.

Ick: hot honey

I can hear you shouting at the screen and I don’t care. I’ve seen what some of you do with ketchup. Hot honey is having a moment in Dubai right now – and its primary deployment seems to be in generous dribbles over pizza. Likely by the same people that consider cereal an acceptable dinner food, using it as a proxy because they were pineapple-shamed out of ordering a Hawaiian. Judging from the straw poll in the office, my position seems to be an unpopular one, but I still cannot get my head around literally sugarcoating one of Italy’s greatest gifts to mankind to the extent that it’s essentially transformed into a mildly spicy flan.

Pick: meat

I have no beef with vegans, in fact, I’m a card-carrying ally for the flexitarian cause – but I’d lying if I didn’t confess at least a slither of joy at the recent revival of the meat feast. There seems to be a renewed appetite in Dubai for the plant-free grills, seen in the schnitzel-load of fresh steakhouses (such as Leña or 71 Steak and Grill), barbecue restaurants (Big T BBQ), smokehouses (Chef’s), and even rizzed-up-shawarma joints (Mitzumami).

Ick: caviar on everything

The pricing mechanics of caviar seem to borrow heavily from the ’emperor’s new clothes’ market economy of the modern art world. Be honest, how many people would really pass a blindfolded guess-the-premium-salty-sturgeon-egg taste test? And their gimmicky addition to pretty much any foodstuff just feels like an unpalatable form of wealth-signaling. What more can you say by spilling half a Bitcoin’s worth of fish mist on your lap that you haven’t already said with the Submariner and loud complaints about how many speed bumps you had to take the Lambo over to get there. It’s a no to the superfluous roe from me. 

Pick: smoke

Coinciding with the repopularising of meat – is the renaissance of the charcoal, or wood-burning grill. The embers of this trend, kept alive by barbecue restaurants and smokehouses, were given new life with the rise of the robata in UAE kitchens, but the heatmap is spreading with more and more kitchens opting for preparations that take advantage of this deeply perfumed cooking method. It’s not without its challenges, but what it loses in smoke alarm batteries, it more than makes up for in flavour. And where there’s smoke, there’s some fire cooking.

Ick: Wagyu

I’m not advocating a Wagyu ban. But we should probably have a discussion to decide on just how much wagyu is too much wagyu. At some point between 2019 and 2024, there seems to have been an almost overnight hostile menu takeover by the Wagyu cartel (most likely orchestrated by a herd of type-literate Aberdeen Angus cattle). I agree, that veiny marbling is indeed delicious, but with the frequency it seems to be consumed here, it feels like we’re on a side quest to eat our way to an extinction event.

Pick: Spanish restaurants

In the debates that matter, we humans instinctively seem to reduce ourselves to binary outcomes. The political left or right, Messi or Ronaldo, French or Italian cuisine – but in that narrow search for the GOAT, we rob ourselves of the poetry in depth. We miss out on treasures like the footwork of Pele or the sizable library of Spanish culinary flare – of tapas and deep sea carabineros, sangria, paella, jamon Iberico and croquetas. Highlights of the castinet revolution for me have been Jose by Pizarro (Abu Dhabi), Tagomago, and Jaleo.

Ick: twists

It’s a Mediterranean restaurant serving Mediterranean food but wait… There’s a twist. Except it isn’t a twist because there are hundreds of other restaurants doing the same thing. For it to be classed as a twist, you have to conjure something unexpected, play with our preconceptions and deliver an edible mic drop. Putting maki and tuna tataki on an otherwise mostly European menu does not make you M. Night Shyamalan, it means your eatery serves ‘a Dubai menu’. Which is absolutely fine, and in no way improved by claiming a plot twist.

Pick: filtered water

Despite the fact we’ve all been using those flannel-consistency paper straws (or worse, the ones made of pasta which almost made the list in their right) for a couple of years now, apparently the planet is still in mortal jeopardy. *side eyes Taylor Swift’s private jet*. And so we as a community must applaud when restaurants make innovative moves to cut down on their ecological apocalypse footprint. One recent such trend is the serving of filtered water in reusable bottles. Less plastic, less gaslighting by water brands about how impossibly pure their mountain spring glacier juice is, and hopefully less carbon in the atmosphere, waste in the landfills and depletion of precious resources.

Ick: soulless collaborations

I’m not against collabs in principle. There have been some amazing joint ventures over the past few years (What’s On x Pitfire, and Ravi x Adidas are just two that stand out immediately) – but when they’re just a transparent, self-aggrandising cash grab with no material worth, allegorical Glaswegian Wonka pop-ups, X marks the spot where creativity sleeps and it’s a la poubelle for me.

Pick: sandwich shops


For the longest time, sandwiches hadn’t been getting the attention they so pain(French for bread, pun intended)-fully deserved. At least partly because they were overshadowed by their more glamourous carby cousins – the big shawarma and big burger spin machines have bottomless pockets. But it feels like the humble bread cuddle is finally getting its time in the sun. Exemplified by brands such as Wise Guys, Rascals Deli, Fabrique, Birch Bakery, and Brix Cafe (news just in, the team at Maiz Tacos are also about to open their own dedicated sarnieporium) – who are putting their loaf-hewn, cross-section-showing-off wonders on centre stage. All hail the sando era.

Ick: misleading bathroom signs

Misgendering but make it Dubai. Sure those elaborate line drawings on the restroom door look beautiful but which out of the two amorphous scribbles directs me to porcelain sans shocked screaming. What are those designs? Is that a dress? A beard? Are those arms? Surely this can’t be a toilet intended for the sole use of marine invertebrates? Why are we being provided with clues for a treasure hunt, rather than actionable information – you shouldn’t need a doctorate in archaic symbology to be able to legally relieve yourself. What’s wrong with using good old fashioned words? Give them quirky themes if you must, but the bare operational minimum should be, that they’re easy enough to discern during two seconds of mild panic.

Pick: bagels

Hot on the trail of sandwiches – bread with a hole, is wholly primed for a doughnaissance. Glazed, seeded and rye, we’ve noticed both an increase in the number of eateries and delis serving them, as well as an upscaling in the average girth of those hitting shelves. Salmon and cream cheese the classic filling, but we’ve seen riffs on a Reuben, little pesto and avocado numbers, bresaola and provolone – hit up 1762 for some of the best halo bakes in the city right now.

Ick: obnoxious music volume

Maybe it’s an age thing. Ok, it’s almost definitely partly an age thing – but if I’m going out for food with friends, the background volume of the playlist/mariachi band/saxophonist needs to sit below the threshold where you’re required to WhatsApp other members of the table just to communicate. I’m not willing to believe that dystopia is our reality just yet. Willfully ignore your Apple Watch ‘loud environment notifications’ and crank up the decibels in late-night bars, clubs and beach raves, I’m on board and signed up to that – but there’s absolutely no need for a taco restaurant to serve cold sweat Berghain flashbacks at 7pm on a Tuesday.

Pick: steakhouse burgers

The smash burger will never die, it’s a fashion-proof archetype – like Ford Mustangs, 501 jeans, and the music of Blink 182. But its omnipresence in Dubai’s gourmet burger joints has been at the expense of its thicker, juicer aunt patty. You heard it here first, steakhouse burgers are back in this season.

Ick: Chips Oman

Chips Oman

I’m not firing shots at this beloved and deeply nostalgic local snack, just about what’s being done in its name. The amount of heavy lifting it does as a bit part actor in “limited time” regionally-inspired menus, is perhaps only surpassed by the support Lotus Biscuits provide for the signature dessert racket. It seems instinctual for a sizable portion of chefs here, a reflex reaction that when December 2 looms high in the calendar – you can almost hear the frantic clatter of busy kitchens desperately scrambling to find new and inventive ways to inject gel reductions of paprika-flavoured chips into their otherwise unchanged recipes.

Pick: speakeasies

As a rule, glamourising the austerity, social deterioration, and sight-robbing bathtub gin of the 1920s American Prohibition Era, is an instant ick. But I do have a soft spot for the modern breed of, chic boutique speakeasies, which were of course inspired by that same epoch. They are dens of actualised equity where individual margins are smoothed out by low light and high vibe; quirky decorative paraphernalia adorning the walls, craft mixed tipples at the bar and funky choons on the bass cones. They get bonus points for concealed entranceways, although these can court a frustrating queue of ‘doing it for the Gram’ fans. My top secret sip spots are Honeycomb Hi-Fi, Blind Tiger, Galaxy Bar, Moonshine and NYX. The passphrase is “I’m up past my bedtime”.

Pick: allergy awareness

You know what’s hot? Restaurants that care enough about their customers to hold themselves accountable for food allergies. It’s estimated, worldwide, the number of people with a food allergy now sits at around seven per cent of the total population. And, for whatever reason, that number is growing. There are many restaurants here that are onboard the allergen woke ship (which also seems to be on an upward trend), but there are still many more that aren’t. I’d make a generous estimate, that it’s about 50/50, which are fair odds for a coin flip, slightly less so for a round of ‘will I have a functioning trachea after this meal?’ What’s required is education – training staff to be aware of the severity of these conditions; and how to avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen; with a legislative backing that compels restaurants to comply. There are already strict guidelines on food hygiene and ensuring food prep meets halal standards and practices. We’re just talking about topping that up. It will likely save lives.

Ick: tallow

The complimentary restaurant bread basket is an institution, beloved by customers, and empowers chefs to lay down a fragrant, freshly baked opening statement. I’d argue the tradition has been significantly enhanced in recent years, by the equal attention paid to the butter accompaniment. We’ve seen some stunning examples (including blends with miso and Marmite) but my current recommendation for a churn that turns heads, is Bordo Mavi’s Black Sea butter. There’s a rival camp emerging though, competing for bread-top real estate. Beef tallow, now available in more than a few Dubai fine diners to smear on your rolls. I can’t help wondering why though, it surely can’t be the meadowy flavour. And we’re not under siege. There is no enemy at the gates strangling our supply lines, forcing us into rationing. Every time I see it served now, I genuinely can’t believe it’s not butter.

Pick: mocktails

How vegans feel about salad/mushroom risotto (being their only choice on a menu), is how people who choose to not drink alcohol, feel about virgin mojitos. The growth in demand for intelligently crafted, alcohol-free mixology isn’t a regional thing either, the data is in, and multiple studies on the subject have revealed a dramatic drop in the amount of liquor being consumed by the younger generations. Partly because Dubai was ahead of the curve in terms of numbers, and partly because it responds to quickly to the whims of trend – we now have some tidy examples of mocktail making in the city, ones that are no afterthought. There’s even a new Irish bar at Alserkal, that’s completely dry – TVM @ The Fridge.

Ick: elevated

Have you noticed how almost everything is being referred to as ‘elevated’ at the moment? It’s street food, but ‘elevated’… It’s an elevated chai latte, elevated fish ‘n’ chips, elevated Asian cuisine, elevated cheese boards – contributing, in no small degree, to elevated cortisol levels in the rest of us. I’m amongst the first in line for a bougie-fication that’s sound of concept, but if there is no purpose behind it – if it’s marketing fluff with no substance, or worse, completely misattributed, the bandwagon jumping just looks a bit desperate. Some of the purest joys in life are found in simple, uncomplicated things. And just because you could (add gold flakes to spaghetti), doesn’t mean you should.

Pick: elevated shawarma

Shhh, I’ve got a hypocracy hall pass for this one. Elevated, swanky shawarma will be the next big thing, you mark my words. And when it does, remember that it all began with Mitzumami. The brand comes from the same creative team as one of the early pioneers of the Dubai gourmet burger scene, High Joint, and its prime cut directive is delivering an upgraded version of the regional love language – shawarma. Their signature offering combines prime beef and lamb, is wood fire grilled to a medium-rare finish, has craft pickles, and dollops of ritzed-up tahini slapped over the whole pita-hugged mélange. I can borderline guarantee this concept will be copied, pasted, and imitated (but never replicated) ad absurdum before the end of the year.

Images: What’s On archive