I just realised this is the first time in the whole of 2014 that I have spent an entire month in Dubai. 31 days and four entire weekends in the city. Not even a quickie platetrotting adventure to Abu Dhabi.
I also realised that between now and this time last year, I've enjoyed some of my best dining experiences in Dubai. The entire culinary landscape in the city seems to have shifted noticeably in the last 12-18 months - more independent and interesting concepts, more to do outdoors, a lot more pop up experiences and many more Middle Eastern culinary adventures to be had beyond the usual mezze and mixed grill staples that you were forced to dish out to any visitors wanting to try some "local" (and by local I mean broadly Middle Eastern) cuisine.
The past year has seen a lot to celebrate, far too many farewells but also lots of delicious dining. It has also given me the chance to replace some fall-back choices with some brand new favourites. So, in no particular order, here's a list of my new go-to spots:
Goodbye Friday Brunch, Ola Spanish Saturdays
I am so over the overpriced, stuff-your-face silly Dubai Friday drunch (drunk lunch - a term made for Dubai if ever there was one). So El Sur's civilized Spanish Saturday brunch is definitely the one I'll be recommending to anyone wanting a great weekend meal without forking out a fortune for food they'll never eat and quantities of alcohol they really shouldn't be drinking. El Sur's selection of palate-awakening tapas, hearty paella and sharing desserts come straight to the table (no queuing and having to pause conversations while people overfill their plates), and for those who can't think of a brunch without free-flowing booze, there's that too (and a killer sangria at that) all under AED300. I am sold.
Swap the Desert Dinner & Dance for a Taste of Deira
Dune bashing may be one of my favourite activities in Dubai. But the desert dinner isn't. I have long searched for an authentic culinary experience that would give visitors a taste of Dubai that didn't involve a dodgy belly dance or a dhow. I am happy to say I have finally found it! The Frying Pan Adventures' Arabian food trails that take in hidden little gems around Dubai's oldest district is by far one of the best culinary experiences I have enjoyed in this city or any other and is my new must-try experience for anyone visiting Dubai.
Save Your Ears and Your Place on the Grapevine
I much prefer spots where I can enjoy a drink and conversation without blaring music drowning out all the juicy details. I also tend to prefer spots where I don't need to guess whether I should smile or nod sympathetically as a friend unintelligibly spills their heart out about their latest work/ relationship dramas. And I like comfy seats! So the banquettes at Bapas are my newest go-to spot for a tete-a-tete. Their incredibly comforting bread bowls of warm onion soup, big pots of garlicky mussels and ladies night deals are the perfect antidote to a hard day. Other great spots for a catch up include the outdoor terrace at Cargo at Pier 7, (especially when the view of Dubai Marina is accompanied by an Asian mixed platter and a chilled maragarita) and 101 on The Palm if you prefer the whoosh of the waves as a backing soundtrack.
Modern Middle Eastern All the Way
The two coolest kids in town
I have finally found the two restaurants I have been waiting for all my years in Dubai - Restaurant One is a laid-back quirky cafe that serves inventive Middle Eastern cuisine for days when you don't want to break the bank and Restaurant Two is a slick standalone that is the perfect spot for a fancy dinner for evenings when you are looking to spoil yourself. The first, Omnia Gourmet scores bonus points for not just serving Middle Eastern cuisine but creating dishes (such as a delicious date creme brulee) that are inspired by local Emirati ingredients. The second, Qbara, is hands-down my favourite restaurant in Dubai and I can't wait to head back for some more delicious dishes that turn regional cuisine on its head, such as earthy bone marrow, sayidieh, pashmak, chocolate-covered loqum... the list goes on!
Leave on a High
I have said good bye to too many friends in the past year. But what I have learnt is that the whole experience is far more depressing when you pick a favourite pub that holds sentimental memories, and incredibly underwhelming when you say your goodbyes in the back of a cab on the way to the airport after a long night out. So do it in style and end your Dubai dream on a high note at At.mosphere. Yes, those tears may spring more from the eye-wateringly high price of your wine and the chocolate sphere for dessert may cost a bomb, but at least the beautiful dancing fountains viewed from the highest tower on earth will be your parting shot of Dubai.
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