We know Abu Dhabi has a brilliant and diverse dining scene, but there are also times when you just want to get away. If you’re hitting the road anytime soon, you could do a lot worse than booking a table at one of these super restaurants across the UAE.
Casual dining at its finest, with seafood that needs to be tried to be believed
When chef Akmal Anuar quit the much-touted Zengo after being brought in with plenty of fanfare, we wondered what would become of him.
Soon enough, though, Anuar reappeared with 3 Fils, this time without so much as a tweet to announce it. Pretty soon, word of mouth spread about the tiny venue at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour. It really is small, with only around 25 seats inside and a few tables outdoors overlooking the gently swaying boats. The chefs are parked in one corner, preparing each order from scratch.
Staff are just lovely, explaining the brief menu and daily specials. The food delivers, too. The scorched yellowtail is delicious, while the crispy eel tempura rolls are a marvel of texture and taste. However, the star of the show in our minds is the Fremantle octopus. It looks absolutely stunning, all charred and caramelised and served on an smooth leek and potato purée. It tastes just as good, too.
3 Fils won Time Out Dubai’s Best Newcomer – Casual Dining in 2017, and with good reason.
Open Mon-Wed 1pm--11pm; Thu-Sat noon-midnight. Unlicensed. Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, Jumeirah Beach Road (056 273 0030).
CARNIVAL BY TRÈSIND
Wonderfully innovative Indian dishes delivered with a sense of playfulness
Carnival by Trèsind is not only quirkily named, but it also offers creatively concocted dishes, a fabulously fun atmosphere and inventive, eclectic décor.
It’s all in the name. From the moment you step in and spot bronzed trees, asymmetrical mirrors and a toy merry-go-round in the centre of each table, you’ll see where the “Carnival” moniker comes from at this venue in the heart of Dubai’s financial district.
This sense of playfulness extends to the food and the names of the dishes, such as Game of Corns or the Mystery Meat – the description for which is simply “? ? ! !” on the menu (we won’t ruin the surprise, let’s just say it’s a must for meat-lovers).
And while you’re sitting enjoying your meal and the ambience, staff whirl around the various seating areas offering customers a quick spray with the bubble machine (make sure you cover your water glasses).
Portions are generous, too, and well worth the waddling feeling you may have on the way out. For truly outside-the-box eats, get yourself to Carnival.
Open daily noon-2am. Licensed. Podium Level, Burj Daman, DIFC (052 242 4262).
FOLLY BY NICK & SCOTT
Create your own taster menu that’s high on quality and low on price
We’ll get straight to it – folly is excellent. It sits in what was once Rivington Grill and the majority of the space is outdoors. The view over the Madinat Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab is stunning, while the bistro-style décor works perfectly with the overall vibe.
When it comes to the food, the menu is split into three sections. Small plates (Dhs45), medium plates (Dhs70) and bigger ones (Dhs110). The idea, we’re told, is that you can create your own tasting menu and never have to have the same experience twice. It’s an idea we can absolutely get behind, especially if you arrive ravenous, or just want a few bits and bobs to snack on as you gaze out at the view.
Of all the dishes we’ve tried, the smoked clams are one of the highlights. The balance of sweet shellfish and smoke is spot on, while there is a lovely hint of lemongrass.
For this kind of food, at this quality and at these prices, folly is already up there with the very best.
Open Sun-Thu noon-2.30pm, 7pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11pm. Licensed. Souk Madinat Jumeirah,
Umm Suqeim (04 430 8535).
IL BORRO TUSCAN BISTRO
Fantastic food, service and setting at one of Dubai’s top Italian restaurants
Bringing a thousand years of history to the 45-year-old UAE, Il Borro seamlessly blends its rich heritage with the ultra-modern setting of Jumeirah Al Naseem. Inside it’s spacious and bright, thanks to a mostly cream, beige
and crisp, clean white colour scheme, and natural light that floods in through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Gold and marble-effect finishes give it an air of fine-dining finesse and high-end quality, but there’s a more casual atmosphere during lunchtime sittings and staff never fail to make every last guest feel as though they’re the most important in the room.
The menu, meanwhile, is as authentic and traditional as the venue’s origins, featuring such classics as bresaola, carpaccio, ossobucco, pastas and pizzas, and using ingredients such as imported stracciatella cheese, olive oil produced on the estate in Tuscany and Italian Chianina beef – one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world.
From the setting to the cooking, Il Borro is nothing short of stunning.
Open daily 12pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Licensed. Jumeirah Al Naseem, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim (04 275 2555).
Top-notch venue with plenty to shout about (although it wouldn’t dare do so)
Many well-known, Michelin star-wielding chefs have arrived in Dubai over the years, keen to rule the city’s dining scene. But few have done it with the quiet, understated class of Jason Atherton and his Marina Social.
With views out over the sprawling waterways from a spacious terrace, the modern British and Mediterranean restaurant is stylish and un-shouty, allowing the remarkable cooking coming to speak volumes.
Open your experience here by starting with something from the snacks menu. Rich, creamy and crunchy, it’s almost impossible to stop scoffing the goat’s cheese churros with truffle honey.
Moving through the meal, there’s little that doesn’t delight; slivers of sweet, crunchy snow pea salad; delicate parcels of chicken leg agnolotti with crispy chicken skin; and delicious, enormous tiger prawns of proportions more akin to their big cat namesake than a diminutive crustacean.
Innovative, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable, there’s little wonder Marina Social was named Time Out Dubai’s Best European of 2017.
Open daily 7pm-midnight; Fri 1pm-4pm (brunch) Licensed. InterContinental Dubai Marina (04 446 6664).
PLAY RESTAURANT & LOUNGE
A spectacularly sophisticated, award-winning restaurant – don’t miss it
PLAY, crowned Best Asian and Restaurant of the Year at the 2017 Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards, exudes luxury.
From the slick, dark interiors and stunning 36th floor views to the decadent smell of truffle in the air, the experience leaves its mark on all your senses.
The cuisine is “Mediterrasian”, a blend of light, fresh Mediterranean flavours with the bold, powerful tastes of Asia.
Its kitchen is helmed by former Zuma chef Reif Othman, whose genius we loved at Zuma and whose playful creativity we adore here.
When the dishes arrive, you’ll realise just how distinguished this restaurant is. The pita surprise starter and black cod main are not to be missed. One bite of the former and you’ll be mesmerised, and the beautifully prepared, rich, silky fish is a flawless dish of sheer excellence.
The food served here is as close to perfection as you’ll get in Dubai. Othman has nailed it.
Both the restaurant and bar get very busy for very good reason – reservations really are a must – and you’ll enjoy every minute of your time here. We defy you to visit and not be blown away.
Open Sat-Wed 6pm-2am, Thu-Fri 6pm-3am. Licensed. The H Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 336 4444).
Scores high for originality and leads diners on an ancient culinary journey
For many, the menu at this contemporary Anatolian restaurant will be fairly unfamiliar, as some of these dishes date back 3,000 years. But thankfully chef Colin Clague and his team know their stuff.
RÜYA’s staff will make suggestions, and we’ve always found them to be excellent ones. Lakerda (salt-cured bonito) is a pretty dish of meaty discs of fish, which comes with refreshing cucumber. The borek (salty feta cheese in filo) is the best we’ve tried and the octopus, served with chilli, fava beans and capers is just perfect.
However, The two-cheese and egg pide is the humble star – cheesy, crispy, chewy dough topped with a slow-cooked egg. RÜYA’s mains are just as impressive, as are desserts (the menu even included a chicken one once).
Everything single thing about this place screams “winner”.
Open Fri-Sat noon-4pm; Sat-Wed 6pm-1am; Thu-Fri 6pm-2am. Licensed. Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 399 9123).
Ocean-fresh seafood served with style in a setting that will impress guests
This superb seafood restaurant sits in a prime position overlooking The Dubai Fountain. Visitors to the city will surely be wowed, but even long-term residents will be moved by the setting.
The menu runs the full gamut, including catches of the day, a counter of fresh produce and cold platters, as well as regular main courses and starters. If you choose to go à la carte, you’d be wise to kick off with the crab bisque. The rich, creamy soup has great consistency and plenty of shellfish flavour.
It’s poured over a raviolo with thick, wobbly pasta and a dense crab filling. Delicate it ain’t, but it’s filled with flavour.
The mains are absolutely faultless, too. The confit salmon’s silky slivers slide apart. Each mouthful of fish is rich and satisfying. The sea bream is just as good. The meat has bite, is wonderfully juicy and goes very well with the fennel underneath.
All in all, The Atlantic is a restaurant with a stunning setting that doesn’t rest on the laurels of its location.
Open Sun-Wed 6pm-11pm; Thu 6pm-11.30pm; Fri 1pm-11.30pm; Sat 2pm-11pm. Licensed. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 442 5662).
Food you’ll want to share on your social media channels and eat time and again
Located right on Buhaira Corniche in Sharjah, this café has been attracting the attention of nation’s youth, thanks to its highly Instagrammable décor and very Snapchatable food – think sliders, shawarma rolls and an array of freakshakes.
Eat Sol has a fun and funky upbeat vibe and you’ll probably find it busy on any given day of the week. And while staff are usually inundated with orders, they keep their cool and remain helpful and polite.
Try their recommended bestsellers – the kofta sliders and dynamite shawarma roll. Add on the Sol Fries, too, which come with a tangy signature dressing. Washed down with a Snickers and M&M freakshake (every bit as filling as you can imagine) you have the perfect concoction of comfort food joy.
The straightforward menu is excellent value for money, and the trendy look of the venue is backed up with some seriously tasty food.
Go, take pictures and enjoy.
Open daily noon-1am. Unlicensed. Buhaira Corniche, Near Copthorne Hotel, Sharjah (06 556 6686).
PAPER FIG DESSERTS
Hearty meals and inventive desserts are the order of the day at this café
This quaint little café in University City in Sharjah offers a little slice of the unexpected in the emirate.
There are some cute touches in the décor – box-style bookshelves on the walls, which add pops of colour to the rustic look and feel – while the menu has a strong selection of hearty meals. Breakfasts include shakshouka and eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, and mains range from the Paper Fig chicken burger to build-your-own pasta.
Don’t even think about leaving without trying the desserts – that’s in the name for good reason. There’s a deconstructed tiramisu and a saffron milk cake, but the pièce de résistance is the Paper Fig Signature Blossom Feast, containing raspberry sponge cake, chocolate crumbs and edible flowers among other ingredients, served with flourish and panache in a, erm, plant pot.
The restaurant has style and feels one-of-a-kind in the city. Make a beeline for University City and stop by.
Open Sat-Wed 8am-11pm; Thu-Fri 8am-midnight. Unlicensed. Muweilah, University City, Sharjah (600 560 601).
A chilled-out seafood restaurant with top dishes at this luxury Ajman resort
If you haven’t visited the relatively new Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah, you’ll want to, not least for this excellent restaurant. The name gives it away – it is indeed pescine-themed – and the white-washed furnishings and huge glass windows lend a sunny, holiday vibe.
Outside sits a sizeable terrace, perfect for cooler weather, boasting prime, unfettered views out across the sea and fluttering palm leaves.
As is usual in this kind of eatery, there’s a fish market-style display, should you wish to pick your own catch of the day. Not in the mood for such decisions? Stick with one of the chef’s specials instead and you’ll not be disappointed. A prawn and quinoa salad is deliciously light and fresh (and healthy, too), with chunky, tasty prawns nestled alongside slices of creamy avocado.
For main courses, the choice is fairly simple, fish (or shellfish) your style. Try the pan-seared red mullet fillet, which is flaky yet meaty. Every dish is fresh, simple and expertly cooked. A rich tiramisu will round off the meal perfectly.
A chic, elegant restaurant.
Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Licensed. The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah (06 504 4888).
Sensational Indian cooking in a dreamily ambient, relaxed setting
Infinitely cosy and beautifully rustic, Bukhara might just be one of the most unassumingly romantic Indian restaurants in the UAE. And while the menu certainly shoots for the fine-dining stars, the atmosphere couldn’t be further from stuffy and pretentious. Staff are warm and incredibly keen to offer suggestions, and then there’s the fact diners are encouraged to eat with their hands – a touch we absolutely love.
Bukhara’s signature dish is its tandoori lobster, marinated in garlic, peppercorns and a classic masala spice mix, and served with dal and garlic naan. It’s an enormous (and fairly pricey) dish, but you don’t need to opt for this house speciality to experience the dreaminess of the kitchen’s culinary skills. The tandoor-cooked jhinga lehsooni (jumbo prawns) are spectacular, the mild tang of yoghurt and charred seafood marrying perfectly, while red meat fans will find it hard not to dive, face first, into the stunningly tender gosht ki nalli, with its uber-tender, overnight-cooked lamb shanks and rich, sweet onion hit.
Well worth travelling from literally any other emirate to try.
Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 6.30pm-11.30pm. Licensed. Ajman Hotel, Corniche Road(06 714 5555).
A traditional Turkish restaurant with delicious dishes and chic décor
Set in the Fairmont Ajman this restaurant boasts a traditional, warm vibe. We love the turquoise and gold décor, dark wood furnishings and friendly atmosphere. What we love more, however, is the excellent cuisine.
Start off with a range of authentic mezze and you won’t be disappointed. The warm, fresh bread used to dip up the creamy hummus is delicious, but take care not to fill up on it.
The oven-baked goat’s cheese with red peppers is a delight, as are the courgette patties. Can’t decide? Opt for one of the mezze platters instead to sample several treats. Mains are all about the grills, and they are top-notch. From lamb to chicken to giant prawns, everything is fresh and hot, and we love the traditional taste to everything served.
If you’ve still got room, order dessert and coffee to enjoy on the terrace for that proper holiday feeling.
Open daily 7pm-1.30am. Licensed. Fairmont Ajman, Corniche Road (06 701 5544).
RAS AL KHAIMAH
Super cooking at this atmospheric Ras Al Khaimah steakhouse
Crab cake purists, behold one of the greatest in the UAE. And the steaks at this smart Waldorf Astoria restaurant in Ras Al Khaimah are just as worthy of your adoration.
Softly lit, sultry and with furnishings upholstered in fine leather, Lexington Grill has all the hallmarks of any steakhouse worth its salt, and the food is up there with the very best. In addition to the aforementioned crab cake (crammed with white Alaskan meat, encased in a crisp, dainty breadcrumb coating, perfectly paired with a wedge of lime), there’s a whole host of seafood starters (the prawn bisque is equally superb) as well as a signature, tremendously tangy steak tartare and, of course, an inventive riff on the classic Waldorf salad.
For mains, go for steak (it would be a crime not to) and for the love of all that is tender and juicy, let the staff recommend the best temperature to which your cut should be cooked. A rare tenderloin is, simply, stunning, while a medium-rare rib-eye is so beautifully rendered you might even be tempted to order a second. But don’t – pile your table high with brilliant sides instead. Potato gratin, sautéed wild mushroom, mac ’n’ cheese – it seems impossible to go wrong. And we could say the very same for the Lexington Grill as a whole.
Open Tue-Sun 7pm-11pm. Licensed. Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, Vienna Street, Ras Al Khaimah (07 203 5555).
Magnificent Japanese cooking in a slick, minimalist setting
Fancy dinner and a show? Make sure you take a seat near the open teppanyaki grill at this slick, minimalist Japanese restaurant in Ras Al Khaimah, where the chefs wow guests with both their cooking skills and showmanship.
From the delicate salads to fresh slivers of top-quality sashimi, everything else on the menu is just as impressive.
Yuzu salmon teriyaki iws simultaneously sweet and tart, and the fish yields beautiful flakes when gently prodded with chopsticks. Sushi platters are equally superb (if pricey, upwards of Dhs200) and a great way to sample multiple options – we recommend in particular the spider roll, filled with soft-shell crab, tomato and mango chilli sauce, and the gindara roll, which features miso black cod and chilli miso sauce.
Really pushing the boat out? Try the 180g wagyu tenderloin, served with sautéed mushrooms and a deeply aromatic truffle ponzu. It’s rich, decadent and exactly the sort of thing you should be treating yourself to if you’re on holiday. And if you’re not, too.
Open Wed-Mon 7pm-11pm. Licensed. Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, Vienna Street, Ras Al Khaimah (07 203 5555).
THE COPPER LOBSTER
A seafood-lover’s dream on the east coast, with some great turf options, too
Playing on the emirate’s seafaring history, the nautical theme is strong at this stylish, rustic spot, from the fishnet-
style lights to ropes tied in traditional knots incorporated into the décor.
An ice display housing the day’s catch ensures that what you eat is the freshest it can possibly be. Don’t even think about not choosing lobster.
Thankfully it’s hard to avoid here, since many of the dishes come with sweet, meaty chunks of it mixed in, from an incredibly creamy and indulgent lobster mac ’n’ cheese to a velvet-smooth, lobster bisque with bold flavours of the crustacean, to a paella cooked in lobster broth and saffron. There’s also a burger and lobster combination for a delicious surf and turf combo.
An order of the Boston or Maine lobster, grilled, won’t disappoint, either – keeping its big flavour as well as barbecue tastes.
It can get pricey here, but for exquisite seafood by sea, this east coast gem will not let you down.
Open Tue-Sun 7pm-11pm; closed Mon. Licensed. Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort, Dibba (09 204 1111).