Dubai’s food scene is dynamic, constantly evolving like the city itself. It is firmly rooted in Emirati cuisine—think machboos, the meat-laden Bahraini rice dish; bezar spice mix, the heavy saloona stew scooped with bread and the gulab-jamun-like dessert of luqaimat. But that doesn’t mean global fare isn’t stewing just as often in Dubai’s kitchens. Food from Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia has seeped into the Arabic melting pot one dish at a time. Here’s our list of four restaurants that go beyond Middle Eastern borders and bring the world to the Emirate.
One of the four Bvlgari properties in the world, Bvlgari Resort Dubai has found itself a swanky address in Jumeirah Bay. Built on a seahorse shaped private island, it boasts of a 46-boat private marina, evoking Mediterranean vibes in the sandy Gulf. Even if you aren’t putting up at the luxury hotel, stop by its Yacht Club Restaurant for a grand Italian affair. One glance at the waterfront venue and the nautical-inspired details come to life—a timber walkway, cream leather seats, crafted teak floorboards like in a ship, and custom-designed chinaware collection. The staff, dressed in naval-inspired uniform, arrive with plates of seared octopus with black ink chickpeas puree and the classic Yacht Club salad topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano matured for two years. Save the mezze maniche pasta with black truffle for the main course. If you close your eyes and taste the rich olive oil in the dish while listening to the live saxophone music, you might just be teleported to a harbourside village in Italy. (AED400/Rs7,750 for two; www.bulgarihotels.com; Sun-Thurs lunch 12 p.m.-3 p.m., dinner 7 p.m.-11 p.m., Fri-Sat 12 p.m.-11 p.m.)
Creepers cling to ash grey pillars, bright ceramic plates glint from cream walls, beach bums lounging in cabanas look elegant just gazing at blue sea ahead: You could have mistaken Shimmers for a restaurant in Greece, if the Burj al Arab weren’t looming in the distance.
Getting to this private beachside restaurant requires guests to navigate their way around the wooden, covered arcade of Souk Madinat Jumeirah, and past the man-made canals that carry abras packed with tourists at the grand Madinat Jumeirah Hotel. Working up an appetite here is rewarded with views of the Arabian Sea, and a Greek-inspired menu. Crisp and fried to perfection, the calamari is best enjoyed with a side of tzatziki—the delicious dip of Greek yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and dill. The grilled chicken souvlaki doused in oregano-lemon sauce is sure to leave you yearning for seconds. But make room, and move on to the main course with moussaka, a Middle Eastern version of meat pie cooked with slow braised beef and lamb ragout. Save the best for the last—take a gamble with the grilled catch of the day, and pray it’s their zesty seabass fillet.
(AED 310/Rs6,000 for two; www.jumeirah.com; lunch noon-4 p.m., bites 4 p.m.-6.30 p.m., dinner 6.30 p.m.-11 p.m.)
Origami isn’t your run-of-the-mill Japanese joint. Its decor hints at a curious blend of Southeast Asian and Emirati cultures. Arabic calligraphy blinks from the lamps and a low-table, zashiki-style seating is on offer. Prefer a visual treat of the Dubai Creek and stiletto-high skyscrapers on the side? Grab a seat at the al fresco dining section. Then call for the first-steamed-then-fried wagyu beef gyoza and foi gras that melt in the mouth so fast you might as well have dreamt of them. For pizza with a twist, try one with thin slices of tuna toppings drenched in eel sauce and truffle oil. Save room for crispy tiger prawn tempura or wolf down sweet and spicy Japanese wok-fried rice with generous servings of chicken strips and shimeji mushrooms drizzled in barbecue sauce. Wash it down with a chilled glass of passion fruit oru.
(AED260/Rs5,000 for a meal for two; origamidubai.com; Sat-Wed 12 p.m.-11 p.m., Thu-Fri 12 p.m.-
Restaurants located inside malls seldom stand out. But GIA proves otherwise. The Italian establishment, neighbouring Burberry at The Dubai Mall’s Fashion Avenue extension, is chic with sweeps of white and muted tones. Choose an indoor seating with the open kitchen in direct view, or grab a seat at the airy terrace to catch musical shows at the crowd-puller duos of The Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa.
The menu at GIA is a creation of Tuscan-born chef Tommaso Gonfiantini and features some ingredients flown in from Italy. Gorge on the succulent, slow-cooked veal shank served with rich bone marrow and saffron risotto, or relish a plate of aglio olio served with chunks of mullet roe, heirloom cherry tomatoes and a side of Sicilian bread. The spinach fettucine splashed with tomato sauce and wagyu meatballs is tangy and delightful. Sip on a glass of truffle martini for a dark chocolate rush. Remember to pause from the culinary grandeur and look up once in a while to soak in the temptress that is Dubai.
(AED350/Rs6,800 for two; giadubai; 9 a.m.-1 a.m. everyday)
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.