Dubai dining tips from some of the city’s best chefs

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As Dubai gets ready to host the Dubai Food Festival Feb. 25 to March 12, we talked to some of the city’s best chefs to get their dining tips and restaurant recommendations.

While Dubai does not have a single Michelin-starred restaurant, an increasing number of celebrity chefs have set up shop here, from Gordon Ramsey, who opened Bread Street Kitchen, a replica of his London restaurant of the same name at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai to three Michelin-starred Yannick Alléno of the One&Only The Palm’s signature restaurant STAY, where he draws upon the local flavours of Dubai and fuses them with his pedigreed French technique in dishes like red mullet fish with chermoula (a marinade) and cumin-scented tomato broth with date Chantilly. Michelin-starred Peruvian Chef Virgilio Martinez, whose Lima, Peru restaurant Central was named the best restaurant in Latin America by San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America 2014 and his restaurant Lima in London earned a Michelin star in 2013, is set to open a restaurant here in 2016.

“Dubai is famous for its eclectic mix of world class chefs and restaurants that boast some of the most exquisite locations. I also love digging a little deeper to find and experience some authentic and unique local Emirati cuisine”, said Chef Gary Mehigan of The Boathouse in Melbourne, Australia, one of several visiting chefs who will be hosting master classes and dinners during the Dubai Food Festival, who also co-hosts two shows on Australia’s Lifestyle Food Channel, “Good Chef, Bad Chef” and “Boy’s Weekend”.

This year’s Dubai Food Festival is set to drawn more attention to Dubai’s dining scene and the chefs at five-star restaurants and local hidden gems who infuse the flavours of the 200 nationalities that live in Dubai. A host of celebrity chefs are headlining food-focused events like Dine with the Stars and interactive chef MasterClasses, including Australian “MasterChef” stars George Calombaris, whose flagship restaurant The Press Club in Melbourne introduced Australians to modern Greek cuisine; Manu Feildel, the French-born star of “My Kitchen Rules Australia”; Matt Moran who runs eight of Australia’s best known restaurants, including The Paddington Inn Bistro in Paddington, Australia and ARIA in Sydney; Shannon Bennett of several restaurants in Melbourne, Australia, including Vue de monde; and Manal Al Alem, the “Queen of the Arabian Kitchen”.

Before making reservations, indulge in our expert dining tips. Happy eating!

Here are some foodie tips from Dubai chefs, Chef Paul Barton, Director of Operations of InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City, and Chef Yann Rene Le Coz, Pastry Chef of InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City:

Chef Yann Rene Le Coz, Pastry Chef of InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City
Chef Yann Rene Le Coz, Pastry Chef of InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City. (Image: InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City)
  • The biggest food trend right now: One of the biggest trends in the Dubai food scene this year is the expansion of food truck-style dining. It has even found a more permanent home with the development of areas like Box Park, where diners can go and find accessible and affordable options that taste great and provide unique dining experiences. Food truck-style dining also highlights the social aspect of food, bringing people together to share great experiences and great conversations.
  • Don’t get confused about Emirati cuisine: Emirati cuisine should not be confused with Levantine food. Hummus, motabel, shawarma and mixed grill, etc., share similar characteristics, but are not a fair representation of what the Emirati cuisine represents. United Arab Emirates uses a lot of meat, grains, dairy and vegetables in their cuisine with common flavours being saffron, cardamom, turmeric and thyme.
  • Dubai is a global food city: The Dubai culinary scene has so much to offer the international traveller with almost all the foods of the world readily available. It is such a central hub and access point to Asia and Europe, with a massively diverse and multicultural population bringing the best every city on the globe has to offer.
  • Most admired chef in Dubai: Reflet par Pierre Gagnaire, InterContinental Dubai Festival City. Chef Pierre Gagnaire has become an absolute institution in the cooking world and needs little introduction. With a unique concept and intimate setting, Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire is a winner of many hearts especially with the recent accolades of Best Restaurant in Dubai with BBC Good Food Awards, Best French Restaurant with Food and Travel Arabia, Dubai and nominated in various categories for “TimeOut Dubai” Awards as well as Food and Travel Arabia GCC region that will be announced shortly.
  • Insider tips for navigating Dubai’s dining scene:
    • Be brave and adventurous, and trust your instincts.
    • Use all your senses to truly enjoy your dining experience with sight and smell being the initial entry points to finding great food. Great food has vibrant colors in abundance and can attract your eyes from anywhere.
    • 75 percent of taste actually comes from the smell of food; a great chef can smell out good food anywhere.
  • Advice for getting a seat at the hottest tables in town:
    • Be prepared. With so much on offer it can be an endless journey to find the next best restaurant, so look forward and pre-plan that special reservation or dining night you want to experience next.
    • Do your research. There are so many online resources available these days with websites like Zomato doing a lot of the research to save you time, effort and energy in making decisions.
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Chef Barton and Chef Le Coz share tips on where visitors should eat, including, of course, the restaurants at InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City:

  • Zuma follows Izakaya-style dining with the chef serving a variety of dishes and small plates for the table to share in the main dining room or at the sushi and robata counter. The restaurant also boasts wine and sake cellars along with a bar and lounge. Chef Barton and Chef Le Coz’s favorite dish is the yellowtail Hamachi with lots of chili and pickled garlic.
  • TOM & SERG is run by Chef Tom Arnel and businessman Sergio Lopez. The casual specialty coffee shop and café serves comfort food like poached eggs on toast with beef bacon and seared tuna with soba noodles, sliced avocado, mango, cherry tomatoes, chili, soy and ginger dressing and fresh herbs. Chef Barton and Chef Le Coz think TOM & SERG is great for that long and lazy weekend breakfast as there are numerous dishes to choose from and a great social atmosphere to mingle with family and friends.
A buffet of flavors at Anise Anise InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City
There is a buffet of flavours at Anise. (Image: InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City)
  • Anise restaurant, InterContinental Dubai Festival City has eight live cooking stations, a constantly rotating menu and theme nights, including seafood, street food and Asian specialty nights.
Zaytoun InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City
Try the saj flatbread and lokoumades (honey balls) at Zaytoun. (Image: InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City)
  • Zaytoun, Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City offers Mashawi nights when classic Arab barbecued meat and poultry like kebab and shish taouk are served, and prepares freshly made saj flatbread and lokoumades (honey balls) accompanied by fabulous views of the Dubai skyline and sunset behind the Burj Khalifa.
Grilling prawns at Al Badia Golf Club
There is a lot grilling at Al Badia Golf Club. (Image: InterContinental Hotels Dubai Festival City)
  • Al Badia Golf Club by InterContinental Dubai Festival City offers a not-to-be-missed picnic brunch. Guests sit on mats while enjoying scenic views and smoked barbecue during the seasonal brunches.

Visiting chef Bennett, who will host MasterClasses at the Dubai Food Festival, also shares favorite feasting spots:

Chef Shannon Bennett
Chef Shannon Bennett loves exploring Dubai’s food scene. (Image: Dubai Food Festival)

“Dubai is a beast of a city — it’s a city of riches, where exotic silks and spices contrast with space-age buildings and there are still links to Dubai’s Bedouin past. I love that you can dine at places like Ravi restaurant and Calicut Paragon, then finish your evening with a drink at The Jetty Lounge, One&Only where it all began”, said Bennett.

  • Ravi Restaurant is a simple affair, serving inexpensive Pakistani food at rustic tables with plastic tablecloths. From mutton peshwari to naan to biryani, all the comfort foods are here.
  • Calicut Paragon was first opened in Calicut, India in 1939 by Govindan Panhikeyil and his son P.M. Valsan. Originally serving a fusion of southern ‘s Malabar region’s Moplah and Thiyya cuisines, the dishes include influences from all over.
  • The Jetty Lounge is a posh, beachside bar that is the perfect spot to enjoy a sundowner and sample snacks like mezzeh, quiche and Asian-inspired platters.

Here are some foodie tips from Dirk Haltenhof, Resort Executive Chef, Madinat Jumeirah:

Dirk Haltenhof
Dirk Haltenhof shares his discoveries for the best meals in Dubai (Image: Madinat Jumeirah)
  • The biggest food trend right now: Fun dining over fine dining: casual, not complicated but seriously good and authentic. The focus is more on restaurant individuality. Hybrid restaurants, healthy options, restaurant owners and chefs are looking more at the products and where the food comes from to support the theme or story. Sharing is still appreciated, but individual dishes are coming back more and more. Bring the classics back to live and add your twist to it, but explain the story so it can become a good memory.
  • You can’t leave Dubai without having an Emirati breakfast: There are 96 known recipes that are originally “Emirati”. The must-try and very classic is the Emirati breakfast. Items to try: golden round khameer is sometimes considered a replacement for bread; however, it is not really related; lugairnat are found in various countries but very much “home in Emirati cuisine”, said Holtenhof. “We recently added Emirati cuisine to our Arboretum restaurant”. Some of the most talked about restaurants to try Emirati cuisine are Al-Fanar for fine dining, Mama Tani for Emirati soul food, the imaginative and modern Milas, and Al Khettar for traditional Arabian peninsula cuisine.
  • Most admired chef in Dubai: “Sascha Triemer, Atlantis, The Palm Dubai, is a very good chef, very good friend”, said Holtenhof. “For many years he keeps on inspiring young chefs, but [remains] loyal to himself and the company he works for”. Holtenhof also praises Sebastian Nohse, JW Marriott Dubai, for driving culinary in the big picture, keeping the best quality in mind; Colin Clague, Jean-Georges Dubai, one of the best chefs in Dubai, always on his toes, on the pass, with the chefs and very knowledgeable — and great sense of humour; Darren Velvick, The Croft, great restaurateur and entrepreneur, on the stove for the better experience, comfort food for the family, good friend and definitely inspiring the next generation of chefs; Michael Kitts, Emirates Academy, who is daily driving the education of our next level of managers. Last, but not least, Andy Cuthbert, General Manager, Conference and Events and Jumeirah Hospitality, and Uwe Micheel, both driving the Emirates Guild in UAE to new heights; they are hallmarks of the industry.
  • Insider tips for navigating Dubai’s dining scene: “Go to a restaurant and connect to the chef. Ask what are his favorites or, usually, the concierge will have a solid knowledge”. Besides that, the foodie scene on Instagram is quite strong; social media features the hippest restaurants as well.
  • Advice for getting a seat at the hottest tables in town: Walk in early. Dubai is a late crowd.
  • Don’t leave Dubai without: experiencing international and Emirati cuisine. Take an Abra boat tour to Al Qasr Hotel; visit Burj Al Arab (there are several restaurants from Mediterranean, Italian, Chinese and Thai); and go to a Souk (market) for shopping, dining or theater. Coming soon: Jumeirah Al Naseem with even more unique restaurant offerings and Emirati-inspired art in a brand new hotel.

Chef Haltenhof shares tips on where visitors should eat, including, of course, the 24 restaurants at Madinat Jumeirah:

  • Qbara, a stylish restaurant, bar and lounge that takes a modern approach with a creative twist to Arabesque cuisine.
  • Ananta, The Oberoi, Dubai, where chefs create traditional Indian dishes from coal-fired clay ovens in a spectacular show kitchen, is a must-visit for dinner.
  • zuma follows Izakaya-style dining with the chef serving a variety of dishes and small plates for the table to share in the main dining room or at the sushi and robata counter. The restaurant also boasts wine and sake cellars along with a bar and lounge. Chef Barton and Chef Le Coz’s favorite dish is the yellowtail Hamachi with lots of chili and pickled garlic.
  • Fumé, a duo of neighbourhood eateries serving simple sharing plates of comfort food inspired by the European, northern Asia and southeast Asian cuisine, balancing sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours into European-style dishes.
  • Sicilia, Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate Dubai serves rustic Sicilian homestyle fare handcrafted by Chef Stefano Ligori and his team.
  • Madinat Jumeirah: They have all unique offerings; it’s the whole of Madinat which makes it already very special. A brunch in Arboretum and Spanish restaurant Al Hambra is overwhelming and breakfast at Hanaaya (happiness in Arabic) features live cooking stations and a globe-trotting menu, and the beachfront Shimmers, which serves casual fare (Chef Haltenhof recommends the herbal garden salad served with a citrus dressing in form of a sorbet; the octopus; and save room for warm loukumades, crispy Greek donuts) are the most recently renovated restaurants. Toscana, Madinat Jumeirah serves traditional Italian pasta and pizza overlooking the waterfront of Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

Planning a trip to Dubai? Keep these travel tips in mind.

Main image: iStockPhoto/GCShutter

Dubai dining tips from some of the city’s best chefs was last modified: February 26th, 2016 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (298 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.