FooDiva’s 28 favourite Dubai restaurants (2018)

Dubai restaurants - Best Dubai restaurants - #FoodivaLoves - FoodivaFor the third consecutive year, here is my annual FooDiva round-up of favourite restaurants in Dubai in response to the question I am always asked. I have favourites, firstly, for whether I want booze or not, for different occasions, and for style of dining. My aim with this guide is to help you decide where to eat, by giving you a dining bucket list of some kind.

As always, a few pointers to help understand my thinking when compiling this shortlist:

  • I am not claiming to highlight Dubai’s best. It’s far too presumptuous of me to assume the role of a judge – this guide is simply my recommendations of much-loved restaurant haunts that I have frequented in the last year, and in many cases for longer.
  • What does this mean? These are places I choose to visit when I am not reviewing newbies on the block with family, friends and visitors – or solo – covering licensed (with alcohol) and unlicensed venues. And where you won’t necessarily see any social media posts from me. They are all consistently good in my opinion across all aspects of the dining experience. It’s not just about the food, even though that must be good. Notice the rhyme? 😉 In many cases, it’s a charming waiter, or a buzzing atmosphere, that have me returning for second helpings. Often, it’s about places that manage to inject fun into dining, where I know I am gonna have a bloody good time. And because of all these reasons, I may include some in my mystery consumer and corporate #DineAroundDubai experiences.
  • You will notice a focus on certain districts, but please understand this ‘newer’ slice of Dubai has been my home for 18+ years, so when dining for pleasure, I don’t enjoy facing traffic to cross the creek. However, I do have a #GoldenOldie round-up here with many restaurants in Bur Dubai and Deira.

So here are FooDiva’s 28 favourite restaurants, cafés and eateries in Dubai – categorised by licensed and unlicensed; subdivided into districts; and subsequently alphabetically. Where restaurants have been officially reviewed on FooDiva, hyperlinks are included. Otherwise the name clicks through to the establishment’s website. Enjoy reading and eating 🙂

Any of your own favourites to add to this list? Please feel free to chip in with your feedback either here or on social media with the hashtag #FooDivaLoves.

LICENSED

JLT and Dubai Marina

  • Bistro des Arts – this locally developed concept on Dubai Marina Mall’s promenade transports you back in time to an intimate quintessential Parisian bistro offering a genuine taste of simple and authentic French cuisine. Breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner menus.
  • Couqley – another traditional Parisian bistro, this time larger and in the heart of JLT. I love the Sunday deal – AED297 for two portions of steak and frites, a bottle of wine and a pain perdu.
  • Mythos – a slice of Santorini in Dubai behind the Armada Bluebay hotel in JLT impresses with its no-frills simplicity and charm across both food and decor.
  • Ruya – one of Dubai’s most talented chefs, an Isle of Man native, Colin Clague, has reinvented Turkish cuisine with a modern, lighter twist on traditional dishes in a location (Grosvenor House overlooking Dubai Marina) that oozes atmosphere and slick service. Ruya is also one of five restaurants in Dubai to receive FooDiva’s highest knife rating of 4.5 out of 5 knives!

Palm Jumeirah

  • Ibn Al Bahr – the Club Vista mare development on Palm Jumeirah’s eastern shoreline boasts many restaurants. My top pick is this Lebanese seafood restaurant run by fishermen. Choose your fish from the daily catch on display, along with the cooking style, and enjoy it on the terrace overlooking the sea.
  • Little Miss Indiaa hit on many levels, from delicious value-for-money soul food high on flavour without too much spice, and slick, well-informed service, to the prime Palm Jumeirah location (Fairmont) and impressive truck art décor with a welcoming vibe. Another Dubai restaurant with a high 4.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.
  • Social by Heinz Beck – this restaurant’s consultant chef is Heinz Beck, of three-Michelin star La Pergola in Rome. Located in the Waldorf Astoria on the Palm, Social marries style and substance to deliver a highly innovative cooking style that is full of flavour.

Barsha and Umm Suqeim

  • Folly – Rivi may have gone but it’s hard to beat this sundowner spot at Souk Madinat overlooking the waterway and Burj Al Arab with incredibly good value creative cocktails for AED25 a pop. Aside from the setting on multiple terraces, go here for the modern European-style fare by ex-Gordon Ramsay chefs Nick and Scott. Oh and it’s also gonna be my wedding party venue 😉
  • Il Borro Tuscan Bistro – this concept may have been transplanted from Tuscany, but Il Borro hits the spot with simple, Italian fare focused on quality ingredients with an affordable wine list, including own-label wines from its Tuscan vineyard. Pretty terrace setting overlooking Jumeirah Al Naseem’s Turtle Lagoon.
  • Prego’s – ask any Italian in Dubai for their go-to restaurant, and many will pick this institution at the Media Rotana – helped by the fact it boasts a pork licence.
  • Salmontini – smoked salmon aside cured in Dubai by the owners, a family-run business, go here for some of Dubai’s most fresh sushi and sashimi – overlooking the ski slopes in Mall of the Emirates.
  • St Tropez Bistro – whether you’re after breakfast, lunch or dinner in Mall of the Emirates, this light and airy French bistro ticks the box with simple, classic dishes.

Downtown and Sheikh Zayed

  • Kohantei – Dubai’s only traditional Japanese restaurant (at Dubai Opera) that embraces ‘omotenashi’ hospitality through a formal multi-course ‘kaiseki’ menu focused on beef from Japan. You would choose to eat here to soak up authenticity, not because of a rocking vibe that modern Japanese restaurants bring to Dubai. A Dubai restaurant with a high 4.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.
  • Play – Singaporean chef Reif Othman’s concept atop the H Hotel’s second tower. Whilst fusion interpretations in Dubai are prolific and in most cases, poorly executed, his cuisine, that goes by the name of ‘Mediterrasian’, is a well-considered blend of Asian (mostly Japanese) and Mediterranean flavours. Instead of a traditional chef’s table, he has created a private ‘apartment’ one floor above, The Experience by chef Reif Othman, where he personally cooks and serves up to 12 guests. 
  • Sean Connolly at Dubai Operachef Sean is an oyster freak (like me!) and he has gone out of his way to make these molluscs accessible to everyone with an ongoing AED5 per oyster offer. If you’re not a fan, his menu offers plenty of fuss-free, flavoursome dishes, alongside a great location with Burj Khalifa views from the terrace, bundles of atmosphere and slick service.

DIFC and D3

  • BB Social Diningthis multi-storey home-grown restaurant in DIFC feels a little like a cosy speakeasy, boasting a menu that’s Pan-Asian with a nod to Middle Eastern ingredients. BB also offers Dubai’s cheapest Champagne by the glass served in an adorable coupe.
  • Boca – a homegrown Spanish meets Mediterranean concept where 80 per cent of all produce is locally sourced, year-round – the only licensed restaurant in Dubai to do so. The sustainable ethos is evident in the powerful flavours that marry tradition with a dash of creativity. You can even eat your meal in the working wine cellar.
  • Le Cirque – this New York French restaurant import at Ritz-Carlton DIFC has rejuvenated the hotel’s F&B. Expect a French-Italian-Mediterranean influence to the menu, including a daily AED125 lunch deal where the chef curates a menu based on your dietary requirements.
  • Peyote – Dubai loves to flirt with Mexican cuisine, luring us in with the promise of authentic food, but what typically transpires is Tex-Mex overload with an original Mexican dish thrown in for good flavour. We now have a licensed exception in the form of Peyote, a London restaurant import serving modern Mexican fare in DIFC.
  • The Lighthouse – chef Izu Ani, ex-La Serre and La Petite Maison is a partner in this refreshing, casual and always buzzing Mediterranean eatery at Dubai Design District (D3). I dare you to walk out without purchasing some of the eclectic books and wares in the shop.

Bur Dubai

  • Elia – the location in the drab Majestic hotel in Bur Dubai is in stark contrast to the charming Greek restaurant hidden inside, where the food marries traditional with contemporary dishes.

CAFES AND EATERIES

JLT, Dubai Marina and Internet City

  • Bait Maryam – a family-run Levantine restaurant in JLT brimming with original artefacts from the grandmother’s home. Ideal for brekkie or lunch.
  • Baker & Spice – go here for breakfast and order Dubai’s best shakshouka. In addition to the original slow-cooked tomato recipe, there’s a green marrow version too – with ingredients mostly sourced locally. Locations also at Town Centre, Souk Al Manzil and Souk Al Bahar.
  • Gourmet by Kcal – located in the Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, however as a health food cafe, you won’t find booze. A concept created in partnership with healthy meal delivery concept Kcal, I return here time and time again for the gluten-free pizzas. And I don’t mean cardboard-like gluten-free bread, but zucchini and parmesan crust, or a carrot and pumpkin combo – with a variety of toppings. My favourite of late is the Middle Eastern spiced beef and tahini pizza.
  • Rossovivo – head here for the real Italian pizza deal, and without a doubt Dubai’s best and most authentic Neapolitan pizza. Locations at Internet City and Business Bay. 

Jumeirah

  • 3 Fils – Singaporean chef Akmal Anuar’s own concept, the selling point with Dubai’s weather at an optimum is the charming, al fresco, Jumeirah Fishing Harbour setting and the gorgeous view. However, with only a couple of large trestle tables outside, an indoor dining area which includes counter seating to see Akmal in action is another draw. His food focuses on a light Far-Eastern cooking style, using quality, quirky ingredients like glorious uni (sea urchin).
  • Kaftan – Dubai boasts many Turkish restaurants, but not many that manage to elevate Turkish cuisine to a finer, exquisite level in the relaxed setting of a converted Jumeirah villa.

Downtown Dubai

  • Lafayette Gourmet – a posh food hall, Dubai-style. It’s a miracle chef Russell Impiazzi and his brigade manage to rustle up well-executed wholesome dishes representing seven different cuisines and cooking styles. My number one dining spot in Dubai Mall. The City Walk location is just as delicious.

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

For the third consecutive year, here is my annual FooDiva round-up of favourite restaurants in Dubai #FooDivaLoves in response to the question I am always asked ?. These are my recommendations of much-loved haunts that I have frequented in the last year, and in many cases for longer. My aim with this guide is to help you decide where to eat, by giving you a dining bucket list of some kind. See link in profile for FooDiva’s 28 favourite restaurants, cafés and eateries in Dubai – categorised by licensed and unlicensed; subdivided into districts; and subsequently alphabetically. Any of your own favourites to add? Please feel free to chip in with your feedback ?. ? lunch yesterday @thelighthouse_ae – a delicious twist on a traditional Greek goat cheese pie with spices, nuts and honey. ??? #FooDiva

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4 Responses to “FooDiva’s 28 favourite Dubai restaurants (2018)”

  1. GA January 18, 2018 at 9:20 am

    Very happy to see my regular haunt featuring on your list, St Tropez doesnt get the recognition it deserves. Happy New Year my friend xx

    • FooDiva January 18, 2018 at 5:16 pm

      Happy new year to you too GA! Agreed, especially given good dining is hard to come by in MOE. xx

  2. Lina January 18, 2018 at 9:42 am

    Great list! There are a few restaurants on there that I need to add to my 2018 bucket list 🙂

    A few of my favorites that have not been mentioned (that I think combine both good food and good time):

    MATTO- The Oberoi Dubai, Business Bay for pizza and their fried Zucchini (oh and their stick thin qand crunchy fries)
    Miss Tess- Taj Hotel, Business Bay – all round great food, great buzz and great entertainment!
    Tomo- Raffles Hotel, for Japanese fine dining (but cant wait to try Kohantei)
    Bento-ya, Sheikh Zayed Rd. for my weekly Japanese fix (where they know me by name now haha!)

    • FooDiva January 18, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      Thanks Lina. I have yet to try Matto (a guest reviewer covered it). I really liked Miss Tess, but only went once when I reviewed it. Tomo and Bentoya are great concepts in their own right; I just haven’t visited them in the last year hence I couldn’t include them. You must try Kohantei 🙂

I’d love to receive your feedback, so feel free to comment any time.