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Eating well in Dubai

Everyone always goes on and on about how good the hotels and restaurants in Dubai are.

I take the point about hotels, most of which are run by international chains. But I am not so sure about the famous restaurants, most of which are also run by international chains: Zuma, Nusret, Nammos, LPM etc...


And then there are the outposts of the great global chefs (Yannick Alleno, Massimo Bottura, Niko Romito, Jose Avillez etc.).


   You would expect hotels to be run by global chains — in fact, it may even be an advantage. But no matter how good the international restaurants are, you keep thinking: I could just go to the original in London/Paris/Lisbon/ Modena etc. Doesn’t this city have any good restaurants of its own? Even Singapore, which Dubai is modelled on, has a flourishing dining scene of its own.


   I am happy to report that this time I did find hotels and restaurants that were not part of faceless conglomerates. And even the one international hotel I stayed at was fabulous.


   I did not know that the Taj group had three hotels in Dubai. When I tried to book the one property I knew about — the one in Business Bay — Prabhat Verma who looks after the Taj’s international operations suggested that I try the newer Taj at the Palm (down the road from Atlantis).


   I took him at his word and discovered that the hotel was managed by Taj-lifer Ranjit Phillipose, who I know well from several other Taj hotels and who helped us shoot an episode of Custom Made at the Taj Exotica in the Maldives. Ranjit is a first rate hotelier so it was no surprise that the hotel was brilliantly run with outstanding service and very good food.


   It was the property that took me by surprise. Built like a resort with a beachfront (where I would find a cabana and enjoy excellent Negronis in the evening) it had high levels of luxury and a relaxing vibe. It was so much fun that I forgot I was in Dubai (which may or may not be a good thing!) and imagined I was at some beach resort, sitting on my balcony watching the sun set into the sea.


   The food was uniformly good. The Chef, Sonu Koithara, worked all over the world with the Four Seasons before joining the Taj and understands global cuisines.


   Sarthak Gusain was described by the hotel as my butler but he was much more than that:  a sort of executive assistant and concierge rolled into one.


   The hotel is a real find. I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wants to go to Dubai to do more than just shop.


  Jumeirah Hotels is an international chain with top hotels around the world but it is a home-grown Emirati brand, based in Dubai. Of its many Dubai properties, the only one I had been to was Burj Al Arab. But right next to it is the Jumeirah Al Qasr which is a huge, sprawling luxury property set in acres of garden that are straight out of the Arabian Nights or call to mind the Kingdom of Dorne in Game of Thrones.


"So yes, it is possible to eat well in Dubai even if you avoid the international brands. And the city’s own hotel brand is pretty fabulous too!"

   It is so luxurious and almost unreal, with its lush foliage that nothing surprises you once you get used to living in a fantasy: not even the Italian restaurant off the beach and well into the sea lit by flaming torches, or the steakhouse, The Hide, hidden away in the gardens.


   We ate at the impossibly glamorous French Riviera restaurant (Mediterranean cuisine: mainly Italian and Southern French) run by chef Kim Joinie-Maurin whose specialities include a savoury version of Tarte Tatin made with onion and a take on Bouillabaisse with a lobster bisque base.


   For our other dining choices I let myself be guided by the recently published 50 Best Restaurants in the Middle East and North Africa list. Number one on the list was the Orfali Bros Bistro which is a smallish, very casual restaurant. The food is said to be influenced by the owner’s Syrian roots but I found influences from all over the world.


   The signature dish, the caviar bun seemed to me to be in direct descent from a more complex bun at Barcelona’s Disfrutar. The Pide were like Turkish pizza.


   A porcini purée-filled umami tart, on the other hand, had no distinct national origin and the hamburger (very good, by the way) was well, a hamburger. Service was friendly and well-intentioned.


   The next Dubai restaurant on the list was Tresind Studio which, I imagine, most Indian foodies know already. We have heard of Himanshu Saini, one of the world’s best Indian chefs who runs the two Dubai Tresinds (one, a normal restaurant at the Royal Mirage hotel and the other, the smaller, more avant garde Tresind Studio in the Palm) so there is not much to say.


   I went to the Studio, which is a 18-cover restaurant where Himanshu tries to expand the frontiers of Indian cuisine. I had been there before but this experience topped every other time. Himanshu’s food is subtler now, more sophisticated and packed with flavour. The service, always good, is now silk-smooth. Because there are over 20 courses, the kitchen and the service staff need to be aligned perfectly to keep the pace of the meal going. Not only do they manage that but Himanshu himself goes from table to table explaining the food.


   If you have time for one meal in Dubai, this is where you should go.


   If you can’t get in, try the normal Tresind which is also outstanding. All of this is a huge triumph for the restaurant’s owner, Bhupender Nath, a successful businessman who got into restaurants for a lark, was impressed by Himanshu’s potential and gave him the kind of support other owners would never give. Nath now has a portfolio of successful restaurants in Dubai. Apart from the two Tresinds, he has the more casual Carnival, the funky Acapella and two new places I have still to go to: Maison De Curry and the vegetarian Avatara. It is an astonishing achievement for a man who started out in this business as a hobby and it serves as proof of what restaurateurs can achieve if they find the right people and put their faith in them.


   The next Dubai restaurant on the 50 Best list is Ossiano, the standalone French restaurant run by Chef Gregoire Berger which is located at Atlantis. I did not go this time but hopefully Gregoire, of whose cooking I am a great fan, will come and cook in India soon.


   A newcomer on the list was Kinoya which entered at number four in Dubai and number seven in the whole region. It is a Japanese restaurant run by the Indian-born Neha Mishra who first came to fame running a supper club at home during the pandemic. By the time she opened Kinoya, her ramen was already famous.


   Kinoya does much more than ramen. I had sushi, skewers, gyoza and many other dishes, all made to a high standard (though the gyoza were the standout). Dubai is the kind of city where people believe that the Zuma menu is authentic Japanese food so it takes a strength of purpose to go beyond Nobu-Zuma style ‘modern Japanese’ and to make the real thing.


   Fortunately for Neha, she has found unprecedented success and will soon open a counter in London at the Harrods Food Hall. You are going to be hearing a lot more about her.


   So yes, it is possible to eat well in Dubai even if you avoid the international brands. And the city’s own hotel brand is pretty fabulous too!



Posted On: 20 Feb 2023 07:28 PM
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