I’ll be honest with you; Dubai always seemed like a playground for the uber rich to me – a destination for those who prefer stretch limos and yacht parties to culture and great food. But don’t let Netflix’s Dubai Bling fool you. Yes, there is that side to Dubai, but the city is so much more.
Where to dine and drink
While celebrity-chef laden, Insta-famous restaurants are aplenty, Dubai’s dining scene is far more eclectic. So, before heading towards the bright lights and gold-leaf encrusted menus of Dubai’s skyscrapers, I implore you to explore the rich food heritage of Old Dubai. You can do this solo or opt to go on a walking food tour run by a sister duo aptly named Frying Pan Adventures.
On my first night, I met Farida in Deira, one of the oldest parts of the city. Farida was exceptionally passionate about her hometown, and eager for me to explore the plethora of local-loved restaurants and shops in the area. From sumac-stuffed falafel at Sultan Falafel Dubai to tender and juicy chicken shawarma from the Syrian restaurant Farooj Al Shami, and buttery Lebanese baklava from Al Samadi Sweets, I tasted my way through the immigrant-rich food scene.
If time doesn’t allow for a full tour (but I urge you to make time), be sure to visit Qwaider Al Nabulsi, a Palestinian-Jordanian restaurant that serves up the most delicious kunafa – a sweet cheese dish made with salty Nabulsi cheese and topped with crunchy kataifi noodles. You also won’t be disappointed by the Iraqi restaurant Miran Erbil, which serves up the juiciest kebabs I’ve ever had, alongside whole fish cooked over an open fire.
For something a little more upscale, but still on the more affordable side of Dubai’s dining scene, take yourself to Hawkerboi, a popular supper club turned thriving restaurant in The Park. Tom Yum margaritas and kaffir-lime Aperol spritzes are served alongside a menu of South-East Asian dishes including spicy Thai pad kee mao (drunken noodles), Cantonese chicken and truffle shamai dumplings, and wok fried soft shell crab. Leave room for the mango sticky rice.
Mott 32 is another must-visit; a Hong-Kong inspired eatery paying homage to 32 Mott Street in New York, where the city’s first Chinese convenience store opened in 1891. The dim sum is mouthwateringly good, as is the stir-fried Japanese A5 Wagyu. If you’re organised enough, pre-order the signature Apple Wood Roasted 42 Days Peking Duck.
If Michelin-starred dining is your thing, the Michelin guide launched in Dubai in 2022 for the first time, and since then the city has been awarded 11 one-Michelin starred restaurants, and three two-star eateries.
If any should be on your radar, it’s 11 Woodfire, an industrial-style restaurant housed inside a villa in the residential suburb of Jumeriah. Led by Akmal Anuar, the concept is fire-based (hence the name), focusing on cooking meats, seafood and vegetables over oak, pine, hickory and hay. Highlights include the salmon carpaccio with caviar cream and pine oil, barbequed leeks with grapefruit and yam, and curry-leaf bone marrow, deconstructed table side and served sandwiched between slices of fried bread. What it lacks in an alcohol license, it makes up for in its award-winning, creative beverage menu including kombuchas, infusions and signature mocktails.
For a focus on sustainability, head to Teible, nestled on the ground floor of Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai’s Jaddaf Waterfront. This bakery-turned-restaurant is so focused on showcasing seasonal and local ingredients that it gained itself a Michelin green star in 2023, thanks to dishes including savoury churros with wagyu coppa and hot honey; courgettes with pickled pears, black lemon and shio koji emulsion; and brown butter ice cream with parsnip crisps and pickled pineapple.
For a truly blowout experience, head to Dinner by Heston, housed inside one of Dubai’s newest hotels, Atlantis The Royal (yes, the Beyoncé hotel). Arriving to the restaurant via a lift inside a tube of water, you head through a series of magically opening doors, before you find yourself in the cleverly hidden dining room with a mechanical pineapple as its central feature, paying homage to the restaurant’s signature dessert.
The Dubai outpost of Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous restaurant is headed up by the charming executive chef Tom Allen, who has worked with Heston for over 16 years, landing the restaurant a Michelin star just 66 days after opening. Like the original Dinner by Heston in London’s Mandarin Oriental, the menu focuses on bringing to life historical British recipes with a Heston twist, including Meat Fruit – an unctuous chicken liver parfait encased in mandarin “peel”, and Beef Royale garnished with ox tongue and smoked anchovy. Leave room for Tipsy Cake, an utterly decadent dessert comprising of brandy-cream drenched brioche balls and spit-roasted pineapple.
Where to stay
Dubai is no stranger to luxury hotels, and whether you’re after a sky-high city-centre suite, or a low-key beachside resort, there’s something for everyone.
For those wanting to explore the adults-only party scene that Dubai is known for, Address Beach Resort, Five Palm Jumeriah and W Dubai Mina Seyahi tick all the boxes (bonus points to W for its Attiko bar, which is ideal for sundowners and unparalleled views of Dubai’s cityscape).
Beach fans will want to head to Jumeriah Al Naseem, a resort within the Madinat Jumeriah complex that has a mile of white sand shoreline, five pools, and more than 30 restaurants, bars and shops – including an onsite souk. Dark wood and natural materials set the tone throughout the hotel, while the luxurious rooms feature plush furniture, a pleasingly spacious walk-in wardrobe and a mosaic-tiled wet room with sunken bath. The Ocean Deluxe rooms are a particular delight, with views of the sea and the towering Burj Al Arab. While the hotel's quiet private beach is a huge draw, the main pool became our favourite spot, with attentive staff making the rounds with fresh fruit skewers, ice-cold towels, and ice lollies.
For breakfast, The Palmery offers the world’s most luxe buffet, with everything from an avocado and toast station to protein pancakes. For lunch, head to the Mediterranean-inspired Rockfish for grilled octopus on artichoke puree, scallops with shaved truffle and bowls of lemony vongole. In the evening, get cosy in a dark corner of Blind Tiger, the hotel’s speakeasy-style bar with a collection of delicious alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. If you love espresso martinis, ask the bar to make their brandy-based version.
For a truly exclusive hideaway, head to One&Only Royal Mirage, a secluded, beachfront oasis nestled in 65 acres of landscaped gardens – an impressive escape from the neighbouring Dubai marina skyline. The most intimate accommodation here is The Residence, with only 48 guest rooms and suites, all designed to evoke the magnificence of an Arabian palace.
The pièce de resistance is the hotel's spa, which offers everything from full-body aromatherapy massages to Espa advanced specialised facials. Book ahead for the authentic Arabian Royal Hammam treatment, which includes a full-body exfoliation, head-to-toe cleansing ceremony and a relaxing massage atop warm marble slabs.
Take advantage of the boat taxi service that takes you to sister property One&Only The Palm. By day, relax poolside in one of the air-conditioned cabanas, which includes a waterside terrace, indoor-outdoor shower and fully stocked fridge.
For dinner, head to its on-site restaurant 101 Dining Lounge by Yannick Alléno, a stylish, overwater haven serving seafood. Dishes include poached Omani lobster, steamed turbot, and whole salt-crusted sea bass to share. In high season, when the weather is a little cooler, the outdoor decking is the place to be for live music and an unparalleled view of sunset over the Palm.
What to do
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Dubai is all yacht parties, bottomless brunches and designer shops, but there is much more to discover and experience.
A good place to start is by immersing yourself in the history of Dubai and Emirati culture at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). Founded in 1998 and situated inside a restored wind tower house, SMCCU offers a range of programmes from cultural meals to heritage tours and local mosque visits; learning about the nuances of Arabic coffee culture was a particular highlight.
You also can’t visit Dubai without heading to the desert, and I recommend an eco-luxury desert safari to do this. We booked ours via Platinum Heritage Dubai.
This experience, inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, allows guests to explore the vast expanse of desert in a responsible manner without dune bashing, while allowing you to discover the plethora of flora, fauna and wildlife. We sipped cinnamon tea as the sun set before taking a short camel ride for a luxury private-dining experience and a spot of star-gazing.
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