Reflective of its well-earned moniker of ‘The Emirate of Excess’, Dubai provides a dynamic backdrop to a thriving and hyper-evolutionary food and beverage landscape. One that boasts of more than 20,000 outlets scattered around the modest-sized city. And yes, a few even on its famous man-made, mid-sea islands.
These take the form of everything from decadent Michelin-starred restaurants to high concept, fine dining experiences for epicureans to savour with gusto. I was lucky that my recent trip here coincided with the 2022 edition of the annual Dubai Food Festival. This meant plenty of set-price meals and immersive culinary experiences were in store for the gourmand in me.
In no particular order, here are five new and interesting gastronomic experiences you need to embark upon on your next trip to this Middle Eastern ‘foodtopia’ on steroids...
As one of Dubai’s newest and most interesting dining concepts, MasterChef, the TV Experience is also the world’s first MasterChef restaurant. Housed along the mega yacht-infested waterfront of the Dubai Marina at the Millennium Palace Marina Hotel, the restaurant offers diners all the trappings of being in the midst of a taping of the iconic TV show. The food here is cuisine agnostic, helmed by MasterChef champions and fan favourites like Diana Chan, the winner of MasterChef Australia in 2017 and Simon Wood, who took home the MasterChef UK trophy in 2015. Diners get to tuck into signature dishes from the various iterations of the show from around the world. This means one can expect everything from Diana’s short rib beef rendang to salmon fillet in butter sauce by MasterChef Poland 2020’s Rafal Fidyt. But perhaps the most interesting experience here is the famous ‘Mystery Box Challenge'. Patrons opting for this dining experience will have a choice of one appetiser and dessert from the a la carte menu, and a choice of protein for the main course. Back in the kitchen, the dishes are transformed into a three-course meal. Diners will then have to guess two mystery ingredients from each of the three courses to win discounts on their final bill. Sounds fun, no?
Trends. Be they in fashion, or in this case, food, somehow always have a canny way of repeating themselves. Often emerging as a better version of their older selves. One of the popular ways of indulging in a hybrid of the 1950’s-style potluck meal—where each family or couple gets a course—was the 1960s ‘Round-Robbin’. This meant a group of friends or more conveniently, neighbours stopping by each others’ home for a particular course. Called ‘Progressive Dining’ these days, the concept is getting a major fillip as the world slowly opens up and entertaining guests is back on the cards. Cottoning on to this trend is the brand-new Taj Exotica Resort and Spa on Dubai’s man-made The Palm islands in Jumeirah which opened in April 2022. Here, specially curated menus that keep changing as per the season see guests indulging in starters such as cold mezzes, Greek spanakopita and pre-lunch cocktails at Raia, the resort’s rooftop bar and lounge. This is followed by them trooping down to the lobby level for poshed-up Indian mains like the sublime safeda gosht biryani and creamy varqui dal at the aptly named Varq. The grand finale is at the Roaring Rabbit (also at the lobby level) for desserts that have a definite ‘rabbit theme’ like the signature gooey carrot cake that follows mains like the roast rabbit leg with glazed (you got it...) baby carrots!
Dwarfed by the looming shadow of the mighty Burj Khalifa in Downtown Dubai is the diminutive Souk Al Bahar. This decidedly Arabesque-styled mall that is very popular with the local Emirati people with its many perfume and jewellery stores is also home to the unique Time Out Market Dubai. Curated by the magazine Time Out Dubai’s editorial team, this outpost is the seventh Time Out Market globally, following in the footsteps of Lisbon (the very first), New York, Miami, Chicago, Boston and Montreal. Akin to a jazzed-up food court, this one is decked out stylishly in all black with communal-style wooden tables in the middle of the many eateries that populate it. Speaking of which, there are 18 restaurants and three bars spread over the market’s 43,000 square feet space. These range from the Portuguese favourite Lana Lusa whipping up everything from the legendary egg custard tarts called pasteis de nata to cod fish bacalhau. Then, there’s the ever-popular Masti. This Indian fusion eatery features an inventive menu that includes a tangy chipotle paneer and burrata butter chicken for a desi tadka-meets-Italiano cheesy twist.
Often counted among some of Dubai’s most luxurious Parisian-style brasseries, MINA Brasserie has constantly been pushing the envelope as far as its avant-garde food is concerned. Created by James Beard-winning, Egypt-born and US-Raised chef Michael Mina and located at the Four Seasons Hotel in the DIFC enclave of the city, the brasserie has a new surprise up its chic sleeves. Its baker’s dozen of 13 art-inspired cocktails. Channeling the beauty of some of the most enigmatic works of art, these drinks—that can be made both with and sans alcohol—are odes to some of the masters and their most famous works. So, while the glittering Starry Night made with Prosecco, silvermoon tea, lemongrass and edible gold dust is a liquid homage to the painting of the same name by Vincent Van Gogh, The Girl With The Pearl Earring tells another tale. Based on Johannes Vermeer’s iconic portrait, this ylang ylang-infused Kettle One vodka and passionfruit puree-based libation is served in a glass painted to resemble the turban worn by the girl in the painting. Others are inspired by The Kiss by Gustav Klimt and the famous Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace by Frida Kahlo whose love for tequila is also duly reflected in the drink.
While we’ve all heard of the many desert camps scattered around Dubai offering the clichéd dune bashing, sunset camel rides, and buffet dinners that round up the evening, this ultra-lux camp is one with a difference. As the latest addition to Dubai's desert dining scene, Sonara Camp takes the idea of ‘glamping’ to a whole other stratosphere. An easy half-hour drive from Downtown Dubai, the eco-camp offers a chic yet relaxed atmosphere, all done up in pastel earth shades. Complete with macramé hammocks, snug seating areas, and twinkling fairy lights perfect for those pics for the 'gram. Complementing a fine dining menu (served table side and course-wise) featuring dishes like grilled rib-eye steaks, lamb chops marinated with kaffir lime, mushroom risotto and perch fish in a banana leaf, there's also plenty of entertainment on offer. From fire shows to archery and drumming lessons, there's something for every age and taste to enjoy. As it is located in the heart of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, guests also have the chance to spot local wildlife such as oryx and gazelles as they drive through the undulating dunes.