Culinary trail in Dubai–this city is home to many culinary treasures. From world cuisine served in fine-dining restaurants to Arabic delicacies whipped up inside humble kitchens in souks, the city has something for every palate. Our digital editor samples the city’s variety during the Dubai Food Festival. By Priyanka Chakrabarti
Culinary trail in Dubai
At a time when safety is the top priority for travellers, Dubai has aced the game by receiving recognition from the World Tourism Organisation for its continuous efforts to combat the pandemic. So, when I received an invitation from the Dubai Tourism Board to attend the annual Dubai Food Festival, my travel-starved mind was filled with a deep sense of wanderlust.
I land in Dubai on a sun-kissed afternoon. I’m supposed to quarantine in my hotel, Sofitel Dubai Downtown, for 24 hours—until my COVID test results arrive. I spend this time indulging in scrumptious in-room dining; think creamy mushroom soup, alfredo pasta, and the quintessential chicken biryani that unfurls a gamut of delicate flavours. After a restful slumber and a reassuring negative test report, I’m ready to make acquaintance with Dubai’s best gastronomic offerings, one restaurant at a time.
AN ODE TO LONDON
Day one starts with lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen & Bar (BSK) in Atlantis, the Palm. An extension of the original BSK in London, this restaurant is known for its delectable British classics. We start with crab on toast, which comes topped with garden-fresh veggies tossed in crab mayonnaise and chilli. For mains, we order signature dishes like tagliolini with lobster; rigatoni cooked with wild mushrooms, pecorino cheese, and truffles; royal fish pie with velvety leeks and mashed potatoes; and vegetarian wellington served with kale, spiced carrots, and beetroot jus. The luncheon ends on a sweet note when Chef de Cuisine Cesar Bartolini comes out of his kitchen with a dessert platter flaunting the best of BSK. The sticky toffee banana pudding stands out, but every dish packs a punch. The flavours are so distinctive that every bite transports you to the cobbled streets of London.
MIXING IT UP
After lunch, we walk to WHITE Beach Restaurant, located on the other side of Atlantis, the Palm, for a cocktail workshop. This swanky beachside venue opened its doors in November 2019. Its laid-back ambience is filled with house music and the sound of the breaking waves nearby. We gather around the rustic bar that overlooks Dubai’s glistening shoreline. The bartender, Nareg Wartanian, takes us through the making of four signature cocktails— White Peach, Hakuna Macoco, Spiritzual and Mermaid Tail. I am to concoct Hakuna Macoco. A dash of Captain Morgan’s white rum, some coconut water, generous amounts of diluted Nutella, and lots of ice are shaken together to form the potent potion. Every sip evokes the ocean, and I’m thrilled to acquire a new skill.
Post the sundowner, we decide to take a small break from all the delicious indulgence. Dubai’s first permanent show, La Perle by Italian theatre director Franco Dragone, brings to life the UAE’s pearl diving tales in a spectacular purpose-built theatre. Nestled in Al Habtoor City, the massive auditorium unleashes breathtaking choreography, aerial acrobatics, and stunts coupled with sudden outbursts of gushing waterfalls and torrential rain that flood the stage! It’s an immersive visual spectacle like none other I’ve seen.
SETTING THE BAR HIGH
Still reeling from the previous night’s theatre show, I manage to drag myself out of the hotel for an iconic breakfast at At.mosphere on day two. Perched on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, it’s the world’s highest restaurant from the ground floor. After two quick elevator rides, I reach a serpentine staircase that leads me to the restaurant. To say that I am mesmerised by the panoramic views of Dubai would be an understatement. We find a corner table by a glass window and begin the elaborate breakfast ritual. First, a three-tier platter arrives on our table; it’s filled with fresh croissants, a variety of cheese, bread loaves, and fruits and yoghurts. Next, I order fried eggs that come with a serving of tossed greens, and hash browns and chicken sausages on the side. For dessert, I indulge in warm, fluffy French toast slathered with cheesecake frosting. I conclude the wholesome meal opulently— with their signature 24-carat gold-plated coffee!
A BIT OF EVERYTHING
Nestled in the heart of Souk Al Bahar, Time Out Market Dubai is the city’s latest epicurean hotspot. Spread over 3,995 square metres, the dining destination houses 17 eateries, three bars, and an alfresco area. The concept of this all-encompassing food market was first crafted by the Time Out Portugal team, who opened a space that sheltered Lisbon’s finest bistros in 2014. Picking up the baton in 2021, Time Out Market Dubai opened its doors for gourmands to experience the best of food, drinks, and culture under one roof. Whether you’re craving burgers or shawarmas, all you need to do is get a food card from the counter and place your order in whichever station you like. We tried fries, Nutella shakes, cocktails, and butter-oozing garlic bread.
DINING IN THE DESERT
Come evening, I dress up for a luxurious fine-dining experience hosted in a desert oasis. An hour-long drive from downtown Dubai, Platinum Heritage Desert Oasis is surrounded by endless dunes. We pick a private cabana that is lit tenderly by the setting sun. As dusk falls, the space is contoured with candles and flaming torches. We start our six-course meal with a hearty broccoli soup, followed by a fruity chicken salad, roasted duck breast on chickpea puree, chicken doused in honey-mustard dressing, and some classic tiramisu. As the night winds down, we head to the lounge to watch a spellbinding fire show, Flaming Sands of Arabia. The spectacular dance of fire coupled with pulsating music and the mild aroma of shisha floating in the air fills everyone with awe.
A TASTE OF HISTORY AT AL FAHIDI
After a magical Arabian night, my third day starts with exploring the boulevards of Al Fahidi’s Historical Neighbourhood, where we get a glimpse of 19th-century Dubai. Located along the Dubai Creek, this locality is a significant heritage site that hosts ancient infrastructure, cultural activities, museums and art galleries, and festivals. We walk past shops selling spices, souvenirs, and antiques, and stumble upon a beautiful heritage hotel, XVA Art Hotel. As we cross a rugged passage and lift the veil, a magical courtyard built around an old banyan tree unfurls. Here, we participate in a Sip & Paint Workshop, curated by artist Tina Dahdal. Armed with canvases, brushes, and watercolours, we gather around a table set under the huge tree and start painting under the supervision of Dahdal. I’m not too confident, but my peers encourage me to start sketching. After multiple sips of refreshing mint lemonade, I finally start coating my canvas one stroke at a time. The result? A beautiful Picasso-inspired portrait with pop colours.
SUSHI: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
Next, we head to Wakame at Sofitel Dubai Downtown to attend a unique masterclass. Sushi Chef Jubail Lascano welcomes us warmly into his kitchen. “Today, you’ll be making three kinds of sushi—salmon nigiri, California temaki, and prawn tempura maki,” he informs us. Like obedient students, we line up at the kitchen counter and start following his instructions. We are told that Wakame uses only high-quality Kagayaki rice to make sushi. The rice is cooked and cleaned for 15 minutes under running water and then put into a huge wooden bowl (hangiri) to soak in all the moisture. “The rice needs to be firm, not mushy,” the chef cautions. We add sushi vinegar to the rice, wait for it to seep into each grain, and then start the process of assembling and rolling the sushi. An hour later, we proudly savour our own fine creations.
The last leg of our trip takes us to Mirzam Chocolate Makers (MCM) for an unconventional high-tea experience. MCM’s Hai! Tea! menu takes an oriental detour along the Spice Route; the three-course meal features aromatic herbal tea, steamed vegetarian dumplings, and matcha-infused chocolate cakes, yuzu white chocolate ganache truffles, and more for folks with a sweet tooth. We sit near a window and dabble in origami while sipping the tea and nibbling on the Asian specialities. After an hour, we conclude our gourmet trail in Dubai with a promise to return next year and discover more hidden gems.
The centrally-located Sofitel Dubai Downtown offers a comfortable stay, world-class dining, and state-of-the-art wellness facilities. It’s the only five-star hotel linked to The Dubai Mall through an air-conditioned skywalk. Luxury king room from INR 10,530
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Editor’s Note: Keeping the current situation of the pandemic in mind, T+L India recommends every reader to stay safe, and take all government-regulated precautions in case travel at this time is absolutely necessary. Please follow our stories on #IndiaFightsCorona for all the latest travel guidelines.