Try Someplace New Before Ramadan Begins – Starting Here

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Zefki restaurant dubai interiors nook cozy
Photo: Courtesy of Zefki

We have no idea how this happened, but Ramadan is now only a month away – seriously. According to astronomers in the UAE, the holy month will kick off on May 5, which means you have a mere four weeks to explore the new restaurants in town. And because the editors at Savoir Flair know that that’s a bit of a daunting task, we’ve already made our way through the best of the best – all in the name of research, of course. Here, we share our verdicts.

Daikan

daikan ramen noodles @tastydubai
Photo: Courtesy of @TastyDubai

Ramen – the iconic Japanese dish that should never be conflated with those packets of dry noodles that feed many a broke college student – has become a worldwide phenomenon in recent years. This complex dish is based on four components: broth, noodles, tare (seasoning), and toppings, but ask any ramen lover and they’ll tell you that it’s all about the broth. What you’re looking for is a fatty, collagen-rich broth that ‘coats’ your mouth. Sound gross? It’s not. It’s supremely delicious and ridiculously satisfying.

Ramen in the region is a bit tricky as the majority of traditional ramen broths are pork-based. However, Daikan, a new ramen joint in JLT, has perfected the art of chicken-based ramen broth that is hearty and savory. Although it’s new, Daikan has already gathered a loyal band of regulars who pack the small dining area to the hilt. Not only is it doing the best ramen in Dubai (a big statement that we stand by), but some also trek to Cluster Y just for the small plates – think: ‘Miso Aubergine’, ‘Takoyaki’ octopus croquettes, and the rave-worthy ‘Chicken Katsu’. If you’re ready to dive into a steamy bowl of ramen, we recommend the ‘Chef’s Special’ and ‘Spicy Miso’ versions, both of which will have you licking your bowl. We’ve already been back twice since our initial review, if that says anything.

Osh

osh dubai uzbek food @oshdubai
Photo: Courtesy of @OshDubai

Unless you are from Uzbekistan, the country’s cuisine is unlikely to have crossed your culinary path. It’s not terribly common, but we’re here to argue that it should be. One visit to Osh, located at La Mer, and you’ll suddenly feel a lifetime of regret rear its head. Why didn’t you know about Uzbek food sooner? Why has no menu ever offered you chebureki – a type of crispy, puffy bread stuffed with gooey cheese and butter that oozes out when crushed with a fork – before? Why have you never experienced stracciatella, a fragrant salad made from the creamy heart of burrata until now? Will your life ever be the same after experiencing the lamb manti at Osh? (No, it won’t.) Thankfully, this luxe little spot is the cure for those very specific woes.

The food here is unbelievably good, with a bevy of fresh seafood to choose from, as well as traditional Uzbek dishes like the hearty yellow carrot-based dish that the restaurant is named after. And as pages and pages of delicious discoveries await, the knowledgeable waitstaff are equipped to handle all of your probing curiosities, like what exactly is vareniki, chuchvara, and folubtsi? Relax, you’re in good hands. Not only is a visit to Osh a culinary experience owing to its diverse menu, fusion interiors, and quirky artwork, but other restaurants would also benefit from taking notes on its hospitality standards.

Leonardo

leonardo restuarnts @leonardodxb
Photo: Courtesy of @LeonardoDXB

Set in the new Stella Di Mare Dubai Marina hotel, Leonardo is so quirky and specific that it can only exist in Dubai, a city of “extra” experiences that cater to the quirky and specific like no other. Themed after the 16th century artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci – and filled with replicas of his otherworldly creations – the restaurant’s décor will be a sure-fire hit on Instagram. But all of this is but a visual distraction; the main attraction here really is the food.

Like the superlative man it’s named after, Leonard’s cuisine is Italian, offering a blend of traditional dishes like pumpkin and gorgonzola soup, spaghetti, and potato gnocchi with lobster ragout alongside more avant-garde fare such as rosemary-infused hare ravioli. If you’re lucky, one of the restaurant’s best specials might be on offer when you visit. It’s called straccetti, and features thinly sliced beef that is wheeled out to your table, dressed, heated, and then elaborately smoked with the type of implements one might imagine finding in da Vinci’s crowded workshop. It’s not only fun to witness the preparation of the dish, but the results will send your eyes rolling to the back of your head in pure bliss. If you want a night out that’s both a one-of-a-kind experience and a culinary feast, think Leonardo.

Indya by Vineet

Indya by vineet dubai
Photo: Courtesy of Indya by Vineet

There’s India, and then there’s Indya by Vineet, a hip new restaurant treating Dubai to the creations of a celebrity chef. The ‘Vineet’ in question is none other than Vineet Bhatia, who is celebrated as the first Indian restaurateur to receive a Michelin star. He’s representing the country’s various regions at his recently launched venture in Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, and the vast menu here is centered around sharing plates, so we suggest taking a group in tow – a very big group, in fact. The space also lends itself perfectly as the colorful murals, pop art cushions, and eclectic serveware offer plenty to talk about.

“It’s an opportunity to challenge perceptions and introduce new ingredients to age-old dishes,” is how Bhatia describes the concept. That is why you’ll dine on dahi chaat infused with activated charcoal, kebabs made of tapioca pearls, a Keralite take on KFC, and a mutton stew served in a tiny little pressure cooker. For something traditional, we recommend the ‘Aunty Braganza’s Prawn Stew’, while the ‘Indi Chini Sweet Sour Cashew Chicken’ is perfect for those who love East Asian flavors. Admittedly, rice would pair better with both, but you ought to nibble at the ‘Churra Paratha’ – it’s crispy, it’s messy, it’s delicious. As for dessert: the carrot-chocolate ‘Awesomosas’ require an open mind, but are worth a try. Having said that, the ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ trio – named after a 1977 Bollywood hit – gets our vote, hands down.

Lowe

cauliflower lowe dubai @lowedxb
Photo: Courtesy of @LoweDXB

Meet the new culinary kid that can do no wrong – except for its distance from the Savoir Flair office, of course. Cool, contemporary, and a refreshing change of pace from what we’re accustomed to in terms of the local dining scene, Lowe is the brainchild of an Australian duo who feel passionately about elevating honest, simple ingredients. Fire reigns supreme here, so a smoky scent greets diners upon arrival, courtesy of a rotisserie, a charcoal oven, and a wood-fired oven. We guarantee this will whet your appetite before you’ve even sat down.

We dined on – and love love loved – the whipped aubergine dip, wood-fired bread accompanied by tarama, Omani prawns accented with dried-lemon crème fraîche, turmeric-infused rotisserie chicken, and endive salad dressed with a burnt-honey vinaigratte. Another crowd-pleaser? The charred cauliflower that sits on a bed of golden-raisin chimmi, spiced cashews, and coriander yogurt. If red meat is more your speed, we recommend the rib-eye beef that has been aged in-house for 14 days before it’s cooked to your liking. It’s served with wasabi, tarragon, and a (delicious) broccoli béarnaise sauce, but we still say you ought to indulge in the flavorful house fries on the side. Now if only the KOA Canvas community was located closer to us.

Beirut Khanum

Beirut Khanum Djej Bel Freekeh
Photo: Courtesy of Beirut Khanum

It claims to serve the “forgotten dishes” of Lebanon, but does it deliver? That was the question on our minds upon giving this new Downtown Dubai spot a try. The overall concept of Beirut Khanum is inspired by what a Lebanese great, great grandmother would prepare in her kitchen, so we were greeted by a menu that contained the usual suspects like hummus and moutabbal alongside a whole host of dishes we’d never heard of, like ‘Basha Wa Aassakro’.

It turned out to be similar to kibbeh simmered in yogurt sauce, but with the added goodness of soft, chewy dumplings and melt-in-your-mouth morsels of mutton. A quick Google search clarified that the name of the dish literally translates to “Pasha and his soldiers”. Of the other signature dishes, it’s the creamy ‘Samboussek Bel Laban’ and wholesome ‘Djeij Bel Freekeh’ that come highly recommended. Naturally, we couldn’t leave without a sample of what the khanum had whipped up for dessert, and opted for the ‘Nammoura Bel Ashta’ and ‘Halewet Al Jebn’. Both felt homey and comforting in their simplicity – just like the surroundings at Beirut Khanum themselves.

Avli

avli by tashas dubai entrance @avlibytashas
Photo: Courtesy of @AvliByTashas

Restaurateur Natasha Sideris of Tashas and Flamingo Room fame is slowly conquering the city – and we’re not complaining. Avli, her newest venture, has set up shop in DIFC, hosting everyone from Hollywood actors and members of the royal family to anyone seeking killer Greek food. We fall in the latter bracket, and came to the conclusion that Avli is the definitive spot for a dining in a big group since the Mezedes section is where the menu really shines. We enjoyed the ‘Feta Saganaki’, ‘Ladenia’, and ‘Beetroot Dip’ equally, and were pleasantly surprised by the contrast of crisp potato – as opposed to filo pastry – against spinach purée in the ‘Spanakopita’.

Trying the seafood at Avli is a must, and it’s the ‘Fried Calamari’ and ‘Prawn Saganaki’ that we recommend. The former is served with a gorgeous black garlic and squid ink aioli, while the latter is a hearty blend of fresh pasta and feta crème. Over in the meats, opt for the ‘Pastitsio’ that offers a cool, deconstructed take on lamb cannelloni. Oh, and is a Greek meal even complete without gyros? Here, they’re miniature in size, but brimming with flavor, courtesy of fillings like roasted-garlic yogurt and black radish. You absolutely cannot skip dessert on your way out. And if you won’t linger for the decadent ‘Lemon Semifreddo’ – where honeycomb, warm custard, and crumbled biscuits collide – then do it for the ambience. The music is loud, the lighting is dim, and the décor is inspired by Cycladic art – it feels like a trendy little courtyard in Athens that only the locals are privy to.

Netsu

Netsu Dubai
Photo: Courtesy of Netsu

If you still haven’t checked out the super swanky Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai – let’s start by adding that to your to-do list. Not only is it home to some of the chicest rooms in town, unparalleled views of the Arabian Gulf and city skyline, and a spa that’s still calling out to us, but it’s also where you’ll find contemporary steakhouse Netsu, the hottest new Japanese eatery in Dubai. The chef behind it? None other than Ross Shonhan, who has already worked his magic at the likes of Zuma, Nobu, and Asia de Cuba. Convinced?

The first – and only – place where you can experience the art of warayaki in Dubai, Netsu is (literally) turning up the heat in the city’s food scene. Here, you can watch your food go up in flames as temperatures rise to an eye-watering 900ºC on a straw-fired grill. What follows is a unique, smoky flavor to meat, fish, and seafood that will have you hooked from the off. We didn’t call it the ‘hottest’ new spot for nothing. Aside from the warayaki grill, there’s everything you’d expect from a destination of this sort: platters of sushi and melt-in-the-mouth sashimi, crunchy fried tempura, and freshly steamed gyoza (the sweet potato and cheese version is not to be missed). Just be sure to save room for a sweet finish with an Asian slant. The fluffy ‘Japanese Cheesecake’ with white-chocolate foam and ‘Warm Doughnuts’ with back-sugar custard put their predecessors to shame.

Zefki

Photo: Courtesy of Zefki

Zefki is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered. Located on the mezzanine level of the unassuming Number One Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, this intimate Levantine eatery has only just opened – and is already exceeding expectations. Sure, its sheer Instagrammability may have something to do with it, but as one of the few lucky ones who’ve sampled a taste of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and the UAE at Zefki, we must say that the hype is well-deserved.

The head chef here tells us that most of the dishes on the menu can’t be found anywhere else since he concocted them himself – a fusion of Levantine dishes that simply works. A favorite is the ‘Cigara Borge’, a cheese fatayer and börek remix made of mozzarella and kashkaval cheese wrapped in a light pastry encrusted with toasted sesame seeds. Then there’s the familiar fare with a twist: hummus elevated with the likes of beetroot and avocado, ‘Kebab Khashkash’ accented with a smoky tomato sauce, the signature ‘Zefki Lamb Shank’ that is slow-cooked to perfection, and ‘Turkish Baklava’ complemented perfectly by pistachio ice cream. Did we mention that zevki is Turkish for ‘pleasure’? Enough said.

Ena

ena restaurant dubai interior
Photo: Courtesy of Ena

The ubiquity of Greek restaurants in Dubai translates to another great new Greek spot in town: Ena. Located at The Pointe on Palm Jumeirah, the concept is a contemporary take on founder Lena Maniatis’ Greek roots. This means that her childhood favorites are revisited, edited, and updated with a modern twist. Almond-crusted feta cheese is drizzled with pomegranate honey, aubergine is layered with manouri cheese, and avgolemono foam elevates what you think is a simple combination of rice and chicken.

Having said that, it’s the signature dishes that Ena does best, with both the ‘Moussaka’ and ‘Rack of Lamb Fricassée’ standing out. A very close second is just about anything that slides off the restaurant’s Josper grill – the smoky ‘Mediterranean King Prawns’ and succulent ‘Veal Souvlaki’ included. And while the neutral-hued backdrop – complete with stretches of marble, plenty of wood, and a rustic tree chandelier – makes for an atmospheric meal, we chose to head outside to enjoy Ena’s two greatest assets – the desserts and a very lively terrace – together, rounding off the evening with ‘Portokalopita’ (that’s orange cake to you) and unique ice cream flavors such as bee pollen and walnut oregano. We suggest you do the same before the sweltering summer kicks in.
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