The words “happy Thursday” translate to one thing in the minds of Savoir Flair editors: food. But somewhere between being fickle and curious, we skipped our favorites in favor of the many, many new restaurants in town – all in the name of research, of course. Here, we share our verdicts.
We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Greek, Italian, Indian, and even Pan-Asian cuisine in Dubai, but the opening of a Spanish restaurant is cause for celebration – especially one as vibrant as ode-to-Barcelona Bebemos at Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre. But don’t expect to walk into a collection of Spanish clichés like bullfighting, flamenco, and castanets. Instead, the top act here is Spain’s best export: tapas. Authenticity is the name of the game at Bebemos. Ingredients such as bomba rice and ñora peppers are sourced directly from Spain, the head chef is Catalan and hails from Barcelona, and the décor elements scream Joan Miró.
In keeping with what the menu dictates, we dined primarily on tapas such as ‘Croquetas’, ‘Bombas’, ‘Prawn Al Ajillo’, and ‘Padron Peppers with Rock Salt’. And while this was plenty to satiate our appetites, we couldn’t possibly call it a night without giving the paella a try. In fact, ordering the ‘Black Rice with Calamari, Prawns, and Clams’ is a no-brainer. Somewhere between the hint of brine lent by the squid ink and generous dollops of creamy aioli, we rated this our winner for the night – until a portion of hot and crispy churros made an appearance, that is.
Calling all carnivores. The folks behind The Meating Room have set up shop at Studio One Hotel, where outposts of some of the most successful homegrown restaurants reside. Boho was inspired by “backyard barbecues, fanned flames, and a free spirit” so quite literally anything that is grilled, chargrilled, roasted, slow-cooked, or barbecued is a winner here. Many of the dishes display Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences – while the ‘Adana Kebab’ offers a taste of Turkey – but Indian spices and herbs reign supreme.
Order the ‘Atomic Prawns’ if you can handle a little zing, the ‘Bihari Spice Chicken Tikka’ for something milder but just as flavorful, and the succulent signature ‘Lamb Chops’ because they win rave reviews every single time. Having said that, vegetarians are also well taken care of. We liked the ‘Eggplant Dip & Chips’, yes, but loved the ‘Crunch Karo’ for pairing a trio of cheeses and jalapeño with crushed papad. And complementing all these fiery options is a desserts section that’s more quality than quantity. The ‘Chocolate Tiramisu’ ingeniously encases tiramisu in a ball of dark chocolate, while the ‘Trio Milk Cake’ topped with all manner of berries is still our favorite in the city.
If it’s good enough for the very chic neighborhood of Marylebone in London, it’s good enough for us – except here at the local outpost of Opso in The Dubai Mall, things are done a little differently. For starters, it boasts a slick little hideaway by the name of Opso Privé that serves custom shisha flavors for both genders – with ‘Clio’, ‘Gaia’, ‘Aphrodite’, and ‘Athena’ catering to the fairer sex – alongside the usual suspects and unexpected options such as ‘Gum Mastic’. But we digress. It really is the food (and that sprawling terrace with The Dubai Fountain views) that will have you coming back for more.
True to Greek cuisine, most of the dishes on the menu are meant to be shared, so head here in a big group and start with the must-order ‘Dakos Salad’ (taken up a notch with barrel-matured feta), ‘Fava’ (accented with crispy capers), and ‘Tzakziki’ (smooth, creamy, and just the right amount of garlicky). But a meal at Opso wouldn’t be complete without a little something from the Feta Bar, and the ‘Feta Kataifi’ is the one to beat, especially while its crispy edges are still hot. A couple of breads, spreads, and starters later, you will be feeling full, so opt for the ‘Lemon-Oregano Chicken’ for a main on the lighter side – but that’s only to save room for the absolutely divine ‘Kataifi Strawberry Cheesecake’. Between the labneh, pistachios, and shredded phyllo pastry, Opso has redefined cheesecake as we know it.
The Gbemi’s Kitchen
Meet The Gbemi’s Kitchen, sister restaurant of Catfish and the latest brainchild of Gbemi Giwa. This tiny restaurant in JLT is on a mission to share the “spirit of Africa” one bite at a time, serving some of the spiciest, savoriest food we’ve had in recent memory. Here, a unique combination of Nigerian, Jamaican, and Portuguese flavors wind their way through the menu, making for soul food at its finest.
Starting with a piping hot dish of ‘Jollof Hummus’ (the unusual rust red color of which comes from tomato paste) and a refreshing ‘Malta Guiness’ (which is similar to root beer or sarsaparilla), the tastes of Nigeria set the tone for the appetizer course. Fortunately, at The Gbemi’s Kitchen, dishes co-mingle well for high mix-and-match potential. Our advice? Go for a bowl and blend flavors to your heart’s desire. Proteins are where The Gbemi’s Kitchen shines, with the incredible ‘Grilled Fish & Fries’ that comes out whole and insanely spicy ‘Peri Peri’ chicken that is not for the faint of heart nor feeble of palate. The latter is the star of the ‘Dancing Waist’ bowl and the one that we keep returning for – it’s addictively good if you can handle the heat.
The Marea flagship in New York City has two Michelin stars, so when a new outpost opened here in DIFC, our expectations were incredibly high. With a jazz night that has launched on Wednesdays, we found the perfect opportunity to experience both the restaurant’s cuisine and buzzy atmosphere. Seafood is one of Marea’s specialties, so we dove right in with an order of oysters and lobster burrata, savoring the freshness of the produce. House-made pasta is also a main attraction. If you ask one of the ultra-attentive servers for a recommendation, you’ll find a multitude of answers as each offers has something special. Translation: you can’t go wrong ordering any of the pasta dishes.
We sampled the ‘Funghi Risotto’, the ‘Garganelli’ with black truffle, and the ‘Casarecce’ with crab and sea urchin – and it was impossible to pick a favorite. Of all the dishes we sampled that evening, the ‘Scallops’ served with wild mushrooms, asparagus, truffle brown butter, and parmesan was the absolute best. The scallops were fresh and slightly caramelized from a sear, the parmesan added depth and earthiness, and the asparagus balanced the dish with brightness. For dessert, tiny Italian donuts called ‘Bomboloni’ stole the show, coming with a delicious trio of sauces for dipping.
Un Dimanche à Paris
Over at Bluewaters Island – home to popular favorites like London Slide and Hell’s Kitchen – lies a hidden gem called Un Dimanche à Paris. As you might guess from the name, this unpretentious bistro and patisserie hails from France, and brings with it a tradition of high-quality cuisine. We found it to be an ideal spot to unwind and enjoy the company of friends, as the atmosphere was low-key and the food was superb.
Don’t miss the ‘Burrata à la Lavande’ as a starter because the rich cheese was expertly paired with a sharp tomato jam and heady lavender oil that made for a surprisingly good combination. Regulars at the restaurant favor its burgers, especially its signature burger that features a decadent mix of beef, Beaufort cheese, onion and thyme jam, and cocoa nibs. Yes, we said cocoa nibs. One of the overarching themes of Un Dimanche à Paris is chocolate, a culinary medium in which the eatery excels. You’ll find a smattering of cocoa working its way through every portion of the menu, but the desserts section serves it with reckless abandon. Yes, the eclairs and mille-feuilles are some of the best we’ve ever had, but the ‘Soufflé au Chocolat’ is why chocolate cravings were invented.
The beloved City Walk eatery now has a counterpart in Mall of the Emirates (and several new reasons to visit), and people on this side of town couldn’t be happier. For the creatively inclined, Farzi Cafe is still spot on when it comes to culinary theatrics and experimentation – thinly sliced wagyu beef is cooked tableside on a hot stone and served with wasabi and walnut relish, a light and perfectly spiced lamb pate is accompanied by an aerated, sponge-like version of traditional Indian bread, and butter chicken residing in steamed bao buns playfully arrives in a toy truck. As for food for food’s sake? Pescatarians will love the ‘Madras Pepper Prawns’ accented with coconut flakes, while the creamy ‘Tandoori Wild Mushrooms’ is a must-order for vegetarians.
The ‘Chermoula-Crusted Paneer Tikka’ – albeit on the heavier side – is a popular main, owing to how wonderfully it marries the flavors of Morocco and India. But after having to unbutton our jeans, we’ll tell you this: save room for dessert instead. The ‘Kunafa Nest’, which brings together saffron chenna and crisp kunafa topped with a condensed milk ‘dressing’, is the perfect example of Indian nostalgia and regional elements playing off each other beautifully. Even better is the ‘Dates and Saffron Cake’ that happens to be paired with the best almond ice cream we’ve ever had, hands down.
Two new outposts of old favorite Common Grounds have cropped up in JLT and DIFC, so naturally, we made our way to Almas Tower for a taste of the former. Here, breakfast is served all day to the delight of night owls everywhere, with the menu boasting crowdpleasers like ‘Smashed Avo on Toasted Sourdough’ and ‘French Toast’. Our vote goes to the warm and comforting ‘Ricotta & Banana Hotcakes’ that are serves with spiced maple and mascarpone, but if savory is what you’re craving, the ‘Kimchi Croque Monsieur’ (a Korean take on a breakfast staple) is the one to beat. The beverage menu here is a whole other reason to linger, with a selection of tea, coffee, juices, milkshakes, and ‘Soul Fuel’ smoothies that promises something for every palate.
Come lunchtime, it was refreshing to encounter a handful of vegan dishes that don’t compromise on flavor alongside a whole host of salads and sandwiches – think: ‘Vegan Black Bean & Sesame Burger’, ‘Falafel Wrap’, and ‘Vegan Rice Wraps’ that sit on a bed of beautiful, zingy black sesame sauce. But in the absence of dietary restrictions, it’s a toss-up between the morish ‘Katsu Chicken Bowl’ and gluten-free ‘Seared Salmon’. An ongoing highlight at Common Grounds is its collaboration with homegrown ice cream brand Canvas Gelato, so expect to wrap up your meal with flavors like watermelon, salted caramel, and black lemonade.
Bull & Bear
With Bull and Bear Prime Steakhouse in NYC now closed, Bull & Bear at the recently opened Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre steps up, serving everything from vegan bowls to prime cuts of meat – and everything in between. The vibe here is sleek with a hint of masculinity owing to its vicinity, the black-and-gold color palette, and those striking bull and bear statues at the entrance. But the menu certainly doesn’t discriminate when it comes to gender.
We started with the ‘Bull & Bear Waldorf Salad’ simply because we’re fans of Fawlty Towers here at Savoir Flair, and finally saw what all the fuss was about. What blew us away, however, was the restaurant’s Asian spin on the humble prawn cocktail. The dish features locally caught tiger prawns presented beautifully alongside three types of dipping sauce, one better than the last. Ordering steak here is practically mandatory, especially as the Black Onyx beef comes from Australia and is cooked to perfection in a Josper charcoal oven – and the diversity of the accompanying sauces and sides, especially the signature steak fries, is an added bonus. We’d be remiss not to mention the ‘Lobster Linguini’ though. Bull & Bear has mastered this one.
Between records spun by a live DJ, a ceiling that is begging to be Instagrammed, and décor that manages to be trendy without trying, Paru is the place to dine on a weekend. This contemporary Japanese eatery is located on the rooftop of Caesars Resort Bluewaters Dubai (read: epic views) and serves everything from signature rolls and elevated entrées to crowdpleasers like ‘Miso Black Cod’, ‘Crispy Calamari’, and ‘Rock Shrimp Tempura’. For the foodies amongst you, however, we have to take a moment to recommend that you (blindly) trust the head chef and ask for the ‘Modern Omakase’.
You’ll choose between five or seven courses, and what follows is the perfect melody of salads, signature cold plates, special warm dishes, hearty mains, and – of course – dessert. And considering Paru is the latest venture by celebrity chef Akira Back, now is the time to be adventurous. But if you’re more the à la carte type, there are two dishes in the Entrées section that deserve a little more consideration than the others: the ‘Black Pepper Wagyu Ribeye’ served with sautéed mushrooms and ‘Grilled Scottish Salmon’ accented with mustard teriyaki – both pave the way for a dessert mysteriously named ‘The Lemon’. And while we have no intentions of spoiling that mystery, we will dub it the star attraction of the desserts at Paru.