Recently, an old friend of mine and his wife came to Dubai for a week on holiday for the first time ever! I thought I would write a review of the restaurants they went to – kind of like a third party review, but not really, because I’ve also been to these restaurants in the past as well. So I’ll be reviewing them, but only because they went to them. Confusing, I know, but we’ll get through this together.
My friend and his wife – we shall call them The Tourists – are Londoners through and through. Well-traveled young professionals and in many ways, the perfect tourists; excited about Dubai, with enough disposable income to enjoy it, and just scared enough to respect it.
I can imagine them packing their suitcases for the week – making sure they have factor 50 sun cream, emergency American dollars, phone numbers of the British embassy and checking their shoe soles for poppy seeds.
As you can see from the list below – Downtown Dubai, Atlantis and Jumeirah were the overall winners for these tourists. International brands were the safe bet when in a mall, and big hotel names were the preferred choice when dining out in the evening. They behaved exactly as they were supposed to – the suckers!
Ping Pong – Dubai Mall
To use a table tennis analogy here, when it comes to Ping Pong the restaurant, think of a rickety old table in the garden shed with pimple bats and discoloured orange balls. Don’t think high level, precise, highly trained athletes with 50 shot rallies and the best scientifically advanced bats money can buy. That would be foolish, and you would be disappointed. However, it’s those amateur games with family over Christmas time that are the best anyway, right?
Tortuga – Mina Salaam
The old Wharf pub redesigned into an imported Mexican restaurant where I am told Chef Carlos regularly calls his grandmother for advice on cooking. Not sure if that’s a wise PR story or not. Nonetheless, it was pleasant, polished and perfect – just how Jumeirah likes it.
Belgium Beer Café – Souk Madinat
A safe, enjoyable destination with good, expensive beers and easily digestible food. Never overly busy, which is perfect for an unplanned dinner or last minute drinks. Surprisingly very smoky, which is becoming a more and more unpleasant experience as similar establishments clean up their air quality. It must be positively soul destroying for Londoners with ultra-sensitive noses.
Pierchic – Madinat Jumeirah
Resting on their laurels, Pierchic has the reputation of being one of the most romantic restaurants in Dubai. I tend to disagree. Lazy service, mediocre food with a price tag as expensive as the pier is long. It takes more than a refurb to maintain reputations. An argument with a waiter over a particular unbaked Alaska is a story The Tourists will take back with them to London, unfortunately.
Cheesecake factory – Dubai Mall
The interior is fashioned like an Emirates Palace soap tray, all chintzy and shiny. Service was charmingly clumsy. And what is with the management walk? You know the one, hands behind the back like Prince Phillip after Elizabeth has told him off . The Tourists ordered the salad and cheesecake and there it is; good meets evil, pain and gain, denial and delight.
Locatelli – Atlantis
The Avenues at the Atlantis looks like a train station for lost tourists – and so Locatelli bucks the trend and actually produces a rather authentic and sincere Italian experience.
Amwaj Rotana Brunch at Rosso – JBR
I was particularly nervous for this one. The last time I had done a brunch was about four years ago and it was the first time The Tourists were meeting The Serb. I was nervous for everyone. However, I should have known – silly amounts of food and booze will create friends for life. Poor Asian display (I’m talking about the food), but The Brit’s hangover was testament to the service and the refilling of the drinks in particular.
Eauzone – One and Only – Royal Mirage
This restaurant is one of the finest examples of Dubai hospitality and easily the best experience for The Tourists by far. Sharp, slick service, very enjoyable food and a location that is, for once, actually world class.
Ossiana – Atlantis
A gimmicky underwater seafood restaurant done rather tastefully with a location good enough to wow some first-time tourists. Rather than reviewing the food for me, the tourists were more excited about being able to pay a scuba diver to hold up a message at your table from inside the tank. “What if they get the wrong table?” The Brit cried, giggling into his sparkling wine.
My friends were obviously beginner tourists, but they did exceptionally well. They have earned their bronze medal, that’s for sure. A silver medal requires a little more local experimentation, like Tom and Serg or Maria Bonita and if you’re going for Gold then Ravi’s and Karachi Darbar have to be on the list.