Expo 2020 Dubai to Abu Dhabi's National Aquarium: top 50 openings in the UAE in 2021

As the country celebrates its Golden Jubilee, we look back at the most exciting launches of the year so far, from cultural institutes and tourists attractions to famous restaurants and five-star hotels

An aerial view of Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 Dubai, which kick-started on October 1. Image: Expo 2020 Dubai
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December 2, 2021, marks 50 years since the formation of the UAE. To celebrate this Golden Jubilee – and look back at an eventful year – we've compiled a list of 50 additions to the country's arts and lifestyle landscape, which welcomed a plethora of international and home-grown brands.

From family-friendly sites and cultural spots, to popular hospitality outposts and world-first attractions, take your pick from these 50 destinations that suit every pocket and personality.

Top attractions in Dubai

Expo 2020 Dubai

The magnitude of Expo 2020 Dubai, which began welcoming the public on October 1, is a little too big to fully be encapsulated here, but it’s fair to say it is Dubai’s most anticipated opening of the year. Three districts, 192 country pavilions, more than 200 restaurants, the architectural marvel that is Al Wasl Done, a stunning fire-spitting water feature, friendly roaming robots, hidden gems around every corner and numerous daily live shows are merely some of the reasons the Expo an absolute must-visit. No two days are the same; just be sure to wear your most comfy shoes and you’re set for a surreal day out. Passes cost from Dh95; www.expo2020dubai.com

Ain Dubai

Ain Dubai opened with a spectacular light show

Alsoone of the most anticipated launches of the year is Ain Dubai, which started its gradual rotation on October 21. At 250 metres, it’s the world’s tallest observation wheel, nearly twice the height of the London Eye, and provides sprawling views of the Dubai skyline during a 38-minute rotation. On a clear day, guests will see everything from Bluewaters Island, Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah to Burj Al Arab and even Burj Khalifa. The family-friendly attraction also has a number of offers – from dinner in the sky to luxe engagement or birthday packages. Prices start at Dh130 for adults and Dh100 for children; www.aindubai.com

Deep Dive Dubai

The incredible Deep Dive Dubai opened its doors in Nad Al Sheba in July. It is home to the deepest pool in the world, with a depth of 60 metres, and can hold 14 million litres of water, the equivalent of six Olympic-size swimming pools. One of its biggest attractions is a sunken city, where divers can explore an underwater world complete with an abandoned streetscape, apartment, garage and arcade. The magnificent Guinness World Records-verified venue is inspired by the UAE’s pearl-diving history and culture. Prices start at Dh400; www.deepdivedubai.com

Madame Tussauds

Another much-anticipated attraction on Bluewaters Island, Madame Tussauds opened its first Middle East branch in October. Inside the venue, known for its lifelike wax figures of prominent personalities, visitors can explore seven zones: leaders; fashion; film; media; Bollywood; sport and music. Get up close to wax figures of international celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Victoria Beckham and Kylie Jenner, or pose next to any of the local personalities, including Maya Diab, Nancy Ajram and Balqees. Prices start at Dh135 for adults, Dh110 for children; www.madametussauds.com

The View at The Palm

Nakheel launched The View at The Palm, a 360-degree observation deck offering stunning perspectives of Palm Jumeirah, the Arabian Gulf and the Dubai skyline from its 52nd-floor vantage point, in April. The entry of the attraction houses The View Exhibition, a tribute to Palm Jumeirah, with a timeline and details of how the island was conceptualised and developed. Visitors can also expect an immersive theatre, which takes them through the history of the island. The observation deck on Level 52 offers 360-degree views of the island. Prices start at Dh100 for adults and Dh69 for children; www.theviewpalm.ae

Aura SkyPool

Aura SkyPool is the world’s first 360-degree infinity pool. Victor Besa / The National

The highest 360-degree infinity pool in the world opened in November. Located on the 50th floor of The View at The Palm, Aura SkyPool offers some of the most stunning views of Dubai Marina, JBR and Bluewaters Island on one side, and Burj Al Arab, Downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa on the other. There are different packages available, depending on your zone and the time you’re visiting, and prices start at Dh170 for a standard lounger; www.auraskypool.com

Top attractions in Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates

The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi

This is the first project to open its doors at Al Qana, a new destination in the capital that stretches across 2.4 kilometres of waterfront. The aquarium, which was launched in November, is spread across 10 zones and is home to 46,000 creatures and 300 species. It is the biggest aquarium in the Middle East and its wildlife is cared for by a team of 80 marine experts. Prices start at Dh105; www.thenationalaquarium.ae

Zero Latency VR

A free-roam multiplayer virtual reality entertainment space, Zero Latency VR opened its first UAE branch in August at The Galleria Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi. Up to eight people (aged 13 or older) can play with or against each other in a variety of immersive virtual worlds. The library includes more than half a dozen games. Prices start at Dh150; www.zerolatencyvr.com

City Centre Al Zahia, Sharjah

The shopping mall, which opened in Sharjah in March, is the largest in the Northern Emirates. It encompasses 136,200 square metres of retail and leisure space, and it houses all the famous brands you’d expect to see, such as Zara, Bershka, Pull & Bear and Virgin Megastore, as well as Centrepoint and Home Centre. There’s also an Emax, Steve Madden and a Carrefour, plus entertainment centres Yalla Bowling and Magic Planet. Visitors can also catch a flick at the mall’s 16-screen Vox Cinemas; www.citycentrealzahia.com

Fujairah Adventure Park

The space first opened in 2019 as a standalone skatepark with a 1,800-square-metre asphalt pump track. However, it was closed in the middle of last year, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, and reopened in March with a number of new attractions. It now has dirt jumps and Flow Gravity Trails for mountain bikers, and six new hiking trails. There’s also a new coffee shop, climbing wall and an area for young cyclists. Prices start at Dh5 per person for walk-ins or Dh10 per vehicle; www.fujairahadventurepark.ae

Wellness spots

RollDXB

People doing roller skating at the RollDXB roller disco which opens at Shed 3 Marina Cubes Street, Dubai Maritime City, Port Rashid, Bur Dubai on April 25,2021. (Pawan Singh/The National). Story by Sophie Prideaux

Proving that roller skating is a trend that’s picking up speed in the UAE, in April, RollDXB launched at Port Rashid in Dubai. The space is all about bringing the UAE’s skating community together under one roof. But RollDXB is not only a place for seasoned skaters. Whether you are looking to learn, dance, practise your tricks or simply get inspired, the space has something to offer everyone. The facilities at RollDXB include an open skating rink that measures 500 metres in diameter, with two overlooking mezzanine areas for food and drink, and a DJ podium. More advanced skaters can also enjoy the use of the nostalgic tunnels and the skatepark. Prices start at Dh105; www.rolldxb.com

Fithub by Bam Sports

Fithub is a ladies-only wellness centre. Antonie Robertson / The National

A sprawling ladies-only wellness centre opened in Dubai’s Al Mizhar in September. With 36,000 square feet of space to work out, get a spa treatment, dine and even shop, it is one of the biggest wellness spaces for women in the UAE. It offers a mixed bag of workouts, including high-intensity interval training, a cycling studio and yoga, as well as CrossFit and Pilates classes. The centre also has a dedicated state-of-the-art Aqua Hub, which offers water-based fitness classes – including aqua tone, yoga, balance and burn – in an eight-lane Olympic-size swimming pool. Guests can also settle down for a post-workout refuel meal at Protein House, the American franchise known for its healthy gourmet dishes, and enjoy the beauty corner with its list of services to choose from. Prices start at Dh150 for a day pass and Dh800 for a monthly pass; www.fithub.ae

Matcha Club

Perhaps no single place encapsulates new and changing fitness trends quite like Matcha Club in Al Quoz, Dubai. The destination opened in September and offers six outdoor padel tennis courts. The venue also offers yoga sessions and a programme of other wellness activities, and French-Japanese eatery Nette for when your workout is done; www.matcha-club.ae

Paus

Sophiya and Sarah Faizal opened the doors to Paus in November. Photo: Paus

Operating from a multistorey villa on Al Wasl Road in Dubai as of November, Paus is the brainchild of sisters Sophiya and Sarah Faizal. It houses a coffee shop, a community co-working space and numerous rooms for movement classes and healing treatments, such as Pilates, barre, yoga, meditation, breathwork, sound healing, reiki and cupping therapy. Coffees, teas, juices and home-made iced teas, as well as smoothies infused with superfoods, are all on offer, as are bites such as vegan tarts, energy bars, cakes and banana bread. The sisters see Paus as a community wellness hub where visitors can start their day with a coffee or smoothie downstairs while working, and finish on a relaxing and holistic note. “At the end of the day if you feel like a good meditation session to wind down, why go somewhere else? Just go a level up and we have got you,” says Sarah; www.pausdxb.com

Al Fay Park

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 21, 2021.  The skate area in Al Fay Park on Reem Island.
Victor Besa/The National 
Section:  LF
Reporter: Panna Munyal

Boasting 2,000 local trees, this sprawling 27,500-square-metre forest-like space on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi was opened by Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office, in January. Sport and outdoor play are high on the agenda at the park, which houses hard courts for basketball and futsal, ping-pong tables, a skatepark, rock-climbing walls, monkey bars, and tree-lined, cobbled and water-facing walkways. A soft-play area and fountains will keep children occupied, while the open-plan layout lends itself well to walkers, riders and rollerbladers; www.instagram.com/alfaypark.ad

Top hotels

WB Abu Dhabi, Curio Collection by Hilton

The WB Abu Dhabi is the world’s first Warner Bros hotel. Victor Besa / The National

A world-first was witnessed in the UAE this year with the opening of the WB Abu Dhabi, Curio Collection by Hilton. The resort started welcoming guests to its new location on Yas Island in November. The sleek five-star property is replete with nods to Warner Bros films and TV shows, including Harry Potter, Westworld, Superman, The Wizard of Oz and many more. The resort has plenty of unique features, such as a roaring Batmobile, a self-playing piano and Looney Tunes room service, and there is a wealth of memorabilia from the Warner Bros studio archives located throughout the property – a project that took nearly five years to complete. Up on the roof, guests can enjoy some of the best views of Yas Island from the adults-only infinity pool, while children can enjoy the “dive-in” cinema down at the family pool. The 257-room hotel is merely steps away from the Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest indoor theme park, and guests staying at the property will be given free tickets to explore and enjoy this attraction as well; www.hilton.com

Raffles The Palm Dubai

Raffles The Palm Dubai, the first Raffles resort in the Middle East, opened in October. Pawan Singh / The National

The first Raffles resort in the Middle East opened in Dubai in October on the city’s man-made island, Palm Jumeirah. The sprawling resort has 389 rooms, suites and villas, a 500-metre private beach, a mammoth 3,000-square-metre spa and one of Dubai’s largest indoor pools. Pandering to the emirate’s love of all things glamorous, it is also decidedly decadent, with its marble floors, gold and silver-leaf decor, ornate fittings and more than 70,000 pieces of furniture – all tended to daily by the hotel’s dedicated furniture master; www.rafflesthepalmdubai.com

Hilton Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 18, 2021. First-look pictures of the new Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island.     
Victor Besa/The National 
Section:  LF
Reporter:  Hayley Skirka

The resort opened at Yas Bay in February, signalling the start of a new period of growth for the capital’s island, which is famed for hosting the annual F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. It brought five-star, family-friendly luxury to the island, with its 545 guestrooms, including 59 suites. Located right on the water’s edge, the resort has a huge outdoor pool complex lined with palm trees, fountains and an adjacent children’s splash pool and play area. It’s also home to the first eforea Spa in the UAE. Dining options include Osmo – Lounge and Bar, perfect for sundowners, the sprawling Graphos Social Kitchen and Capila – Pool Bar and Grill. Guests also have direct access to the new Yas Bay Waterfront Promenade and there’s a luxury beach club set to open soon, complete with a man-made shoreline that floats in the bay; www.hilton.com

Centara Mirage Beach Resort Dubai

The family-friendly Centara Mirage Beach Resort Dubai at Deira Islands. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The first hotel in Dubai from Centara Hotels & Resorts opened in October. It’s a top brand from Thailand that's known for its family-friendly resorts, and is located on Deira Islands, Dubai’s new waterfront city that is merely steps away from the recently opened Souk Al Marfa seafront marketplace. With 607 rooms and suites, the “family-themed” hotel allows two children to stay and eat free with each adult reservation. As well as having its own water park complete with a beachfront swimming pool, waterslides, rock jumping points and a meandering lazy river, the hotel also has an outdoor playground, an aerial obstacle course and a candy-themed spa that’s only for youngsters. There are also three age-specific children’s clubs, but adults aren’t forgotten about either here. There are water sports, a state-of-the-art gymnasium and a luxury spa on site for the grown-ups; www.centarahotelsresorts.com

Mysk Moon Retreat, Sharjah

Looking like something from another world, Mysk Moon Retreat opened in Sharjah's desert sands. Photo: Mysk Hotels

Sharjah upgraded its eco-friendly staycation offering with the opening of the Mysk Moon Retreat in October. Set in the rugged desert landscapes of Mleiha, the tented resort offers a luxury glamping experience with 10 domes and four family tents, each boasting a private pool, barbecue area and lounge. Developed by the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), the resort also offers plenty of outdoor activities, including trekking, dune bashing and nature-inspired experiences to give visitors a chance to get to know more about Mleiha’s natural landscape; www.myskhotels.com

Rove Expo 2020 Hotel

A view of Rove Expo 2020 Dubai, the only hotel at Expo site. Photo: Suneesh Sudhakaran / Expo 2020 Dubai

Despite its name, 2021 was the year of Expo 2020 Dubai and there would be only one hotel at the “world’s greatest show”. Rove Expo 2020 Hotel opened on October 1, the same day that the Expo started welcoming the world. The hotel from home-grown Rove Hotels & Resorts has 331 rooms and suites for visitors to check into, all within touching distance of Al Wasl Plaza, the event’s central hub. Rove Expo 2020 Hotel has a cool, open-plan, co-working vibe, a glistening rooftop infinity pool lined with turquoise sunbeds and parasols, and the best views of Al Wasl Dome. And with complimentary access to all 192 country pavilions at Expo 2020 Dubai included with hotel bookings, there’s no shortage of things for guests to see and do throughout their stay; www.rovehotels.com

Address Beach Resort Fujairah

One of the UAE's most popular getaway destinations welcomed a new resident in July with the opening of the Address Beach Resort Fujairah. Photo: Address Hotels

One of the UAE's most popular getaway destinations welcomed a new resident in July, with the opening of the Address Beach Resort Fujairah. Located in the footsteps of the Hajar Mountains, the luxury resort lies along the popular coastline of Al Aqah and has 196 rooms and suites, three swimming pools and a spa that overlooks the ocean. The hotel also has plenty of outdoor activities to encourage guests to explore the natural surrounds, including an on-site scuba centre, hiking tours in the mountains and trips to the nearby Dibba Bay oyster farm. The five-star property is the first of Emaar’s Address Hotels & Resorts to open on the UAE’s east coast; www.addresshotels.com

The St Regis Dubai, The Palm

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 18 JANUARY 2021. 
St Regis hotel on the Palm Jumeirah.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter:
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In May, the long-awaited St Regis Dubai, The Palm opened on the trunk of Palm Jumeirah. Towering above Dubai, the hotel is spread across the first 18 levels of The View at The Palm and offers sweeping vistas of the Arabian Gulf and the city’s skyline. Famed for its 24-hour butlers and sophisticated upscale interiors, this St Regis property is no exception and a grand staircase in the lobby, inspired by the staircase from the first St Regis New York, built in 1904, welcomes guests in a flurry of gold detailing under a sparkling chandelier. Pampering at The St Regis Spa is another ornate affair, with the signature treatment using 24K gold. There’s also a swimming pool for adults only and one for families; www.marriott.com

Vida Beach Resort Umm Al Quwain

The family-friendly, pet-friendly Vida Beach Resort, Umm Al Quwain is  open for overnight stays. Photo: Vida 

Tiny Umm Al Quwain has waited a long time to have a strong hotel contender, and this year the northern emirate got its wish. Vida Beach Resort Umm Al Quwain opened in February, bringing beach-chic decor, a California-style rooftop lounge and pet-friendly stays to the city. Located nine minutes from Umm Al Quwain’s thriving coastal mangroves, the beachfront hotel has 135 sea-facing rooms and suites, and eight beach huts for travellers to book. Visitors can soak up the sunshine on the hotel’s private beach or refresh at the large infinity pool. Children are also catered for with an outdoor playground and their own pool; www.vidahotels.com

Hampton by Hilton Marjan Island

The world's largest Hampton by Hilton opened in Ras Al Khaimah in July

While it might not be the most exciting brand in the world, Hampton by Hilton has some 2,500 properties in 27 countries and a reputation for offering good-value, high-quality accommodation combined with fantastic service. In July, a gleaming red Hampton sign appeared on Marjan island in Ras Al Khaimah with the opening of the world’s largest Hampton by Hilton. This addition to the northernmost emirate is a great choice for families. The property offers a huge buffet-style restaurant, a children’s and teenagers’ club, a wave-shaped infinity pool, on-site watersports and a private beach. The hotel’s rooms are modern and fun, and come with seaside-themed decor and the latest technologies, such as light-up control panels for adjusting the air conditioning and contactless lights that glow when you hover your hand over them. There are also great views over Marjan Island and its surrounding waters from almost every room in the property; www.hamptonmarjanisland.com

Top restaurants and cafes

Al Baik

An Al Baik nugget meal at Expo 2020 Dubai. Janice Rodrigues / The National

Saudi Arabia’s uber-popular Broasted chicken brand opened in The Dubai Mall in June. Its most famous offering is the nugget meal followed by the chicken fillet sandwich, but it also serves fried shrimps, falafel sandwiches, French fries, corn in a cup and hummus, plus a range of sauces, sides and desserts. The 355-square-metre fast food joint is almost always packed and often has serpentine queues, which is also the case at Al Baik’s Expo 2020 Dubai venue, which opened in October. The first Al Baik outpost opened in Jeddah in 1974, and Dubai was its third pit stop in the Middle East after two branches in Bahrain in 2020; www.albaik.com

Bambu

Chilli teriyaki beef. Photo: Bambu

Fusing Latin American and pan-Asian fare, this lush venue opened on the 17th floor of Cristal Hotel Abu Dhabi in September. A ceiling garden and ambient lighting exude an intimate vibe, and the resto-lounge hosts high-octane Latin nights every Wednesday. Meanwhile, patrons can sample authentic dishes such as guacamole, remolacha salad, ceviche, Japanese pizza, miso black cod, hoisin chicken and mapo tofu, plus all manner of sushi, nigiri, sashimi and maki rolls. A must-eat for meat and spice lovers is the teriyaki beef served with spring onion and red chillies; www.instagram.com/bambu

Barbar

Lebanese street food restaurant Barbar serves a mean shawarma.

One of Lebanon’s most famous street food restaurants, Barbar opened on Hessa Street in Dubai in October. Known for its simple yet succulent shawarmas, falafels, ful medames, cheese and zaatar manakish, and grills, the family-owned restaurant started as a tiny manouche bakery in the 1970s and has since gone from strength to strength. The 600-square-metre Dubai outpost offers dine-in, takeaway and delivery options. High on an in-the-know foodie’s list is the Barbar Francisco sandwich, made up of roasted chicken breast strips with cucumber pickles, romaine lettuce, mozzarella, mayonnaise and soy sauce, served in submarine bread; www.instagram.com/barbar.restaurant

Bastion

From the Jumeirah Group comes a brasserie and grill that opened on the 25th floor of Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai (in place of La Parrilla) in October. The Bastion menu draws from “global culinary inspiration”, which translates as appetisers such as caramelised onion tart with goat’s cheese and endive salad, and crunchy potato nicoise with seared tuna, olive tapenade and French beans. There are grills such as the New York tenderloin, Japanese sirloin, Maine lobster and tomahawk; and mains such as twice-baked cheese souffle with Comte, Gruyere and Abondance cheeses; pan-fried gnocchi in sage butter with peas, asparagus and broad beans; and crispy duck confit with root vegetables and pickled red cabbage. The restaurant also has a selection of plant-based dishes, including beetroot tartare, crispy avocado tacos and a cauliflower steak creation; www.jumeirah.com/Bastion

Caviar Kaspia

The Kaspia baked potato with caviar. Photo: Caviar Kaspia

First opened in Paris almost a century ago, in 1927 – when it was the haunt of the who’s who of the fashion, art, literary and business swish set – the UAE outpost of Caviar Kaspia opened in the Dubai International Financial Centre in October. On the menu is plenty of costly caviar, of course – from esturgeon blanc to Oscietra – which is served with eggs, toast, pasta and the famed Kaspia baked potato. The seafood restaurant is also known for its smoked fish dishes (think smoked salmon blinis), plus everything from king crab, crayfish and lobster medallion to pasta and risotto. The dessert menu brings the restaurant’s Parisian signatures, but the Dubai outlet’s patissier also provides plates for the local menu, such as the baked Alaska; www.caviarkaspia.com

CZN Burak Burger

Cheese burger and fries at CZN Burak Burger in The Dubai Mall. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Turkish celebrity chef Burak Ozdemir (better known as CZN Burak), who is famous for his over-the-top culinary creations on Instagram, brought CZN Burak Burger to The Dubai Mall in August. Exuding a casual American diner vibe, the fountain-facing restaurant is done up in bright shades of red and yellow, and even has a neon sign that reads “Keep on Smiling”, a tribute to the chef who is known for his larger-than-life grin. On the menu are craft burgers, including the Bu-Rock burger, which features a cheese-stuffed patty topped with fried onion, mushrooms and beef bacon; the Koftahini burger, where the patty is infused with herbs, and topped with tahini, onion, tomato, jalapeno, crispy onion, ketchup and mustard; the Chicken B with batter-fried chicken; and the Veggie Burger, with a patty made from soya beans; www.cznburakburger.com

Epitome

Burmese khow suey with coconut milk at Epitome

Pegging itself as Dubai’s first all-vegetarian lounge, this restaurant opened in June with an aim to bust “the myth that vegetarian food is limited to salads”, and showcase how high-end, stylish and desirable a meat-free diet can be. Guests can tuck into a variety of global cuisines, including Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai and Chinese delicacies: think Jodhpuri paneer tikka, avocado tikka masala, elephant garlic and basil sticky rice, Balinese tofu and Cantonese lotus crisps. Located on level four of Aloft Dubai Creek, Epitome also has live music (it does Bollywood nights with guest DJs on Fridays) and views of the Dubai skyline; www.epitome.ae

Kingston 21

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - ÔJerk Barbecue WingsÕ served at Kingston 21 Jamaican Restaurant at Al Raha beach. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Abu Dhabi’s first Jamaican- owned and run restaurant opened in Al Raha in April, and has a menu packed with traditional favourites and hard-to-find ingredients imported directly from the island country. Diners can sample jerk barbecue wings, charcoal-grilled jerk chicken, curry goat, plantain chips, oxtail stew, a spicy coconut cake called toto, and ackee and salt fish – Jamaica’s national dish. The decor, too, pays tribute to Jamaica with its laid-back vibe, reggae posters and water views, which you can take in while you sip on Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee; www.kingston21.ae

Kinoya

Shio ramen. Photo: Kinoya

Launched by Neha Mishra, founder of the popular ramen supper club A Story of Food, in The Greens, Dubai, in April, Kinoya has become a firm favourite. Signature dishes include shio ramen, Wagyu tsukune skewers dipped in egg yolk and soy sauce, burnt butter scallops and onsen egg on rice with dashi. The compact menu also features sushi, sashimi, karaage, tempura and omurice. The unique brand of Japanese sophistication in simplicity also carries over in the restaurant’s layout and decor. The monochrome interior is fuss-free with simple lines, rice paper screens and pendant lights. Noren curtains and gravel-and-stone flooring at the entrance give the feel of stepping right off the street, as you would at humble izakayas in Japan; www.kinoya.ae

La Fabbrica Italiana

The cafe will serve 15 types of toppings on its focaccia. Photo: La Fabbrica Italiana

The UAE’s first focacceria opened in March at Wasl 51 in Dubai. Dedicated to the humble Italian bread, the artisanal, family-owned cafe serves but three items: burrata, tiramisu and focaccia. Diners will, however, be spoilt for choice, thanks to the 15 varieties of focaccia on offer. There’s the barese (with tomatoes and olives), ligure (with pesto, potatoes, green beans and Parmesan) and trentina (with tomatoes, Scamorza cheese, mushrooms and beef speck), as well as bread infused with local flavours such as zaatar. The burrata, meanwhile, comes with a variety of accompaniments: bell peppers, anchovies and basil, avocado, baba ganoush and a spice mix; www.lafabbricaitaliana.com

Lucky Fish

Lucky Fish is located on West Beach, Palm Jumeirah. Photo: Lucky Fish

The Mediterranean restaurant opened on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai in February and boasts a menu inspired by the flavours of the ocean, and highlighting Italian, French and Spanish flavours. The restaurant works with local fisherman and presents a daily display of fresh seafood on ice, with an emphasis on local and seasonal varieties. Also on offer is a selection of crudo, pastas, burgers, all-day breakfast items and salads. Guests can enjoy the food inside among its whimsical shabby-chic interiors – complete with elegant 19th-century chandeliers – or enjoy views of the Dubai skyline from the beach cabanas outdoors; www.luckyfishdubai.com

Medi Terra

May 6, 2021. A look at new waterfront restaurant Medi Terra in Abu Dhabi. 
-Buffalo Gamberoni
Victor Besa / The National.
Reporter: Janice Rodriques for Lifestyle

The family-friendly restaurant opened at Marsa Al Bateen in Abu Dhabi in April, with cosy indoor seating, an al fresco terrace and uninterrupted views of the Marina. The menu is a tribute to the fresh flavours found in countries along the Mediterranean: think calamari with lemon aioli, basil arancini with cheddar and mozzarella, seafood linguini and braised chicken alfredo. The restaurant’s founder, Emirati entrepreneur Saeed Alshamisi, describes the menu as a mixed bouquet, featuring popular dishes across cuisines. It’s also a tribute to some of his personal favourite foods, from the chicken wings he loved while at university in the US to pastas from Italy; www.instagram.com/mediterra_ad

Raclette Brasserie & Cafe

Cafe de Paris steak frites at Raclette Brasserie & Cafe. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

The brasserie, located in Abu Dhabi’s vibrant beachfront complex Mamsha Al Saadiyat, opened in September. French fare meets Amazonian vibes at the restaurant, which was launched to complement Abu Dhabi’s cultural district, as well as Louvre Abu Dhabi, according to Niveen Ibrahim, chief operating officer of parent company MBT Development. The restaurant’s name hints at what you’ll find on the menu. Raclette is a type of cheese that’s heated and layered on to dishes, and the brasserie pays tribute to the ingredient in a number of ways. Expect plenty of dishes oozing with the gooey cheese, such as raclette-scraped burgers, escargot Provencale, steak tartare and crepes suzette prepared tableside; www.instagram.com/racletteuae

Shi

Dim sum at Shi

The swanky Chinese restaurant, which opened on Bluewaters Island in Dubai in October, is headed by chef Li Yuan Hui, who has previously worked at Hakkasan Mumbai and Qatar. The split-level venue offers a high-end restaurant downstairs, and a buzzing lounge upstairs where you’ll find live entertainment and an outdoor terrace offering prime views of Ain Dubai. On the menu are dishes such as wild jellyfish salad, soft-shell crab with almond flakes, cod with black bean sauce, smoked sanpei chicken, tofu and aubergine hot pot, various types of dim sum and maki rolls, plus the signature Peking duck served with a side of black caviar; www.shirestaurant.com

Stouff Beirut

Soda can chicken served with onion chutney, mustard, garlic cream and baby baked potato. Photo: Stouff Beirut

Abu Dhabi’s latest fine-dining Lebanese restaurant opened at World Trade Centre Mall in November, with an open fire kitchen as its main claim to fame. The live cooking restaurant offers dishes “crafted with fire”, many of which are served table-side (the beef cheeks and soda can chicken come highly recommended). Stouff Beirut also has a number of vegetarian and vegan options, such as pickled onion flatbread and crispy cauliflower with yoghurt tahini, mint leaves, walnuts, dried barberries and sumac; www.stouffbeirut.com

SushiSamba

SushiSamba's signature Samba roll is available in all its venues worldwide, and is named Samba Dubai to pay tribute to the city. Photo: SushiSamba

The Dubai outpost of the world-famous fusion restaurant, which has branches in London, Miami and Las Vegas, opened in November. Located on the 51st floor of The View at The Palm, it is the highest restaurant on Palm Jumeirah and has been designed to pay tribute to Japan, Brazil and Peru. The main dining area, for example, is nestled under a 3D-printed bamboo ceiling inspired by Japanese and Brazilian woodwork and weaving techniques. The restaurant also features a theatre-style open kitchen, a sushi counter, a robata grill and a Tsukiji fish market. On the menu are crispy Hokkaido scallops, yellowtail taquitos, Japanese A5 Wagyu beef gyoza, Wagyu A4 Japanese claypot and Peruvian corn salad. The restaurant’s signature Samba roll, meanwhile, is recreated as the Samba Dubai roll, featuring ingredients such as mango, avocado, soy paper, aji honey truffle and lobster; www.sushisamba.com

The Virgin Mary Bar

The first international outpost of Dublin’s famous bar opened at The Galleria Al Maryah Island in Abu Dhabi in November, promising the “same look, taste and excitement of a bar, but without the alcohol”. On the drinks menu are concoctions such as Upbeet (Borrago paloma blend, beetroot, watermelon and soda) and Pink Preacher (Stiller’s Celtic Myst, Muscat grape, Yerba Mate herbal tea, raspberry, cucumber and lime). Guests will also be able to find interesting food and drink pairings; www.thevirginmarybar.com

Time Out Market Dubai

Brix by 3Fils African Powerhouse. Courtesy Time Out

The 4,000-square-metre food hall opened in Souk Al Bahar in April, and currently features 18 home-grown food concepts and three bars. Vendors include Masti, BB Social Dining, Vietnamese Foodies, Pickl, Brix Dessert Bar by 3fils, Scoopi, The Mattar Farm Kitchen, folly Workshop, Vietnamese Foodies and Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, while the latest to join the line-up is Balkan bakery and deli 21Grams. Some standout dishes include baos from BB, and beef pastrami from Mattar Farm. End the meal with a Scoopi ice cream or Brix’s famous African powerhouse dessert. Bon appetit; www.timeoutmarket.com/dubai

Cultural spaces

Efie Gallery

The arrival of Efie Gallery in Dubai in October opened up new geographies for art in the UAE, specifically West Africa. The gallery’s debut show in Downtown Dubai brought in works by renowned Ghanaian artist El Anatsui alongside established and emerging artists from Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. The gallery promises a programme of contemporary African art that reflects the creativity and talent from the continent; www.efiegallery.com

Curator Kwame Mintah, curator Afia Owusu-Afriyie founder Valentina Mintah and curator Kobi Mintah at Efie Gallery Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Gallery Collectional

A cross between a gallery and a concept store, Gallery Collectional is dedicated to collectible design items from around the world. Launched by property developer H&H in November, the store is located in the Eden House complex in Satwa, Dubai. As part of its programme, Gallery Collectional will showcase commissioned pieces that speak to the region, as well as display curated presentations throughout the year. Viewing appointments can be made by booking online; www.thecollectional.com

Gallery Collectional, a new gallery dedicated to collectible design items, has opened in Eden House complex, Dubai. Photo: Gallery Collectional

Volte Art Projects

The Mumbai gallery set up its Dubai outpost in September. Founded by Tushar Jiwarajka in 2009, Volte has been showcasing works by big names from across the world, such as William Kentridge, the celebrated South African artist known for his charcoal drawings and animations. The 8,000-square-foot space in Al Quoz is currently showing a group exhibition with various installation works on view until January; www.volte.art

Children’s Museum at Louvre Abu Dhabi

Located within Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Children’s Museum reopened in June with a new exhibition exploring feelings through artworks and activities. The edutainment experience, titled Emotions!, is running until 2023. Though the space was shuttered for a year owing to the pandemic, the museum used that time to reconfigure its space and produce a show that features a total of 10 artworks from Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection, as well as loans from the Louvre Museum in Paris, Musee d’Orsay and Musee du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac; www.louvreabudhabi.ae

Emarati father and son in children's museum interacting with rooster

The Mud House Ceramic Studio

With a large, airy space in Al Quoz, Dubai, The Mud House appeals to novice and seasoned potters with its variety of equipment, from wheels to kilns. The space, which opened in June, also stocks a number of pigments and glazes for people to purchase. The Mud House Studio functions as a community space. It offers memberships for hobbyist potters, as well as workshops and classes for anyone to take part in. Plus, it has a production studio for its founders, too; www.themudhousestudio.com

The growing trend of pottery in Dubai, with more studios opening up around the city, we look at what draws people into the craft. Feature on The Mud House located in Al Quoz industrial are in Dubai on June 8th, 2021. The Mud House offers classes for beginners and seasoned potters alike.
Antonie Robertson / The National.
Reporter: Alexandra Chaves for National

Firetti Contemporary

Established by Mara Firetti, an art adviser whose career has spanned 15 years, Firetti Contemporary opened its doors in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, in March. Since then, its programmes have run the gamut of everything from sculptures to NFTs, the latter created in collaboration with the Morrow Collective. The gallery’s roster is a mixed bag of artists from different countries and different points in their career. These include Saudi artist Lulwah Al Homoud, Albanian sculptor Helidon Xhixha, British artist Irvin Pascal and Ugandan multimedia artist Collin Sekajugo; www.firetticontemporary.com

Zeman Awwal

The history of fishing showcased at Zeman Awwal. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

This permanent cultural space celebrating local heritage and giving Emirati artists the chance to present their work launched at Mall of the Emirates in November. Zeman Awwal comprises nine distinct areas showcasing Emirati art, fashion, poetry, film and food. A zig-zagging hallway leads visitors to a large circular hall, which has a model of a ghaf tree at its centre. Artworks by emerging and established Emirati talents, as well as contemporary digital artworks by international artists, are displayed in the Artist Exhibition section. Zeman Awwal also features a cinema space, as well as a variety of souqs selling everything from carpets and leather products to spices, fabrics and souvenirs. Finally, the space features sections depicting local customs during weddings, and excursions to the desert and the sea.

Updated: December 06, 2021, 12:18 PM