The UAE has gone positively nuts for vegan food. The preference for plant-based dishes is growing in popularity among diners across the country, whether they’re adherents to the diet or not. Chefs are responding accordingly with new dedicated menus and even entirely vegan venues.
With World Vegan Month upon us on Friday, November 1, there are also limited-edition dishes to try throughout November.
Here, we review and preview some of the best the country has to offer.
Saudi prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal is famous for his promotion of a plant-based diet and now he's spreading the love to Dubai, where he's launching his first vegan food concept in the emirate at the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach. Called Folia, which means "from the leaves" in Latin, it's a menu that's been developed in collaboration with chef Matthew Kenney, founder of Plant Food + Wine and 20 other restaurants worldwide.
The concept first launched at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, followed by the brand’s hotel in Bahrain. We’ve had an exclusive sneak preview of a few of the dishes and expect it’ll be a raging success. The menu offers a medley of healthy but delicious vegan meals that are predominantly raw. We’re talking cold sweet potato noodles in a moreish pesto sauce, a chickpea frittata with fresh seasonal salad vegetables piled on top and a banana-coconut dessert that almost makes up for all the desserts vegans consistently forgo.
It’ll officially launch in time for World Vegan Day on Friday, November 1. Select dishes will be served throughout the property’s restaurants, as well as for in-room dining, and on a small terrace area that will be open in cooler months.
Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach, www.matthewkenneycuisine.com/folia
2. Soul Sante
Whether you’re plant-based, have allergies, are on a keto diet or all of the above, Soul Sante is the cafe for you. It opened in Jannah Place, Dubai Marina, this year, with a great selection of wholesome, healthy dishes free of any and all nasties and preservatives, as well as no sugar, soy and gluten. CrossFitter and athlete Manisha Advani founded the place after she struggled to find healthy vegan desserts that were tasty but low in calories to satisfy her sweet tooth.
So you can expect all sorts of guilt-free treats (from peanut butter cups to banana pancakes and lemon cookies) and a selection of savoury options, too. Think sweet potato gnocchi, beetroot sliders and an eggless omelette. Our favourite dish, hands down, are the very flavourful pulled jackfruit tacos, which come in at 249 calories and Dh48.
Dubai Marina, www.facebook.com/SoulSanteCafe
3. Nuez Cafe
Make this your new go-to place for organic vegan gelato. It's made from nuts with no salt and limited sugars (other than natural ones). The team also focuses on high-quality coffee made from single-origin beans and there are a few more food items on the concise menu such as waffles, crepes and acai bowls. It's got a great neighbourhood feel, which isn't surprising as it's family-run. We particularly recommend the Pita Madness gelato. Environmentally conscious folk will also be glad to know this place forgoes single-use plastics almost entirely.
Al Wasl Road, www.nuezcafe.com
Out of all the restaurants on this list, Veganity is perhaps the one that’s had the vegan community talking the most. It started as a meal-delivery plan in 2017 and, when it was announced that it wpuld be extending its offering to a bricks-and-mortar venue, the team claimed it would be the world’s biggest vegan restaurant, with more than 200 dishes from across the globe on its menu.
It seems to be working up to that mammoth task slowly, as on recent visits to the bright-pink City Walk cafe there were nowhere near that many dishes. However, the ones they do have certainly fill a gap in this expanding market, offering a mix of healthy and tasty junk food. We were impressed by the fruit tabbouleh, chicken drumsticks, tawouk shawarma and the carbonara-style pasta. And there’s still so much more on the menu left to try, with an Abu Dhabi venue to follow “very soon”.
City Walk, veganity.com
5. Mylk Lab by Genki
This cute homegrown cafe is based in Wasl 51, a mixed-use developed on Al Wasl Road in Dubai. It opened a few months ago, touting itself as the “100 per cent locally made, plant-based, dairy-alternative company you’ve been waiting for”. It’s a tiny venue, so not exactly designed for sit-in diners and drinkers, but you can pick up your organic and additive, gluten and sugar-free iced mylks and superfood lattes or smoothies to go, as well as a selection of vegan cheeses or deli products to use at home.
It also has the best vegan chocolate brownie we’ve ever tasted. A giant gym is opening next door soon, so expect it to be flooded with fitness fanatics taking advantage of the friendly partnership and healthy lifestyle it’s promoting.
Al Wasl Road, genkiuae.com
New restaurants with vegan offerings
6. Akira Back
What’s wonderful about this W Dubai – The Palm venue is not just that it has a dedicated vegan menu with a decent amount of options, but also that its head chef is predominantly plant-based himself. Giovanni Ledon joined the UAE team from his post as head chef at Akira Back in Las Vegas, bringing with him big ideas for flavourful vegan food. The selection is truly delicious and impressive – and Ledon, who is extremely passionate about food, is not afraid to try out new, off-the-menu dishes on you, either.
A few of the restaurant's stand-out dishes include the vegan rainbow roll, crispy tofu with a Korean chilli glaze and the AB tacos, which are piled high with Beyond bulgogi. For dessert, there are two strong options: the kabocha pound cake with a miso gelato that's a revelation, and the Spice Souq, a spiced cake with cashew cream, candied kumquat and strawberry sorbet. The best bit is there's excellent food for non-vegan friends and family, too, so it's a place to suit all. Akira Back himself, the man of Iron Chef fame, should be proud.
W Dubai, The Palm, www.akirabackdubai.com
7. Sweet Greens
Abu Dhabi’s new eco-friendly venue is not fully vegan, but it’s got plenty of options - you’ll notice these marked as “Vegan Series” on the menu - and has become popular among the capital’s plant-based dieters. Dishes include a taco salad, black bean barbecue burger and caprese pizza. The small eatery also offers all sorts of smoothies and juices, as well as a calorie count and nutritional breakdown for everything, making it ideal for health and weight-conscious diners.
Ethical vegan customers will also appreciate Sweet Greens’ approach to sustainability, as the founders have made a real effort to incorporate eco-conscious elements at every turn. This includes plastic-free products and the use of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.
Rihan Heights, Abu Dhabi, www.facebook.com/sweetgreensuae
8. Lah Lah
Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens is not even a year old, but has its pan-Asian hotspot Lah Lah to thank for its popularity. The restaurant is packed most nights of the week owing to various drinks deals and a decent Friday brunch, but also because the food is tasty, generously portioned and reasonably priced. The menu encompasses a range of Asian cuisines, with a good number of vegan options to boot. From paradise rolls and crispy spring rolls to vegetable gyoza and green curry, plant-based eaters certainly won’t be going hungry here.
“There’s been an increasing demand for vegan dishes with more guests looking for meat-free options,” says chef Rosnani Natsir Hasan, who previously worked at Pierchic and Emirates Palace. “Veganism and the demand for a health-conscious menu across the GCC has gone from zero to a hundred overnight. We want to ensure everyone in a group who dines at Lah Lah is able to enjoy our Asian cuisine.” The hotel’s all-day dining spot Social Company also has some vegan options, including a burger, pea and buckwheat risotto and slow-baked aubergine.
The Greens, www.zabeelhouse.com
New vegan menus
9. Fuchsia Urban Thai
This friendly neighbourhood restaurant in Dubai has been a go-to for those who live in or near Barsha Heights for a few years, with a relatively new branch now open at Business Bay’s Bay Square. This is not fine dining, but don’t expect a hole-in-the-wall, either. Fuchsia is a clean, simple, well-appointed, cosy little spot with comfortable seating, both indoors and outdoors. Within the last year, the team has also launched a 20-dish vegan menu.
It offers a plant-based take on Fuchsia’s regular menu, including Thai classics, with a few fusion dishes thrown in for good measure. You’ll find generously portioned favourites, such as papaya salad and green curry, next to wok-fried quinoa and corn fritters with peanut chutney. We particularly recommend the deep-fried morning glory served with tamarind sauce, which is vegan junk food at its best. The spicy red curry, pad Thai and sticky coconut rice with slices of fresh mango are other stand-out dishes.
“We created a vegan menu because there was a clear demand from our existing clientele,” says founder Tanya Azmi. “Since we make all our pastes and sauces from scratch, it wasn’t all that hard to get the chefs to tweak our recipes and come up with a vegan curry paste and chilli sauce without shrimp paste or fish sauce in it.”
Barsha Heights and Bay Square, www.fuchsiame.com/menu/vegan/
10. Il Borro Tuscan Bistro
The beloved Italian eatery at Jumeirah Al Naseem in Dubai has finally added a vegan offering to its sophisticated menu of Tuscan cuisine. And it doesn’t disappoint. Short but concise, it includes three starters, three main courses and two desserts. This includes innovative dishes such as tartare di rape rosse, a beetroot tartare with blackberries and roasted hazelnuts; parmigiana di melanzane e zucchini, which is baked aubergine and courgette parmigiana with vegan bechamel; and espresso creme caramel.
The real highlights of the menu, however, are the handmade Tuscan spaghetti with fresh basil almond pesto, which boasts perfectly balanced flavours; and the rich, delicious chocolate tart that’s served with raspberry and caramelised banana ice cream. Each dish is befitting the high standard the Il Borro kitchen team has set so far.
Jumeirah Al Naseem, www.ilborrotuscanbistro.ae
11. Cafe 302
Al Maha Arjaan by Rotana on Hamdan Street is home to this charming cafe that’s been open in Abu Dhabi for years. Cafe 302 is constantly refreshing its offering, this time with excellent options for the capital’s cruelty-free diners. Not only has it introduced a comprehensive menu of vegan dishes, but it’s also launched a Thursday night buffet spread that’s 100 per cent plant-based.
From breakfast dishes through to superfood bowls and five tempting vegan desserts, the menu is truly a triumph. Everything is full of flavour, from the strozzapreti in tomato sauce to the chunky Portobello mushroom and black bean burger that comes with a side of red cabbage slaw, pickled onions and chunky chips. Cold-pressed juices and craft soft drinks round off the offering nicely.
Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi
Delivery only vegan options
12. Bloom Vegan Kitchen
Without doubt, this is one of the best things to happen to the UAE’s vegan scene in recent years. That’s no overstatement – even non-vegan customers are obsessed with those cauli tacos. It’s not just that there’s a decent selection of both healthy and naughty dishes on that menu, but also because of the rich flavour that’s infused in each and every meal, from the grilled cheese sandwich to the mac and cheese and those aforementioned tacos.
And the team has promised to update the menu with a couple of new dishes every few months. French marketing manager Heloise Lambert, who managed to convince Shakespeare and Co to invest in her idea, started the delivery-only kitchen brand. The brand’s chefs were then trained up and now Bloom operates out of Shakespeare and Co branches across the country, which means vegan diners from Abu Dhabi to Ajman can enjoy these plant-based meals in the comfort of their own home or office.
13. The Better Burger Co
Most of us, vegan or not, have heard of Beyond Meat by now. The plant-based meat substitute company has created a burger patty that’s made headlines over the past year, and has spread like wildfire throughout the UAE’s restaurants. From Bareburger to The Coffee Club, you’re likely to find a Beyond burger on menus all over the Emirates.
Abu Dhabi's The Better Burger Co has capitalised on this popularity, and launched a 100 per cent plant-based delivery-only brand that offers six types of burgers offering Beyond Meat patties, available on Deliveroo, Zomato and Talabat. This includes classic, chilli-infused and barbecue sauce-slathered varieties served with regular or sweet potato fries. We've ordered them to The National offices before and while there were some glaring teething issues with delivery service, the burgers themselves are worth the wait.
World Vegan Month offers
14. Vietnamese Foodies
Dubai eatery Vietnamese Foodies is offering special discounts on its plant-based dishes for World Vegan Day on Friday, November 1. Visitors will get 15 per cent off on vegan dishes when dining in. The restaurant’s menu features 17 vegan options, including curry, pho, noodles and a stir-fry, as well as crispy spring rolls and desserts.
One of our favourites is the Cari Chay, a tofu and vegetable curry with a coconut milk base served with jasmine rice. Prices start from Dh13 for appetisers and Dh21 for mains. The discount is applicable at both the JLT Cluster D and Burj Vista Residence outlets. Until Saturday, November 23, Vietnamese Foodies is also celebrating the Escape to Saigon festival, which offers a Dh99 all-you-can-eat menu of street food favourites that include a variety of vegan options.
JLT and Downtown Dubai, www.vietnamesefoodies.com
15. Farzi Cafe
The Indian bistro at City Walk II, founded by MasterChef judge Zorawar Kalra, has launched its first vegan menu in time for World Vegan Month. It will be available throughout November, with the potential of becoming a permanent indefinite addition thereafter. The menu comprises soups, small plates mains and an almond kheer dessert. Dishes include a tandoori aloo with raw mango glaze for Dh35; aubergine steak moussaka with sesame peanut curry for Dh39; and pan-tossed summer vegetables with yellow curry for Dh44.
This coincides with the launch of the venue’s new business lunch menu, too, which includes a soup and salad, small plate and main course, plus soft drink, for Dh79 throughout the week.
City Walk, www.farzicafe.ae
16. Folly by Nick & Scott
While this chic Dubai eatery at Madinat Jumeirah has always had a tasty vegan offering, there’s a new menu that will be specially available throughout November. Dishes are created using seasonal ingredients with a focus on fresh vegetables. Starter plates of sweet potato, chestnut and oregano, or salsify, leeks and lovage, for example, can be found on the new menu for Dh65. More substantial dishes include the kohlrabi, black garlic, five spice and shitake, as well as one made up of broccoli, broad beans and baby capers. These cost Dh85. As for dessert, there’s a mandarin, vanilla and basil salad, or rhubarb, ginger and hazelnut, both for Dh55.
Madinat Jumeirah, folly.ae
17. Stoke House
The gastropub at Trump International Golf Course in Damac Hills, is offering a four-course vegan set menu to mark World Vegan Month all November. It costs Dh99 per person and consists of a soup, starter, main course and dessert.
Options include guacamole bruschetta, roots vegetable korma, salt-baked aubergine and lemon sorbet or chia, coconut and mango pudding.
Damac Hills, stokehouse.ae
18. Ultra Brasserie
Every Friday in November, there’s a three-course vegan menu available at Ultra Brasserie branches in Marina Plaza and Emaar Square, Dubai. For Dh99, between 11.30am and 7.30pm, diners can choose from a selection of plant-based dishes that include lentil shepherd’s pie, avocado sushi rolls, and wild mushroom and tofu ramen. For dessert, there’s a pineapple and acai sorbet. The deal includes a freshly squeezed orange juice and local water. Just note that you will need to book this two days in advance.
Dubai Marina and Downtown Dubai, ultra.ae
19. Bounty Beets
Highly Instragrammable cafe Bounty Beets, located at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, has launched a limited-edition vegan menu for November. While the cafe already serves up a decent selection of plant-based meals, the kitchen team, led by chef Chandika Ratnayaka, has expanded its menu, which will be available daily from noon.
It includes the Flipping Crazy, a courgette and shitake mushroom pancake with mango sauce plus cauliflower and celeriac puree; the Spec-Taco-Lar, a spiced vegan meat taco with courgette taco shell; and Jackfruit Melt served with Cajun-spiced fries – to name just three of seven main courses. There are also four desserts, including the Snicker Bar, which consists of an oats and peanut crust, cashew cream, salted caramel and chocolate ganache.
Dubai Marina, instagram.com/bountybeets