The UAE’s food scene might centre around the glitz of Dubai’s rotating celebrity chefs, but the rest of the nation’s streets are also lined with sensational tastes.
From the intoxicating smells that waft from unassuming holes-in-the-wall to vibrant colours that form a melange on your plate, each dish tells a story – if you know where to find them.
In our last instalment, we speak to the foodies who have eaten their way around Dubai.
Now, we’ve cast the net out across Abu Dhabi, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah with another set of chefs and food experts leading the way.
Russian borscht and vegan feasts in Abu Dhabi
For the founder of food website Best Bites UAE, Rachael Partington, it’s the small, family-run restaurants that form the backbone of the food scene in Abu Dhabi. And for those reasons, nowhere compares to Bandung.
“This little slice of Indonesia is one of Abu Dhabi’s best hidden gems,” says Partington of the spot in Al Zahiyah. “It's a humble place that serves outstanding nasi goreng, which is a really flavourful accompaniment to the beef rendang.
“The squid in red chilli sauce and the lemon iced tea are super. What’s more, two people can eat well for under Dh100.”
For Abu Dhabi’s growing number of meat-free diners, Partington recommends Madinat Zayed’s Golden Spoon, a family affair led by Sahil Jairath and his parents.
“The menu is tremendous,” Partington says. “I particularly love the dahi bhalla. It’s a yoghurt-based dumpling dish that is simply delicious.
“Everything here is cooked with love from Mama Jairath’s own family recipes. It’s also incredibly pocket-friendly, which is just another reason to love it.”
Abu Dhabi isn’t known for its eastern European cuisine but venture into a cluster of shops behind Hamna Street in Al Markayizah and you’ll be rewarded with borscht and plov aplenty at Russian House Kitchen, says Partington.
“Russian House Kitchen does exactly what it says on the tin – it serves excellent, home-style Russian food from scratch. There’s everything from freshly baked bread and pastries to the superb borscht and jarkoe.
“I love the chebureki, which is a deep-fried crispy pastry with seasoned ground beef and cheese.”
Partington’s final recommendation is Madinat Zayed’s Saigon House, a low-key Vietnamese eatery serving up authenticity in every bowl.
“I urge people to try the soft, pillowy banh bot loc tom – tapioca shrimp dumplings,” she says. “Our team also love the pho, the coui goun fresh spring rolls and the banh xeo savoury pancake.”
Fujairah’s top Italian job and ‘one of the world’s best kebabs’
When it comes to identifying authenticity in the UAE, there’s only one person better to ask than someone born and raised eating the food – and that’s a chef born and raised eating the food.
And when it comes to Mediterranean-style seafood, Turkey’s Yunus Emre Aydin heads to Gonu Bar & Grill.
The executive chef at Dubai’s popular Italian Marea grew up on the Marmaris coast and when he wants a taste of home, the keen traveller hits the seaside spot in Fujairah’s Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort.
“You feel like you’re on the Mediterranean Sea with the exceptional views, the breeze, the sun and the food,” he says. “I’m super impressed with the quality of the food.
“The Dibba oysters are as good as anywhere you’ll find while the mussel casserole is a delight.”
Fujairah’s shellfish dishes also stand out for Emirati chef Faisal Naser, who praises tiny pop-up Rushfit Mahar for theirs.
“It’s a great little food truck where you can find the freshest seafood, especially in oysters and mussels,” he says about the truck located just off Hamzah Al Kufi Street.
“They offer different spices and sauces, great flavours and it’s well worth the drive.
“I highly recommend the oyster plate which is a signature dish.”
For meat eaters, Naser, who plans to take his Abu Dhabi restaurant Lento to Dubai in February, gives Iranian kebab shop Kabab Al Bastakiah the highest of praise.
“It’s one of the best kebabs I’ve ever tasted,” he says of the restaurant near the Classic Cars Museum of Rugaylat Road.
“My favourite is the tikka lamb kofta kebab, served with freshly baked barbari, a traditional Persian bread. Grab a table on the terrace and enjoy.”
When it comes to high praise, Aydin has received his fair share since the sleek Italian restaurant arrived from New York in 2019.
So when the man in charge of running the Dubai branch of the two Michelin-starred restaurant recommends a Fujairah Italian spot, diners should listen up.
“Sapore, which is also in the same hotel as Gonu, serves excellent Italian food,” he says. “For me, you can’t beat a simple margarita pizza and Sapore’s is incredible.”
Arabian traditions thrive in two roadside RAK restaurants
Visitors and residents in Ras Al Khaimah have a wealth of Middle East foodie destinations to choose from. But when deciding the best, Naser is split between two.
Eshhafan Fareej, in Al Dhait South, is a charming, no-frills destination with a focus on tradition.
“It’s just a great spot for authentic Arabic cuisine and the desserts everyone knows and loves,” he says. “Some of the best dishes include the sayadieh, machboos, rose sago and luqaimat.
“The restaurant itself is beautiful and champions traditional decor.”
Fighting for the position of top Mena restaurant is Weza, also in Al Dhait South, where Egyptian classics are served exactly as they have been for centuries.
“I go to order the exact three things, because they are delicious: the kebda eskandarany, the stuffed pigeon and the traditional koshari. It’s an Egyptian staple and it’s very good.
“The colourful decor and interesting photography adorning the walls deserve a special mention.”
10 top restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah
- Bandung, Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi
- Golden Spoon, Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi
- Russian House Kitchen, Al Markayizah, Abu Dhabi
- Saigon House, Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi
- Gonu Bar & Grill, Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah
- Rashfat Mahar, Hamzah Al Kufi St, Fujairah
- Kabab Al Bastakiah, Rugaylat Road, Fujairah
- Sapore, Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah
- Eshhafan Fareej, Al Dhait South, Ras Al Khaimah
- Weza, Al Dhait South, Ras Al Khaimah