The dining scene in the UAE has always been punctuated by new restaurants and seasonal menus. But things seemed to become more frenetic than ever post-pandemic, with a launch a week (if not more) and lists of award-winning restaurants, from the debut Mena’s 50 Best to long-awaited Michelin Guides for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
I went out exactly three times last month (house parties notwithstanding), and each experience was a delicious reminder of the culinary options we are so lucky to have on our doorstep.
First, my husband and I celebrated an anniversary by ticking off Hakkasan Dubai, one of 11 Michelin-starred restaurants in the city (with the Cantonese restaurant’s Abu Dhabi venue also receiving a star last month).
The dimly lit venue at Atlantis, The Palm feels like a nightclub when you first enter. But thumping music and neon lighting cannot disguise the fact that this is dining at its finest. We opted for the Pearl set menu (Dh700 a pop) in an attempt to try as many chef-recommended dishes as possible. But, honestly, I could have just gorged on dim sum all evening.
From the jewel-toned casings to the innovative flavour combinations within, Hakkasan’s dim sum platter is a treat for the senses. The kaffir lime lobster har gau is particularly zesty, while the Chilean sea bass is infused with the marvellous taste and aroma of truffle.
The rest of the menu — crunchy soft-shell crab; scallops in a tangy XO sauce; mushrooms stir-fried with lily bulb et al — set the stage for Hakkasan’s signature Peking duck with its perfectly crispy skin and tender meat. If consistency in quality is what the Michelin inspectors rate highest, this is the dish they must have ordered the most.
We ended our evening with a little shimmy on the makeshift dance floor, making this an anniversary to remember.
The following weekend, we took our daughter to her first brunch. A far cry from the cocktails-and-canapes-fuelled afternoons the meal has come to represent in the UAE, Yalumba leads the charge among child-centric brunches with its carnival-esque offering tailored for little people.
An al fresco play area is peppered with inflatables, child-size doll houses, painting corners and even a mini science lab and potted plant nursery. Tough as it was to prise the watering can away from the child, Peppa Pig came to the rescue.
Fortunately, screen time was limited because she was soon enamoured (as was I, to be honest) by the slime and Play-Doh table within. A magician, pizza-making corner and sweet treats galore are some other features of this parent-friendly afternoon that, in the most satisfying of ways, turns on its head the concept of brunch I have come to expect in Dubai.
My last sojourn for the month was with a group of friends to Illuminati, the latest dinner-show venue to open in the emirate. Named after the highly exclusive German secret society founded in the 1700s, the resto-lounge at V Habtoor Hotel is all about intrigue.
From turban-clad tarot readers and barely-clad burlesque dancers, to walls fitted with hypnotic LED screens, doors doubling as displays thanks to 3D wall-mapping, ceilings studded with 21k gold accents and, bizarrely, a bath tub for spraying bubbly into in the VIP arena, this is Dubai at its blingiest best. And it comes with food to match, literally: from a caviar-encrusted 24k gold shrimp tempura maki to a gold chocolate bar.
Even the tables are all glammed up. These come with AI-fitted touchscreens, so you can view the menu, order and even pay with a few swishes of the finger.
Unlike usual dinner-show venues, Illuminati does not have a central stage. Rather, the performers emerge from the false ceilings above diners and perform on mini platforms fitted between tables. Sure, I nearly dropped my bluefin tuna tartare the first time an aerialist swooped overhead, but after that it was a riot.
As I look back upon my sweet November ― the tip of the UAE’s action-packed winter months ― and the three outings that balanced the scale of the much-coveted work-life equilibrium, there is just one thought that springs to mind: when it comes to dining out in Dubai, each time’s a charm.