Dining in Deira can show some of the contrasts of eating out in Dubai. Nowhere else in Dubai is the contrast between a great meal and a terrible one so distinct.
It is in Deira where you will find what may be Dubai’s most famous restaurant: Gordon Ramsay’s Verre. But within just a few minutes walk you can also find some great, low budget restaurants.
Habiba Al Nabulsi: Muraqqabat Street has been one of Dubai’s busiest for years. If you’re driving through pull over and sample some of the best cheap Arabic food in Dubai. Huge trays of piping-hot kanafa – that devastatingly calorific combination of gooey cheese, honey and pistachio nuts – dominate the main room of Habiba Al Nabulsi. After tucking into a simple soup made with lentils, carrots and potato, you’ll more than likely be handed a plate of mansaf, a heaped pile of yellow pilaf rice with a scattering of pine nuts and a couple of rotund lumps of lamb. The more of this aged, sun-dried yoghurt you throw over your meal, the more sour the flavour gets.
Karachi Darbar: At Karachi Darbar you’ll find a melee of uniformed waiters dashing among the crowded tables carrying platters piled with extremely cheap and exquisitely tasty Pakistani food. Ask for a chicken or mutton biryani. No sooner does the last syllable leave your lips than fresh naan breads, salad, mint yoghurt with chilli and a dish of curry sauce arrive with a flourish. Then you’d better brace yourself for a gigantic portion of subtly flavoured basmati rice strewn with soft nuggets of juicy meat. Feel free to scoop it up with your bread and don’t be afraid to eat with your hands too.
Xiao Wei Yang Hotpot: Eating in Deira’s Xiao Wei Yang Hotpot restaurant can make you do the strangest things. You may find yourself munching on grilled lamb’s gonads from a wooden skewer or Mandarin fish balls. It’s that kind of place. For those unsure of the concept behind the hotpot, you’ll be given a large bowl of stock, like the yin-yang combo of milky-coloured, herby chicken broth, and an oily red pool of mouth-numbing chilli and garlic-infused spice. The broth is placed on a hotplate in the centre of the table, and left to boil and bubble.
Ashiana: One might sum up Dubai’s Indian restaurant scene like this: there are those that have a great reputation, are naturally creative, and consistently produce the evidence to sustain their good name; while others, well, just don’t have so much to stand on. So it was with thanks that, as we walked out of Ashiana at Sheraton Dubai Creek one recent sunny lunchtime, we felt we’d been dealt more of the latter end of the deal. Ashiana isn’t the cheapest Indian around, but it rests comfortably between the rock bottom prices in Karama and the budget-busting alternatives in Jumeirah. Pay day or not, at Ashiana you’re not just paying for the interior and service show, but extremely high-end cooking.
The Boardwalk: There’s something ineffably magical about creekside dining: the experience of kicking back with some food as abras and dhows chug along the waterway ranking as one of Dubai’s ‘must-do’ activities. And when it comes to al fresco eats, few places entice with the same panache as The Boardwalk, which affords patrons an unforgettable vista from its wooden terrace. The food isn’t the best in Dubai, but for a location this good you would forgive almost anything.
Glasshouse: The dirham-a-drink offer may draw in the crowds on Mondays and Wednesdays, but the Glasshouse is much more than the expat watering hole you might expect. Located right opposite Gordon Ramsay’s Verre, there’s a lot to live up to for this modern, airy European restaurant, and recently it seems that the chefs and staff have been taking lessons from the school of Ramsay. The food is almost shockingly good, the service knowledgeable and friendly, and the atmosphere – at a normal sitting, at least – is calm and intimate. The starters are particularly fine, especially the chilled gazpacho (a dish that’s easy to get wrong, but which here is superb) and the delicately grilled sardines on hummus.
Greek Taverna: This Carlton Tower Hotel outlet offers all the stereotypical trimmings you’d expect at a Greek restaurant. Even the charming Athenian female chef – who takes the time to meet the diners – admits the decor is ‘too Greek, even for Greece’. But is the food quite so trite? The spanakipita parcels of melted feta cheese, spinach and egg break apart in splinters of crispy filo pastry, and whet your appetite wonderfully for the hot and cold mezze that follows. Pick from the pikilia platter, where tasty splodges of taramasalata, black and green olives, perky sticks of cucumber, and scarlet olive oil-drizzled tomato slices are scattered among herby meatballs, deep-fried packages of cheesy aubergine and bruschetta-style toasted breads with cheese and tomato.
Blow the budget
The China Club: This Chinese restaurant remains popular with a sedate older crowd. The contemporary but homely decor suits the clientele down to the ground, and groups of diners can reserve one of the stately private dining rooms. But does the food live up to the tasteful interior design? Thankfully, yes. Pick wisely from the menu and you’ll dine like an emperor. Plump for the juicy roasted duck salad, for example, and it’ll conjure up visions of Hong Kong. For vegetarians, shredded bean curd salad is inventive and comes with a ginger kick and fresh coriander leaves.
Miyako: With gridlocked traffic showing no signs of relenting during 2008, crossing from one side of the Creek to the other is something that many will only attempt when strictly necessary. If those on the south rarely cross to the north, they will miss out on the excellent Miyako. It’s their loss. On any given night, the restaurant hums and throbs to its own agreeable beat. Busy chefs slice fleshy cuts of fish behind an open counter; waitresses scurry between tables ferrying steaming bento boxes, seafood soups and icy fresh sushi bites.
Verre: Consistency is king at Verre. Ever since Time Out first paid a visit eight years ago it has been exceeding expectations. Famously owned by celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay it is a past winner of our prestigious Restaurant Of The Year Award. A recent change of staff hasn’t effected quality in the slightest. The roasted sea scallops with caramelised pork belly and pan-seared watermelon remain sublime, and the vine tomato minestrone with basil pesto is fresh and lively. Tearing into the yellow fin tuna, which comes both seared and then as a carpaccio, is one of the greatest culinary treats in Dubai.