I’ve often thought that if there weren’t such a ludicrous supply of restaurants in Dubai, most people here would have nothing to talk about. Conversations in this city seem always to drift towards food, whether it be the constant stream of new openings, recommended brunches (more on these institutions later) or hidden out-of-the-way finds. There are restaurants everywhere; in hotel complexes, in the malls and lining the roads. Unfortunately, with much of Dubai's tourist scene being based in a hotel complex or in a sprawling mall, you're unlikely to stumble across a small rustic family-run affair without a great deal of effort. But a large amount of the restaurants are of excellent quality and are continually trying to up their game as the competition heats up. Prices range from the astronomical to the frighteningly cheap, and cover almost every single gastronomic scene on the planet. Dubai has often been considered a shopper's paradise. I think it's now far more a destination for the foodie.
Rules to remember
- Despite common perceptions, alcohol is definitely allowed in Dubai. However, due to licensing laws it’s only available within hotels, or bars attached to hotels (with a few exceptions). Generally speaking, it costs a fortune. A pint of lager can sometimes reach £9, depending on where you’re drinking, and rarely dips below £5. Wine isn’t cheap either, with most ‘house’ bottles costing well into the £20-£30 range.
- There really is no ‘standard’ local food in Dubai. While Arabic cooking, generally shawarmas (like a chicken kebab sandwich), salads and hummous are available almost everywhere, there’s such a proficiency of international cuisine that it’s considered just as popular as, say, pizza or curries.
- If someone invites you to a ‘brunch’, don’t think it’ll be a light snack with a few cups of tea thrown in. Dubai’s Friday brunch scene has developed something of an international notoriety. Most restaurants offer some sort of a ‘Friday Brunch’, usually a vast all-you-can-eat buffet with the (popular) option of an all-you-can-drink accompaniment, and usually running between noon and 4pm. The quality varies across the restaurants, but is generally excellent and the prices range from the £15 mark all the way up to £100 (which will probably included unlimited Champagne). However, the amount of alcohol consumed in such a short space of time often results in some rather rowdy behaviour, some seriously drunken souls stumbling into the afternoon and quite a few sore heads the next day.
- Seafood is generally excellent across Dubai, most plucked from the regional waters. The most popular fish is Hammour, which is the local name for the Grouper, but apparently stocks are starting to run low.
- Generally speaking, most restaurants open noon-3pm and then 7pm-midnight, give or take an hour either side. The local Arabic community eats later than most others.
- There isn’t a huge culture of tipping, and you certainly won’t get hounded out of the restaurant if you don’t. But, taking into account that many of the waiters are on rather pitiful salaries, it’s recommended to leave 10-15 per cent.
- You shouldn’t have any issues bringing children into restaurants. Many are part of hotels and are well-catered to serving families.