Dubai continues to be an increasingly popular holiday and business destination. The speed and scale at which Dubai is growing is truly astonishing, and it feels busier now than ever before. Its food scene is ever expanding, and more and more famous faces in food come to Dubai to open their eponymous establishments, enhancing Dubai’s status as a must-visit city for any keen food lover from all corners of the globe.
In a city evolving so fast, there is always something new and exciting happening, and even regular visitors will find something new each time they visit. I returned to Dubai very recently, and am pleased to bring you my guide to the very best Dubai has to offer. Now is the time to visit – the weather is fabulously warm and sunny and the peak tourist season has passed. Get booking now!
Where to eat
As you might expect, the variety and range of food available in Dubai is just huge. Traditional Emirati food does not feature too highly on the agenda – and, I’m sorry to say – all the establishments I have tried in Dubai have been really naff and inauthentic. The best I have tried is Mezlai at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Lebanese food seems to have been adopted as a national favourite, and is found all over the city. The fresh, crunchy vegetables and flavoursome grilled meats, fresh breads and dips, washed down with fresh juices seem to fit the bill perfectly. I really like Karam Beirut as the food is always consistently delicious and very fresh.
The very best Lebanese restaurant in Dubai is Ayamna at the Atlantis hotel. It has been newly refurbished and is so elegant, with a wonderful interior and atmospheric patio outside, it is a very special place to eat. Staff are so experienced and well trained and completely charming. Almost all are from Lebanon, too. The food is so good, the cocktails are amazing, and there is a fantastic selection of Lebanese wines including excellent Chateau Xsara on the list – do try it if you haven’t. It’s very special. Start with a selection of mezze – the choice is huge and our selection of 8 dishes were all excellent. For our main – again, we were spoilt for choice – we chose a mixed grill with marinated chicken and minced lamb kofte. and Do make sure you finish with an amazing Lebanese tea, which is a tisane made from rose water and tiny slithers of orange and lemon peel. It’s great for the digestion and a wonderfully aromatic end to a meal.
For amazing Chinese food, try the recently refurbished Buddha Bar. The cocktails are excellent, as is the Dim Sum and grills on the Rabata. It’s a really fun place to visit for the evening.
If authentic Indian takes your fancy, I highly recommend Mina at the One and Only Royal Mirage. We enjoyed a terrific meal there to celebrate Diwali, cooked by Shipra Khanna, who won Masterchef India in 2012. The One and Only is a very, very special place and restaurants and bars are open for non-residents, too. Whether you’re staying or not, do make time for cocktails on the beach at The Jetty bar before your dinner – it’s really special and cocktails are delicious.
For a wonderful Thai meal, do try Eau Zone at the One and Only, too. Here, you can dine by the illuminated pools or down on the beach. It is a magical spot and the food is outstandingly good. Try the Pad Thai and the green curry – they are exceptionally good. You’ll be well looked after, too – the One and Only staff are exceptionally good.
Where to stay
Whilst there are new hotels opening all the time in Dubai, I have to say that the best experiences I have had have been in the older, more well established hotels. There is a lot going for an older hotel – which let’s face it, is likely to be little over a decade old at most – which has had time to bed in, build its reputation and fine-tune its service. This is certainly the case at Grosvenor House, where we stayed on this trip. It is 11 years old now, and is a real destination hotel in Dubai’s Marina.
Its dark and relatively understated interiors (well, by Dubai’s standards) offer comfortable, luxurious and private bedrooms, and most of which have great balconies, which have amazingly far reaching views. Our room was on the 38th floor – with floor 44 at the very top – so we had an astonishingly good view of the Palm and right down the beach, past the Burj al Arab. The bedrooms at Grosvenor House are not the biggest we’ve enjoyed, but have absolutely everything one needs, including huge beds, wonderfully crisp sheets, fluffy pillows and lovely marble bathrooms with a walk in shower and bath. Housekeeping standards are really excellent, and our room was serviced very efficiently twice a day, keeping it immaculate.
Breakfast is really wonderful at Grosvenor House, taken in Sloanes restaurant, and preferably outside, where one can enjoy great views of the marina. The choice on offer is quite huge, but the quality is really special. Coffees are really well made, the juice is really fresh, eggs are cooked to order and fruit is freshly cut. It really is outstandingly good. Staff are charming and helpful, and happy to oblige .
A major perk of staying at GH is the beach at sister hotel Le Royal Meridien. It is an excellent and makes a lovely start to the day, before hitting the shops and downtown Dubai later in the day. The pools are very good for celeb spotting, too.
What is most special though, is the service. Many of Grosvenor House’s staff have been at the property for some time, meaning they really know the hotel inside out, and they also recognize and remember returning guests, which is appreciated, as many Grosvenor House guests just keep returning, year after year.
What to do in Dubai
There is just so much to see and do in Dubai, there is truly something for everyone. For shopping and people watching, the Dubai Mall is hard to beat, and you’ll find the free water fountain shows every 30 minutes around the lakes and the Dubai Aquarium there, too. I think the best time to visit is at night when the locals come out and it has a very special feel. For jewellery and fabrics, head over to Bur Dubai to visit the huge array of shops selling everything under the sun, and of course, the souks. There is a spice souk, but I have to say I don’t think the quality and freshness of a lot of spices on sale is particularly good. Do look carefully at what you’re buying. But they are hugely fun for a wander and a haggle. Expect to bargain on price and see how low you can do. It’s good fun.
For some real fun, I cannot recommend the Atlantis waterpark more highly for the whole family. It is so much fun for adults and children alike. It’s definitely the best waterpark in the UAE, too. Families might like to try the new Legoland – which has only been open for a month. I haven’t been – it didn’t feel right to go without children in tow.
Most hotels offer a booking service for waterspouts and excursions, such as dune bashing and desert visits, so you can book direct there, or there are booking offices at the Dubai Mall.
How to get there
Royal Brunei offer a daily service to Dubai from London Heathrow. Their planes are brand new Boeing Dreamliners, which are very smart and comfortable. For a special treat Business Class is really worth considering. The flat beds are so spacious and comfortable and the food and drink is really good, too. There’s a wide menu to choose from, offering a small snack, or a four-course meal – it’s up to you. It is a dry airline, so no alcohol is served, but there is a lovely selection of herbal teas, juices and soft drinks on offer. The service is really excellent: helpful, cheery and charming. Economy class is good, too. There is a sensible amount of legroom and headrests adjust for tall passengers. There is plenty of food on offer – all standard airline fare – but served in generous quantities with a smile. The entertainment on offer is limited, but should offer something for everyone and includes several very new releases, and we both found something new and enjoyable to watch. Fares are very competitive and are around £300 return in Economy class. Flight time is around 7 hours from London, which is really manageable, and the time difference is 3 or 4 hours, depending on when our clocks have changed – it is four hours ahead in GMT winter time.
When you arrive at Dubai Airport there are plenty of taxis around 24 hours a day, which will take you to your hotel for around 80-100 Dihram. Hotels will send a smart car for you, should you wish to arrange this when making your booking. This will cost around 300-400 Dihram.
Thank you to Grosvenor House, Mina and Atlantis for invites us to join you. Everything else was organised by us.