A whirlwind of a year, 2018 resulted in close to 200 restaurant visits (not all of which have been catalogued on Out & About UAE) ranging from exceptional to unmemorable. Our love of food seemingly knows no bounds (and doesn’t our waistline know it) but it has been an extremely positive year with a new job and continued partnerships with Fact Magazine and What’s Cooking UAE.
2018 took us from the UAE to London, Paris, Marrakech and the French Alps for further adventures with food and as we look back on the year with extremely fond memories, we share our 18 favourite dishes of 2018 in the hopes of providing you with some UAE dining inspiration:
18. Dukkah Fried Chicken: Slab
Slab opened at beachfront development La Mer in early 2018 and immediately garnered a reputation for good food and extremely reasonable prices. Slab’s ethos of “fresh ingredients, simple design and refined techniques” makes for an interesting change for Dubai diners and their Dukkah Fried Chicken (AED 69) left a lasting impression. An elevated fried chicken dish that introduced us to the beguiling spice and nut blend of Jordanian Dukkah, that’s undeniably moreish and enhanced via a sweet chili honey dressing.
17. Spicy Tuna Tartare: 99 Sushi
99 Sushi located in the upmarket Galleria on Abu Dhabi’s Al Maryah Island has thrown down the gauntlet as a staunch competitor to neighbour Zuma. 2018 saw the intimate restaurant launch a brunch, making the dining experience not only more affordable but also as a showcase for some of the restaurants signature dishes. Having dined at 99 Sushi four or five times this year, the Spicy Tuna Tartare (AED 159) still remains our favourite dish, using kimchi, cool tuna chunks and additional texture from the shoestring chips.
16. Hamachi: Weslodge Saloon
Perched on the 68th floor of Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis, Weslodge Saloon makes quite the first impression, declaring a strong sense of place. We can’t decide what we prefer, the excellent cocktail menu, stunning Burj Khalifa views, or the menu of Canadian comfort food. Offering excellent fried chicken and short rib, it was actually the unassuming Hamachi (AED 75) that stole our hearts. Weslodge’s unique take on Japanese nigiri juxtaposes a cool slither of Hamachi against crispy black rice, a honey soy glaze and punchy chili mayo, culminating in a perfect balance of flavour and texture.
15. Chicken Kurkure: Carnival by Tresind
The third year in a row that a dish from culinary mastermind Himanshu Saini appears on the list, shows the UAE dining scene is FINALLY beginning to compete on a global scale! Carnival celebrated its second anniversary and fifth season with ‘food inspired by colonial rule’ and the pinnacle of innovation has to be the Indo-Chinese Chicken Kurkure. Served within a literal birds nest, boneless chicken pieces are coated in a Chinese inspired spice mix, prior to being adorned with Indian Kurkure corn puffs to bring surprising.
14. Oblique Prawn Marinated In Candied Lime: Bord Eau
Bord Eau at the Shangri La Qaryat Al Beri has long been a favourite of ours. The combination of classical décor and views of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque make for one of the most romantic dining destinations in the capital. Over the years Bord Eau has remained true to its concept of sourcing top quality ingredients for the creation of classical French recipes, albeit with a contemporary twist. This ethos is embodied in the Obsiblue Prawn Marinated in Candied Lime (AED 105), a dish which focuses on blue coloured shrimp native to the French territory of New Caledonia. Generally eaten raw, the dish is similar to ceviche with the lime marinade adding a distinct lightness to a dish that’s better than the majority of South American ceviche’s we’ve tried in 2018.
13. Seafood Risotto: Carine
Chef Izu does it again! The Chef’s apparent Midas touch is evident at Carine, an ode to French-Mediterranean cuisine at the Emirates Golf Club. While popular dishes like burrata and tiramisu certainly impress, it was the Risotto aux fruits de mer et pistaches (AED 110) that we remember most fondly eight months later! The consistency was spot on, with a slightly wet mixture and marginally al dente risotto rice, emanating beautiful flavours associated with the sea and upstaging everything else on the table in the process! The addition of chopped pistachio nuts is clever, bringing the seafood together while adding sweetness and texture.
12. Pulled Lamb Sliders: Belong
D3 is slowly starting to boom with a number of quirky restaurants and cafes popping up in the creative hub. Belong blends bar, lounge and restaurant with great success and manages to create a space with a real sense of belonging (see what we did there) that offers a direct correlation to the vibrancy of the food. The concise menu contains a few strong dishes but none quite reach the heights of the Pulled Lamb Sliders (AED 49). Soft rustic buns packed with home-made pickles, a tahini and lemon sauce and tender lamb shoulder, bring a Middle Eastern element via a shawarma spice marinade that left us wanting just one more…
11. Beef Carpaccio: BeefBar
Despite opening to mixed reviews we actually had a very positive experience at DIFC’s haven to all things meat, BeefBar. The detailing is impeccable throughout, with wicker walls, leather upholstery and hints of gold giving the impression of a colonial safari lodge, except, instead of elephants you’re waiting on a different kind of herbivore (the beef!) After all the talk of marbling our favourite dish transpires to be the crispy fillet carpaccio with rocket and parmesan (AED 115). Presented upon a crisp filo base and slathered in a sweet maple glaze this particular steakhouse classic is anything but traditional and quite the revelation!
10. Cauliflower Carpaccio: Crab Market DXB
An entirely different take on carpaccio from the one listed above. Crab Market’s menu is the brainchild of Vladimir Mukhin who foodies and avid Netflix viewers may recognise from the third season of Chef’s Table. Mukhin’s restaurant in Moscow, the White Rabbit, currently stands at No 23 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking and the chef has been recognised as a pivotal influence in the resurgence of Russian cuisine, taking the traditional flavours of his homeland while modernizing the plating and execution. Crab Market’s dishes offer a distinct visual and textural appeal that took us entirely by surprise with the Cauliflower, Parmesan and Truffle Carpaccio (AED 65) representing a divisive dish which we truly appreciated! Thinly sliced purple cauliflower layered amidst parmesan foam and pungent truffle makes for a dish as aromatic as it is textural.
09. Guanaja Chocolate Biscuiot Souflee: Pierre’s Bar & Bistro
While dinner at Pierre’s Bar & Bistro probably represents our most disappointing and underwhelming dining experience of the year, there was one saving grace – the Guanaja chocolate biscuit soufflé. Served with pistachio parfait, caramelized hazelnuts and a bitter chocolate ganache, our waiter informed us that it was this particular dessert that helped Pierre Gagnaire achieve his first Michelin Star and it’s easy to see why! An indulgent dessert seemingly designed for chocoholics – gorgeously runny and packed with surprise popping candy – it’s likely to evoke a sense of childhood nostalgia.
08. Pulled Tandoori Chicken Bao: Masti
A colourful Instagram account and the title of first licensed venue in La Mer meant that Masti had a lot to live up to. Now that the initial hype has died down it’s nice to hear the restaurant is doing well and has managed to garner quite the loyal following. Re-interpretation appears to be the modus operandi of Masti, as the kitchen team twist and turn popular dishes such as burrata, carpaccio and ceviche into something the marketing team have coined as ‘New Indian.’ Some of the dishes are exceptional, with Masti’s take on the Taiwanese Bao (AED 70) being a particular highlight, replacing the expected pork with pulled tandoori chicken and a pipette of sweet tamarind glaze.
07. Lamb Shank Asado: Hotel Cartagena
Hotel Cartagena was one of a favourite openings of the year. A fun and frivolous night spot where we actually ended up celebrating our birthday. While many talk about the eclectic jungle setting or the feathered dancers, it would appear that food has been somewhat overlooked! It’s a real shame and we were torn between the inclusion of the corn chicharones or Lamb Shank Asado as our favourite dish. Ultimately the lamb (AED 120) wins, bringing us a BBQ styling to the meat but with a Korean spice mix that lives up to the restaurants ‘Latin American without borders’ concept.
06. Hand Dived Scallops: The Oak Room
The Abu Dhabi Edition is finally open and while our review for their British rock and roll steakhouse is still pending, there was one standout dish we couldn’t leave off this year’s list. The Seared Hand Dived Scallops (AED 140) take the traditional British notion of Coronation Chicken and re-invents it as a seafood dish to be reckoned with. A duo of plump delicate scallops, perfectly cooked and complemented by a light curry foam brings a distinct Britishness to proceedings. With the hotels F&B spearheaded by Tom Aikens (the youngest British chef ever to be awarded two Michelin stars) there’s a lot more to look forward to from this property in 2019.
05. Wagyu Sukiyaki: Morimoto Dubai
We have well and truly fallen in love with Dubai’s Renaissance Hotel and believe it to have some of the strongest F&B concepts in the city. With each outlet uniquely different but equally as strong, the arrival of celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto on the hotels 23rd & 24th floor gave us a restaurant to be excited about. From the zodiac inspired cocktails, through to a brilliant brunch and arguably the best terrace in town, Morimoto appears to tick all the boxes. Our first time dining was at the Teppanyaki counter where we discovered the Wagyu Sukiyaki (AED 180), a traditional hot pot dish in which Wagyu beef is briefly seared on the grill before being added to a sweet sauce containing tofu, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage rolls and a poached egg. This particular sukiyaki presents a modernized take on the Japanese hot stone cookery known as ishiyaki, bringing an abundance of flavour to the premium wagyu and a velvety heart-warming sauce.
04. Oxtail Tartine: Bleu Blanc
The simplicity of the food at Bleu Blanc is the real draw. Inspired by a French farmhouse, our Chef’s table experience with Chef Alex Szkaradkiewicz served up homely plates of modern Provençal cuisine. With elements of each dish making their way into the wood-fire grill, the selection is quite remarkable as diners are woven into both the history and process of each individual plate. An underused ingredient, the oxtail tartine (AED 60) is a robust and rich dish served with pickled onions and spicy cucumber that was enough to make us want to return. Their brunch beckons for early 2019.
03. Carpaccio De Seriole Du Japon: La Petite Maison
Often hailed as one of the best restaurants in the UAE, 2018 had us visiting LPM for the very first time. Expectations were met and then exceeded thanks to strong service and simplistic dishes. As food writers we often talk about the balance of flavours and there is no better example than the carpaccio de seriole du Japon (AED 115), a harmonious dish of yellowtail carpaccio with avocado and citrus dressing, resulting in a perfect balance of flavours that is so hard to achieve, especially with such delicate ingredients. Abu Dhabi is lucky to have a restaurant of this calibre and as one of just a handful of UAE-based fine dining establishments that has the potential to compete on the world stage, LPM should be cherished and applauded.
02. Foie Gras: Ossiano
The underwater theatrics of dining surrounded by 65,000 marine animals in the Ambassadors Lagoon at Atlantis The Palm is a Dubai experience to be treasured. The pinnacle of our dining experience comes at the mid-way point with Chef Gregoire Berger presenting his Foie Gras Berries, a highly experimental dish that uses the culinary technique of spherification to startling effect. Spheres of foie gras sit on a plate as if resembling blackberries, with each sphere injected with cassis to cut through the richness of the foie, and topped with a squid ink crisp. This is experimental dining at its very best.
01. Mushroom & Chai: Tresind Studio
With rumours of Michelin looking towards Dubai in 2019, it’s only a matter of time before Tresind and its new chefs table concept are recognised. A sixteen course menu served in an intimate twenty-seater restaurant really allows creativity to run rampant and this is evident in the mushroom chai. Easily one of Tresind’s most popular dishes, the dish which was formerly served out of a porcelain teapot like a cup of chai has been improved even further within the confines of the Tresind Studio. This time we’re treated to a mushroom stuffed ravioli served with a rich and flavoursome mushroom consommé that is top of our picks for 2018.
As 2018 draws to a close we’d like to give a massive thank you to all supporters and readers of Out & About UAE. Generating an impressive 252,000 unique views since inception, please keep liking, sharing and commenting for we have plenty of surprises in store for you in the New Year.
– Team Out & About