Sparkly-sleek Dubai boasts futuristic architecture in a land of luxury where indoor skiing and outdoor air conditioning can be found. Visitors can also find just about every recognisable name in the epicurean space, offering elegant dishes from every corner of the globe. And yet, Dubai offers more small-scale gourmet experiences as well. Independent restaurants are among some of the most cutting-edge gourmand menus in the city. Here, we explore a few of the most exciting independent restaurants, chefs, and restauranteurs in Dubai.
At Dubai’s fine Indian restaurant Trèsind, chef Himanshu Saini re-envisions classic Indian drinks and dishes for a modern era with global ingredients and unique table-side presentations. Indian-flavoured innovation has been the underlying theme of Trèsind since restauranteurs Sakshi and Bhupendra Nath launched in 2014. But under Saini’s creative direction, the concept has flourished. Within the restaurant’s colourful, recently-renovated dining room, patrons opt for à la carte dining or a multi-course tasting menu driven by dishes like a mushroom-imbued play on India’s most famous tea drink, flavored with dehydrated mushrooms and truffle milk powder; and a nod to Southeast Asia via grilled wagyu satay with peanut sauce, burnt chili, and Indian eggplant pickle.
Dedicated to myriad forms of the world’s most prized, buttery beef, Kohantei, a wagyu-focused restaurant at the Dubai Opera, serves some of the emirate’s most unctuous proteins. Chef Hisao moved to Dubai from Japan in 2011 and soon after opened Kohantei to realise his goals of creating happiness, discovery, and nostalgia through traditional Japanese dishes. Inspired by Japan’s highest form of culinary art known as kaiseki — in which elegant, seasonally-driven, multi-course menus are constructed around harmony of ingredients — chef Hisao Ueda offers five wagyu-themed set meals that weave in Japan’s best seasonal produce. Experience the richly fat-marbled meat as fillet, or even carpaccio.
Fatima Rabbani, Iman Nazemi, and Homaira Nasser-Zia are the culinary minds behind Kishmish, a duo of hip, casual eateries that aim to reframe Afghanistan’s identity through food. After choosing to open their first Middle East location in Dubai just one year ago, the trio recently opened a second outlet — this expansion is simply a testament to the excellence of their home-style cuisine. It includes Afghan leek-filled ravioli and lamb-filled dumplings called ashak and mantu, respectively; fried okra with coriander, tomato, and chilli; and larger-format dishes like lamb shank buried beneath a mountain of steamed rice seasoned with green and black cardamom.
The Sum of Us
Australia’s coffee culture, and the country’s affinity for clean eating has inspired food and beverage concepts in every corner of the globe. In Dubai, the Aussie coffee and seasonal snacks theme is lead by Tom Arnel over at The Sum of Us, a dual all-day cafe and bakery with an onsite coffee roastery near Trade Centre. The sunny destination launched in 2015 after the first Tom Arnel and Sergio Lopez venture, Tom & Serg gained status as a must-try eatery in Dubai.
At The Sum of Us, morning is an ideal time to experience some of Dubai’s best single origin cold brew and brûléed banana chia pudding, while global-inspired afternoon and evening menus include a plethora of salads, and entrees like Thai fish curry and house-made fusilli with tomatoes, prawns, and basil oil.
Some of today’s best Neapolitan pizzas hail from Japan. That’s precisely why Samer Hamadeh decided to open a Japanese pizza concept within his izakaya-inspired eatery Akiba Dori in Dubai’s Design District, bringing the city a concept both familiar and new. Hamadeh hired Naples-born pizzaiolo Luigi Mercogliano, and sent him to train under Tsubasa Tamaki at his lauded Tokyo-based pizzeria PST. Mercogliano then brought the Japanese magic back to Tokyopolitan, the pizza counter within Akiba Dori. Pizzas here — mostly topped with simple arrangement of tomatoes, cheese, basil, and olive oil — are fired in the same 1.8-ton oven as found at PST, rapidly baked at around 930°F. All this is available a convenient, 15-minute drive away from InterContinental Dubai Festival City.
Al Ustad Special Kabab
Those who reside in Dubai know there’s no shortage of places to dine on perfectly grilled kebabs. But the one hole-in-the-wall eatery that does it better than them all is Al Ustad Special Kabab. Considered ancient by Dubai standards, this unfussy Iranian café (which changed locations not too long ago) has been serving succulent grilled-meat skewers beside puffy piles of rice since 1978. While the kabab khus — served with mutton or chicken marinated in yoghurt — is the house signature, a great way to get a feel for the place is to order one of the mixed grill options.