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Dining Out in Dubai

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/02/2016 John Mariani

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I am not the first to suggest that Dubai's model for restaurants is Las Vegas in the way they scoop up name chefs and fashion people in management contracts to give them immediate cachet. Which doesn't mean they are mere copies of the originals. Indeed, when I visited Dubai I was struck by the quality of the ingredients as much as by the elegant design of the restaurants and variety of cuisine prepared.
Most ingredients need to be shipped in, and one chef told me that when they first opened the restaurant, 75 percent of the ingredients were frozen. But the hotel owners apparently spare nothing now to allow chefs to order what they want, according to their menus.
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One caveat should be stated right away: Under Islamic law, alcohol may not be served in restaurants outside of a hotel, and there's no B.Y.O.B.
This is nowhere more disappointing than in one of the best and most popular new restaurants to open downtown, Omnia by Silvena (above), which takes its name from the ever-ebullient chef-owner Silvena Rowe, well known for her restaurants, cookbooks and TV shows in London. Located on Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, the glass-fronted two-story restaurant is a dazzler, rife with color, mirrors and a wall of calligraphy-graffiti.
Rowe, who is part Bulgarian and part Turkish, has been smart to feature her own versions of modern Middle Eastern cuisine. Gulf prawns come with a wonderfully creamy, well-seasoned hummus, topped with fragrant sumac and hot chili (49 Dh).
Fresh foie gras from Hungary is served in a form of crème brûlée with caramelized dates (79Dh), while an Ottoman-style kofta is made from ground wagyu beef oozing kashkaval cheese. There are also vegetarian and gluten-free items on the lavish menu, and with it all you have your choice of more than a dozen fruit smoothies or non-alcoholic cocktails.
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La Serre (above), in the Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel, is set on two stories, as both a bistro and boulangerie under Executive Chef Izu Ani (below), who is well schooled in classic French culinary traditions. Starched tablecloths and a cream-and-white color scheme, with wraparound windows, give a palpable cheeriness to the ambiance, where you may begin with a lovely dish of Cornish crab (95Dh), or lobster salad with asparagus (145Dh), or a textbook-perfect onion tart (45Dh).
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Thinly sliced raw scallops are marinated in sumac and lime (110Dh), and there is a lustrous yellowtail tuna carpaccio (75Dh). There are at least seven seafood dishes for main courses, including whole baked bream with Provençal spices (215Dh), but the lamb dishes are stand-outs here, like lamb chops marinated in Eastern spices (185Dh), or with apricots (195Dh). For dessert, the apple tarte Tatin (for four) on a buttery, caramelized crust is as fine as I've had in Southern France (65Dh), and there's nothing to criticize about the rich, crispy sugar-topped crème brûlée (60Dh).
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Of course, Dubai has the requisite high-end Italian restaurants, including one of the branches of very popular Serafina, and Alta Badia e Mangia (above) on Jumeirah Emirates Towers' 50th floor, is justly considered one of the finest, under Chef Claudio Melis, who specializes in northern Italian cuisine like housemade tagliatelle with funghi porcini and Norcia black truffles (98Dh) and vitello tonnato (85Dh) from Piedmont. Ravioli are packed with braised oxtail and Norcia truffles (110Dh) and lamb shoulder is slowly braised for succulence, served with a potato terrine and baby vegetable dusted with thyme (165Dh). There is a very good 310Dh tasting menu of five courses, with specialties from the Italian Dolomites.
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If you seek out modern Dubai cuisine, Qbara (above) has a breadth and depth difficult to find elsewhere. It's a huge restaurant on two levels and the nightclub element looms large after nine p.m. The extraordinary, shadowy décor is full of carved timber motifs bathed in a golden glow of light. Best thing to do is to sit down at a big table with several friends and order family style, to be rewarded with tantalizing ceramic casseroles and plates piled with such offerings as aromatic spiced beef tartare with tomato and red salsa (80Dh), and crisp soft shell crab (in season) with garlic and red-hot harissa powder (85Dh). Black cod, for two people or more, comes atop spiced rice with caramelized onions (190Dh), and fat quail are cooked in grape vines with pistachio labneh yogurt cheese (90Dh). Of course, the steaming Arabic breads selection, with olive oil and a sesame-rich za'atar dip (35Dh), is wholly addictive with this kind of food; the potatoes are fried in duck fat (38Dh).
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A very casual and much sought-out spot among young people in Dubai is Tom & Serg (photo at the beginning of this article), opened five years ago in the Al Quoz industrial area (look for the Ace Hardware Store) by Tom Arnel, from Melbourne, and Sergio Lopez, from Madrid, who knew this was just the kind of big, open, no-frills spot with global food that the city needed, open for breakfast and through lunch, so you might sit down in the morning for salted caramel French toast (43Dh) or a Cubano sandwich (57Dh) or go later and scarf up Moroccan chicken with wild rice salad, feta, rueful and preserved lemon (55Dh). Salads and vegetable are among the best dishes, and their ravioli is light, delicate and delicious, with shavings of Parmigiano. The hot chocolate is made with Valhrona chocolate and the coffee a house blend. For dessert go with the orange cheesecake (22Dh) or the Dubai version of cronuts (25Dh). They call their place (now one of four) a café, first setting out to bring good coffee to the city, but it's a whole lot more and Chef Arnel is making some of the most contemporary global food in Dubai right now. You can't help but have a good time, and the people-watching is terrific.

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