Growing up in a rural village in the British countryside, I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choices when it came to culinary experiences – we had the local pub and that was about it. Now based in London and a frequent traveller for both social and work trips, I make it my mission to scour the global foodie scene and discover local gems whenever possible.
Upon arriving in the UAE and checking into Rove Downtown Dubai to visit expat friends who now call the emirate home, I immediately begged them to show me the best secret foodie destinations for a truly unforgettable meal.
From a Kerala-style fresh fish feast for under Dhs30 to the beef brisket brioche at Dubai’s new café hotspot, I’ve spent an enjoyable few days devouring everything on offer. Follow my lead and go with a big appetite, as I promise you’ll want everything on the menu.
DAY 1 – BREAKFAST AT THE DAILY AT ROVE DOWNTOWN DUBAI
Conveniently located within my hotel Rove Downtown Dubai, this brand new eatery is my first port of call to line my stomach ahead of a busy afternoon filled with sightseeing.
My friends and I snag the end of a long communal table and take in our surroundings. The interior is urban chic, with minimalist wooden furnishing, metal chairs and stylish low-hanging light fixtures.
I quickly discover that the spot offers so much more than just the usual hotel café fare. The fuss-free menu is simple yet varied, offering a host of tasty international dishes ranging from Aglio e Olio spaghetti to lamb biryani, gourmet burgers and global-inspired pizzas.
There is a big emphasis on fresh ingredients, which is evident one bite into The Hungry Farmer breakfast – a hearty plate packed with two eggs (any style), turkey bacon, chicken sausage, sliced tomato and wholegrain toast.
With a gluten-free friend at the table, I am pleased to see there are also plenty of options for her to choose from.
If like me your morning caffeine shot is essential, order the cinnamon caramel mocha, it’s the ultimate decadent treat to kick off your day.
Finishing our meal, we take the opportunity to relax and make full use of The Daily’s free Wi-Fi before setting off for our action-packed day.
Best for: An all-day café hangout with a generous choice of Arabic, Western, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines, along with a healthy juice bar serving energy-boosting drinks and smoothies.
Rover’s tip: The Daily offers both dine-in and takeaway options, guests are welcome to take their pick from their grab and go menu to enjoy at any time.
DAY 2 – LUNCH AT BU’QTAIR
This spot is highly rated by my Dubai-based friends, who claim that Bu’Qtair is considered a foodie institution among city’s long-standing residents and fisherman community.
The off-the-radar eatery serves up fish cooked Keralan style, from lip-smacking shari to flavorful prawns and so much more. I also found out that all the fish is freshly caught in local waters.
Located in an unassuming beachside shack just off Jumeirah’s coast, Bu’Qtair offers a different dining experience to what I might usually expect of Dubai.
Don’t be fooled by the no-frills decor, think paper plates and plastic tables, the fish curry and buttery parathas are some of the best I’ve ever tried – you won’t be left disappointed, or hungry.
Best for: A cheap and cheerful fish lunch by the beach.
Rover’s tip: The cafeteria opens each day at 11.30am, so get there early and be prepared to wait in line – it’s first come, first served.
Google Map location: 25°9’5.015″N, 55°11’49.905″E
DAY 3 – DINNER AT SMILING BKK
A local foodie favourite, this hole-in-the-wall Thai eatery is a long-standing favourite in the city.
Not quite knowing what to expect, I’m instantly struck by the kooky décor when entering the dimly lit space. From the mishmash of eclectic art coating the walls to the mismatched colourful lamps dangling from the ceiling, dining here is a casual affair and one glance at the tongue-in-cheek menu will confirm this even further.
Despite the slightly dubious names, my friends and I chow down on the Honky Tonk Woman (red fish curry) and Where’s My Mojo Baby (fish cakes) and enjoy every flavour-packed bite.
Best for: An off-the-map dining experience with rock ‘n’ roll tunes and tasty Thai bites.
Rover’s tip: Can’t catch your waiter’s attention? BKK encouraged us to call for service by banging on a yellow tambourine – subtle it is not, but I’m all for service with a spin.
Google Map location: 25°14’45.19″N, 55°20’24.188″E
DAY 4 – BRUNCH AT CULINARY BOUTIQUE
Throughout this trip, my friends have been abuzz over the latest addition to Dubai’s dining scene, Culinary Boutique. Part café, part cooking school, this spot is housed in a glossy white villa on Jumeirah Beach Road and makes for an ideal midday bite.
From the azure mosaic tiles to an architectural wave-inspired ceiling, one step inside the space and I wonder if I’d stepped inside a cool interior design shop instead of a restaurant.
There are plenty of tables inside close to all the cooking action in the kitchens, or if the weather allows follow my lead and take a seat on an outdoor terrace overlooking the Burj Khalifa.
The menu is great for those on a health kick, with plenty of salads, wraps and egg options. Our table opted for a selection of dishes to share including the lobster pasta with saffron, pulled beef brioche and Wagyu Carpaccio.
Feeling indulgent and in the mood for something sweet, we ordered the crème brulee which was offered in three flavours; lavender, pistachio and vanilla – if your appetite allows, try all three.
Best for: An Instagram-worthy venue with both gourmet grub and cooking classes under one roof.
Rover’s tip: If like me you’re somewhat challenged in the kitchen, build on your skills and book in for a cooking class. Ranging from traditional Emirati dishes through to Mexican food, there is something to tickle every taste bud.
Google Map location: 25°13’13.516″N, 55°15’17.39″E
Blog written by Rover Marcus, a London-based architect visiting friends in Dubai and self-confessed foodie who loves discovering new and unique places to eat on his travels.