Words by Katrina Kufer
Dubai is rife with cultural diversity making it the perfect scenario for a dynamic culinary scene. It hosts a plethora of chic eateries, with many fine dining surpassing elite clichés and presenting authentic palate-pleasers with a markedly elegant touch. Here are three flavour-filled fine dining hot spots to get a spice fix in a city that knows how to make global local without losing its integrity.
BABA at the Westin Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina
This Turkish steakhouse embraces the hunter mentality and it literally boasts the accoutrements to go with it. While its open kitchen and sleek, masculine interiors suggest a subtle approach to fine dining, the restaurant exudes a casual cool with a seamless indoor-outdoor venue that allows for the intimacy of a robust meal while still being able to people watch and catch glimpses of the ambience from neighbouring, more festive, restaurant outlets.
The meat-focused menu features an assortment of fresh, crisp takes on Turkish mezze such as its village tomato salad with onion, capsicum, walnuts and pomegranate sauce, or Baba Ghanoush featuring eggplant, green peppers, red capsicum, tomatoes and chilli flakes, as well as a decent offering of seafood options grilled on a traditional Turkish Mangal barbecue. But while its appetisers, salads and assorted smaller dishes are pleasant, the standouts are the wealth of lamb and steak options, as well as its freshly baked bread.
Flying the lamb in directly from Turkey, the subtle flavouring of the Turkish marinade makes dishes such as the Ali Nazik lamb with smoked eggplant puree, yoghurt, grilled tomato and peppers an indulgent, flavoursome and balanced delight. For the meat lovers, an entire page of the menu is dedicated to 250-day grain fed steaks in cuts such as rib eye, tenderloin, or a rarity across the city – the chef’s cut porterhouse; a dish to trump them all.
The best part? A glass box of an assortment of knives, from delicate French options through to weapon-like Japanese blades, to truly personalise your dining experience.
Key West at Nikki Beach Resort and Spa
Nikki Beach, the ultimate beach party hotel and resort that manages to combine chic minimalism with urban edge, is the surprising home to one of Dubai’s most unique, and ethnic food outlets. Key West, with unmistakably hip Caribbean, Latin American vibes, is a small, casual and vibrant beachfront eatery that brings together all the colourful flavours of a geographical cuisine locally overlooked.
Though a shock of bright colours, fresh white seating and palm leaf motifs decorate the clearly themed outlet, its menu is remarkably diverse. What may appear at first glance a confused direction (think spiced plantains with papaya sauce and jalapenos or curried coconut vegetables alongside Chilean chacarero or ‘Aztec’ guacamole) it becomes clear that this isn’t an outlet that’s trying to recreate a taste of a large territory, rather, it’s accurately representing the reality of a fusion of flavours and influences that have seeped throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The portions of their ceviches, bites and salads may be on the more conservative side – leaving more space for their excellent bespoke cocktails – and their tacos perfunctory at best, but their menu sings when the Mama’s Bowls come into play. A true taste of home, the restaurant employs chefs from different countries to bring forth their authentic flavours in humble and extremely generous plates with five dishes from five different chefs. This includes Jamaican chef Amanda’s oxtail stew brings together sticky coconut dumplings with slaw, rice and peas and fried plantain in, what she explains, is characteristic of her country’s focus on fresh herbs. Indian chef Belinda draws on the region’s Indian influences in presenting her must-eat curried goat with turmeric and cumin rice, aloo palak, roti, pumpkin and green mango raita. It’s a spiced culinary journey that embodies warmth and a homely love for food and, best of all, is topped off by the selection of increasingly potent homemade hot sauces of Key West’s St Lucian chef de cuisine, Olivier Hilton.
Carnival by Tresind at DIFC
A sister restaurant of molecular-cum-experimental eatery, Tresind, Carnival calls itself a fun, rather than fine, dining experience with a somewhat confusing, but unmistakably festive, outlet that fits its name. But make no mistake, while the décor is mildly cacophonous, this is a restaurant that knows exactly what it is doing in the kitchen, and does so with a refined, intelligent and experimental edge. It dabbles in novelty; it runs through thematic seasons wherein the dishes and plating follow suit.
While the current season focuses on modern Indian, and the last season revolved around food inspired by books from around the world, in turn served in books, the consistent undercurrent at Carnival is in showcasing the myriad forms in which Indian flavours can be played with, presented, made relevant, and globalised in a way that can tantalise both contemporary and traditional audiences.
Given the humble descriptions of dishes on paper but the eye and tongue play that they offer on the table, Carnival is a place where it is most worthwhile to opt for the brunch or chef tasting menus for a surprisingly elegant and delicate traipse through the rich flavour diversity of Indian cuisine. It masters a thoughtful balance between the numerous courses which are served, including toasted almond milk to cool and cleanse the palate between the spicy tanga chaat (a taco papdi with kele ki chaat and golgappa), atom bomb (rajkachori, sprouts, chickpeas, potato and a trio of chutney), the lentil based podi idli, featuring pan tossed idli (a fluffy fermented rice cake), sambar and podi masala or the chicken chorizo biryani. The international take may read fusion, but it is rooted firmly in India, and an exploration into its culinary diversity and adaptability that is well worth the blind deep dive.