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As you can imagine, in a city that woos jetsetters, rich sheiks and splurging gourmands alike, Dubai is teeming with top restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs, and they keep opening at a quickening pace. On a recent visit during the second-annual Dubai Food Festival, I discovered a range of new restaurants opened by ambitious, innovative and notable chefs who are leading Dubai’s restaurant revolution. Here are my top five picks.
Alta BadiaOn the 50th floor of Jumeirah Emirates Tower in Downtown Dubai, this Italian restaurant harbors impressive city views — mostly admired by the suit-and-tie type, high-profile couples and pasta lovers. Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Claudio Melis, the new restaurant takes its inspiration from the regional cuisine of the chef’s hometown of Alta Badia, Italy.
Everything is handmade down to the flour, which is produced in a small Italian village. It’s classic, old-school Italian with a modern touch, and don’t even get me started on the pastas with Norcia black truffle, his specialty.
Omnia by SilvenaOpen for less than two months, Omnia by Silvena in Downtown Dubai is visionary. From the floor-to-ceiling windows, one would think it’s a luxury boutique. Indeed, the design is wonderful, with a jewel-shaped, clear private dining table anchoring the restaurant.
But, it’s Chef Silvena Rowe’s wild innovations on Emirati cuisine that is earning the most praise. Famous in Turkey and London as well as a former private chef to royalty, Rowe is nothing less than exceptional in the kitchen. Creative dishes such as smoked-and-fried baby shark and hummus with prawns are memorable.
QbaraOpen for only a year so far, Qbara is big on the “wow factor” and has quickly risen to the top for locals and visitors alike. Located next to Raffles Hotel in an outdoor mall between the marina and downtown, the restaurant features contemporary Arabic design envisioned by a Japanese architect; from the second floor, you’ll notice the tables arranged like lotus flowers, for instance. It also has that unmistakable feel of Hakkasan, with stylish diners and a DJ transforming the space into a nightclub after hours — not to mention all of the bling for which Dubai is known.
But, chandeliers and bottle service aside, Qbara’s real appeal boils down to its food. Chef Colin Clague gives a modern spin to traditional Middle Eastern dishes in an attempt to elevate Middle Eastern cuisine. Expect dishes such as “sayadieh”(black cod with spiced rice and caramelized onions) and Moroccan spiced and grilled quail in vine leaves with pistachio “labneh” (a type of thick, strained Lebanese yogurt). The local Emiratis taking up several tables (traditionally, they are known to eat at home) are a good sign that there’s magic in Clague’s recipes.
Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Claudio Melis, Alta Badia is one of several up-and-coming restaurants in Dubai. // © 2015 Alta Badia
Many pasta dishes, including the Creste di Coda di Bue, include Melis’ specialty of Norcia black truffle. // © 2015 Alta Badia
Omnia by Silvena in Downtown Dubai resembles a luxury boutique. // © 2015 Jimmy Im
After hours, the stylish Qbara turns into a nightclub. // © 2015 Qbara
At Qbara, chef Colin Clague elevates traditional Middle Eastern dishes. // © 2015 Qbara
The elegant Stay by Yannick Alleno is One&Only’s signature restaurant. // © 2015 Stay by Yannick Alleno
Located in a strip mall, Tom & Serg is favored by locals. // © 2015 Jimmy Im
The new hot spot uses all-natural ingredients, and dishes are affordable. // © 2015 Tom & Serg
Stay by Yannick AllenoWhile Stay by Yannick Alleno restaurant is not necessarily new, much attention is now on Alleno, the chef behind the three restaurants at One&Only The Palm. Alleno was named Chef of the Year by Gault-Millau for 2015, and his latest Paris restaurant, Pavillon Ledoyen, was named one of two new restaurants awarded three Michelin stars this year.
One&Only’s signature Stay restaurant is sexy and elegant, and the elevated dining experience is one for the books. Steaks literally melt in your mouth, and the fish are perfectly seasoned. There’s a customizable dessert bar where you can have your personal request prepared by the pastry chef.
Tom & SergIn a random strip mall favored by locals, this new hot spot is packed to the bone during lunches. You’ll find more local ex-pats than foreigners, which is intentional. Owners Tom and Serg wanted to create a sanctuary for locals, considering most great restaurants in Dubai are filled with tourists.
The bi-level restaurant is based on Melbourne counter service culture, though it feels like something you’d also find in Venice Beach, Calif. The fast-casual concept only uses all-natural ingredients; dishes are affordable; and it’s a spot for “scenesters.” Expect heaping portions of fresh salads, clean burgers and delicious tuna and soba noodles.