The 50 eateries, listed in order and working up to the best, that have wowed us over the past 12 months.
It’s on this list purely for the incredible pizza, and because we ordered from here more than anywhere else in 2012. Pretty much everything else here is a bit ho-hum, but when you make a buffalo cheese pizza as good as this, you will forever be recommended to everyone we know. Every man needs a pizza place that he will defend as the best on Earth — this is ours.
Souk Al Manzil, Dubai (+971 4 420 1136)
49. Slider Station
Kuwait loves its fast food chains, but this place (themed on a 1940s American gas station) is local, does incredible burgers that are better than any chain, and also offers higher-end dishes like ostrich steaks, maple-braised short ribs and wagyu Portobello.
Fahad Al Salem Street, Kuwait City (+965 2 495 4395)
Excellent Japanese food has reached Yemen via this restaurant hidden away on the top floor of the L’Azurde Hotel. Run by the former chef at the Japanese Embassy, it’s got authentic Japanese cooking, fresh local fish and great views out over the city. Raw tuna, grilled swordfish, sashimi — all utterly magnificent.
L’Azurde Hotel, Hadda St, Sana’a, Yemen (+967 1 432 020)
Yes, you’re paying a premium for the location, and John McClane in Die Hard had a less frustrating time dealing with security in a big tower than you will getting into this building. However, the food here is surprisingly good and mostly worth the hassle. The lunchtime tasting menu is the one to go for. During the day you get to appreciate the view, while the fare is a midday trot through foie gras, wagyu, lobster and sorbet country.
Burj Khalifa, Dubai (+971 4 888 3828)
46. St Tropez Bistro
Enduring proof that you don’t have to spend big or visit five-star hotels to eat really well. The steak here is perfect every time, the wine reasonably priced and the service great. There’s also real charm to be had, sitting there among film portraits and at those old wooden tables and chairs. If you squint a little you could be somewhere in rural France.
Century Village, Garhoud, Dubai (+971 4 286 9029)
Just because you’re stuck in a mall doesn’t mean you have to serve horrible fast food, as this Bahraini Italian restaurant proves. From linguini with fresh Omani lobster and cherry tomatoes, to the caramelised Alaskan black cod with sautéed vegetables, this fills the Italian-shaped hole for soul food that other Bices have been attending to across
the whole of the region.
Moda Mall, Bahrain (+973 1 753 3666).
44. 16 Hundred
The dining scene in Saudi should be a lot better, but if you find yourself over there, the American chef here is making inroads with a fine steakhouse. Expect USDA tenderloin steaks, wagyu sliders, mac and cheese, shoestring fries, followed by s’mores and apple pie — American comfort food done really well.
Le Chateau Mall, Tahlia St, Jeddah (+966 261 4415)
It’s only open from 1-4pm and has a different menu every day, with chefs brought in from villages across the country to offer up something different. Simple and original, this is a true taste of rural Lebanon.
Chalhoub Bldg, Nahr St, Beirut (+961 144 8129)
42. Hoi An
Modern Vietnamese cuisine, with French influences, that finds the perfect point between street food and the foams and fancy of high-end of cooking. The set menus here are near-perfect collections of great Vietnamese food, done with just the right amount of flourish.
Shangri-La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai (+971 4 343 8888)
Arabic/Lebanese food in fine surroundings (get a seat on the terrace if it’s not too hot) with a pine-nut pie that has become the stuff of legend. For Lebanese food outside of Lebanon, this is one of the best places to eat.
Um Uthaina Main Road, Amman, Jordan (+962 6 551 5987)
40. Margherita Pizzeria
The burrata here is one of the finest things we have eaten anywhere, and this little Italian down the bumpy, bar-heavy Gemmayzeh street is also the perfect place to start a night out. A branch on The Walk at JBR in Dubai will open soon (unlikely to be licensed) and if it’s just two thirds as good as the one in Beirut it will be a hit.
Gemmayzeh, Beirut (+961 1560 480)
39. Shanghai Chic
An overlooked hotel where the Chinese restaurant balances authenticity and modern creativity. If you love your takeaways and want the same things done ten times better, try the peppered beef here — it’s a revelation.
Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel, Dubai (+971 4 444 0000)
A southern European restaurant run by Italian chef, Susy Massetti, that has given Bahrain that much-needed place with an atmosphere capable of matching the great food. The balsamic strawberries with vanilla mascarpone are almost worth the visit alone, though the menu here is excellent throughout.
The Palace Boutique Hotel, Adliya (+973 1 772 1061).
37. Park Bar & Grill
Located in the best new hotel on Saadiyat Island, this bar and grill is an exemplary exercise in ticking the right boxes. There’s nothing outlandish but nothing to fault. From the Asian starters to peppered steaks to the vanilla crème brûlée, this is a solid, surefire meal.
Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island (+971 2 407 1138)
36. Zheng He’s
It’s a place that has got caught up as part of the brunch circuit, but that’s not the way to experience Zheng He’s. Come in the evening for à la carte and see how fantastic modern Cantonese food can be. If you like seafood, the Dhs550 set menu is a thing of wonder.
Mina A’ Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai (+971 4 366 6730)
Although other places have eclipsed what was once the place to eat in the capital, Finz is still a little “hut” of seafood delights that retains a charm newer rivals have failed to create. And the food and service is as impressive as it ever was.
Beach Rotana, Abu Dhabi (+971 2 697 9000)
Many thought the Armani Hotel would be all style and no substance, but, along with Restaurante, Amal demands repeated visits. Creative, perfectly cooked Indian food in a modern setting elevates Amal above all but a few Indian restaurants in the city. The cocktails are notably good here too.
Armani Hotel, Dubai (+971 4888 3444)
33. Cro Magnon
The name suggests caveman dining, but this top-end surf and turf has a lot of
class. Unashamedly masculine, meat is presented tableside before cooking, and there’s a cellar of strong reds, single malts, cigars and live jazz. But it’s the oysters, steak, lobsters and king salmon that are at the heart of what’s good here. And sides like thick-cut onion rings and roasted garlic mash are brilliant accompaniments.
R10 Zaitunay Bay, Beirut Marina (+961 1 371 276)
Formerly called Bice, although thankfully the name is all that’s changed. Lovely setting, staff who know their stuff and Italian food that is rich and moreish. Everyone needs a reliable Italian restaurant and in Abu Dhabi, this is it.
Hilton Abu Dhabi (+971 2 681 1900)
The fact that DJs turn up to play here and it attracts the poser crowd shouldn’t put you off, as the Japanese food is really special. The sushi and sashimi platters are fantastic, while those looking for new tastes have enough to pick from (the green tea soufflé is great), and the setting takes you away from the usual Dubai hotel feel — a huge plus.
The H Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (+971 4 501 8777)
Set in a beautifully converted French Mandate-era villa and looking out onto the
Mediterranean, the husbandand-wife team serve up luscious East-West fusion. The food is wonderful and the setting rivals the South of France.
Rue Dar El-Mreisseh, Beirut (+961 1 575 858)
27. Marco Pierre White
Michelin stars don’t come from just showing off with “fancy” food; they come from attention to detail and doing the simple things well with top ingredients. This is what Pierre White’s grill does and the flourishes of foie gras among the meat-heavy British menu are bonuses, but it’s the brilliantly cooked cow that’s the star here.
Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Abu Dhabi (+971 2 654 3333)
26. Opal by Gordon Ramsay
Think of chips, mash, burgers, chicken wings, Angus tenderloin and all the other things that you love, but are often done badly. Here they’re done perfectly. Ramsay knows his stuff in the kitchen and removes all the pretention elsewhere — so you can wear what you like, sit out on the veranda overlooking the water and actually enjoy eating. And drinking, because they have one of the biggest cellars in the country.
The St. Regis, West Bay, Doha (+974 4 446 0105)
25. Quisine by Guy Savoy
In the last couple of years, Doha’s dining scene has been transformed, but it is the opening of this restaurant that gives Doha its first high-end dining place from a Michelin-starred chef. The food is French, with braised knuckle of veal, pigeon three ways, chocolate fondants and all the things that have made his restaurant in Paris so celebrated. It’s on the Pearl, so is unlicensed, but the food alone makes this place worth a visit.
Pearl Qatar (+974 4 002 7245)
24. West 14th
Sometimes the best thing about eating here is that you don’t feel like you’re in the Middle East. Inside, it’s all exposed brick-and-pipes of a Manhattan steakhouse, while outside it’s more like Miami. On the plate it’s solid throughout; from the hefty wagyu burgers, to New York strips, to bison meat to the giant tomahawk steak that also doubles as a Man v. Food style challenge And in the tradition of top New York steakhouses, they do some decent cocktails.
Palm Jumeirah, Dubai (+971 4 447 7601)
23. Il Teatro
One of the old standards in a country has recently seen an explosion in fine dining, Il Teatro has been serving up outstanding Italian food for years. Recent tweaks have ensured it’s still one of the best places to eat in the country, and having actual Italians running it always helps. Top ingredients used well, not too fussy and not trying to show off — it doesn’t need to, the quality speaks for itself.
Four Seasons Hotel, West Bay, Doha (+974 4 494 8888)
The food here is consistently brilliant, but what makes this an enduring favourite, year after year, is the fact it’s constantly buzzing. Never underestimate the power of a good atmosphere combined with brilliant food.
Difc , Dubai (+971 4 25 5660)
It been around for years now and has been somewhat overshadowed by newer restaurants, but this is still one of those Indian restaurants that is pure culinary comfort. Dish names you’ll recognise from evenings on the sofa with a takeaway (rogan josh, massala, vindaloo, etc) are done to a standard far better than you’ll ever have at home. The cosy setting is hugely welcoming and the service is excellent.
Ritz-Carlton Bahrain (+973 1 758 0000)
20. The Ivy
London’s celebrated restaurant may not have the history or celebrity quotient of its parent establishment, but it does have the shepherd’s pie, and for that alone it’s worthy of a place on this list. The sister establishment to The Rivington Grill, it’s a solid all-round brasserie that covers all bases and does a great two-course business lunch for Dhs120.
The Boulevard, Emirates Towers, Dubai (+971 4 319 8767)
19. Rhodes Twenty10
People are often split over this restaurant. Some think it’s too expensive for what it is – and sure the idea of paying separately for sides is daft. But from the great little bar to have a drink at beforehand to the sticky toffee pudding for desert, it’s a great evening out. The steaks are awesome and if you’re into burgers, the one here (8oz fillet steak patty topped with seared foie gras) is a decadent must-try.
Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort, Dubai (+971 4 399 5555)
Argentinian food is underrated, or often simply rated as just great steaks, but Asado puts that right. Everything here (including the steaks) is just wonderful. The cheese starter is one of our favourites from the whole of 2012, while the likes of the grilled ostrich and roasted baby goat mean you can try something a little out of the ordinary. It’s a little heavy on the wallet, but the quality throughout is exemplary.
The Palace, Downtown Dubai (+971 4 428 7888)
Visiting the Atlantis Hotel may, at times, feel like being stuck at a Russian oligarch’s birthday party, but once you’re in the restaurant, Nobu delivers outstanding food to your plate. It’s the restaurant that others like to imitate, and if you order well, it’s still the
best Japanese food about.
Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai (+971 4 426 2626)
Argentinian food is really coming to the fore in the region and Gaucho does it exceptionally well. Simple starters like the chorizo sausage with roasted red pepper, balsamic and olive oil are splendidly done, the pandebono breads are moreish and the chunks of meat all cooked to perfection. But this is more than just a steakhouse, it’s South American food at its very best. And of all the places we’ve eaten in the last 12 months, the staff here were the best we encountered — a standard for all to follow.
Gate Village 05, Difc , Dubai (+971 4 422 7898)
A celebration of flavours that takes you out of the norm. The ten-course tasting menu should give you a hit of all that’s good here, and things like the “truffle cloud”, “Roquefort milkshake” and “pea cappuccino with orange foam” make it all a hugely fun experience. It deserves a bigger, and more regular, audience because the food is wonderful.
Abu Dhabi Country Club (+971 2 657 7640)
14. Spice Market
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s place at the W Hotel was inspired by the street food found in Southeast Asia. Dishes like red curried duck, Omani lobster cakes and crispy sea bass are supported by classics (spring rolls, lamb satay, etc) and it works as excellent sharing food. It does for SE Asian food what Nobu does for Japanese and it’s the best place in Qatar to eat right now.
W Doha Hotel, Doha (+974 4 453 5000)
13. STAY by Yannick Alléno
The dishes here are not only done brilliantly, they’re also ones you probably won’t find elsewhere in the city. Guinea fowl in three courses, lobster pudding, sea bream in celery broth, all done to Alléno’s exacting standards and served in an elegant setting. The sommelier is excellent and the “Pastry Library” is a joyous celebration of French desserts.
One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai (+971 4 440 1010)
12. Rhodes Mezzanine
Modern British cuisine can sometimes stray into the overly-fussy territory, but when it’s done really well — as it is here — you have high-end comfort food. From the roast beef and white tomato soup, to bread and butter pudding and jam roly poly, it’s just like mum made. If mum was an award-winning chef.
Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (+971 4 399 8888)
11. La Petite Maison
Another imported restaurant, but eat here and there’s always an atmosphere. In fact you feel like you could be in a busy European city rather than DIFC. The Niçoise food is still great, from the salt-baked fillet of sea bass, to the best potato gratin we’ve ever had, to some fine desserts. But they need to stop rushing people and the staff need to drop the attitude.
Difc , Dubai (+971 4 439 0505)
10. The Restaurant
Oman’s best restaurant is a rare example of a concept that works. The four open kitchens each specialise in their own cuisine (Mediterranean, Asian, Indian, and Arabic), so it’s like being able to order from four top restaurants at once. And, somehow, they’re all fantastically good.
The Chedi Muscat, Oman (+968 2 452 4400)
9. Bord Eau
An old fashioned French restaurant that comes straight from the days of Escoffier, but
that’s what makes it so charming. The food is lavish and you can expect lobsters, truffles and fine wines to go with your romance. Don’t bank on going home with much change in your pocket, but for fine ingredients cooked to perfection, this is a really great performer.
Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi (+971 2 509 8888)
This could be a restaurant in New York, London or Rome. There’s an atmosphere, no silly gimmicks, and waiters who know what they’re doing. But most of all it’s about fantastic Italian food that uses the very best ingredients. And when Italian food is done properly, there’s almost nothing to come close.
DIFC Dubai, Gate Village (+971 4 386 0066)
The standard of Indian food in this region is fantastic, from street cafes right up to restaurants from some of the world’s best chefs. Indego represents the top end of the scale, and Vineet Bhatia does things with Indian food you’ve probably never tasted before.
Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (+971 4 399 8888)
Those looking for checked table cloths with half-melted candles in bottles needn’t bother — this is Italian cooking at the top end. It could be a waste of the most soulful food there is, but the chefs here are magicians and make modern classics out of traditional ingredients. They also have some of the best desserts anywhere.
Armani Hotel Dubai, Downtown Burj Khalifa (+971 4 888 3444)
5. Rivington Grill
It’s comforting to know that the menu barely changes, there’s always a nice atmosphere, the staff know their stuff and remember you from your previous visit and the food is of consistently high quality with every meal. It’s perhaps the most reliable restaurant around, and although the Madinat branch might not yet have the same feel, the one at Downtown is still a place that has never let us down.
Souk Al Bahar, Dubai (+971 4 423 0903)
4. Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire
It’s slipped slightly on last year, and occasionally feels a bit more hit and miss, which is annoying at these prices. But this is still one of the most lavish and creative meals you will eat anywhere in the region. The staff are fantastic and erudite and it’s still somewhere to take a date you need to impress.
Intercontinental Dubai Festival City, Dubai (+971 4 701 1111)
3. Exchange Grill
In a city that has more steakhouses than you’ll ever need, this one stands out among the herd. The finest steaks we’ve ever had were eaten here, and with incredible parmesan and truffle-oil chips on the side. Here’s the plan: start in Cin Cin wine bar on one side, come here for top steak, finish in the cigar bar on the other side. It’s a near-perfect evening.
Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, (+971 4 311 8316)
Alan Yau’s restaurant now has branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and both are utterly sublime. From Chilean sea bass with honey, to black truffle roasted duck — just stick a pin in the menu and let them wow you. Michelin-starred in London, this more than holds its own alongside the original. The blue bar in the Dubai branch also has one of the best collections of drinks anywhere in the region.
Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi (+971 2 690 7999)
Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Dubai (+971 4 384 8484)
1. Table 9 by Nick and Scott
This restaurant is the greatest reason to celebrate what is good in Middle Eastern dining. It’s a home-grown creation, borne out of Verre, but now surpassing the establishment that once stood on this site. Nick Alvis and Scott Price — the chefs behind Table 9 — opened their doors little more than a year ago, but have already put together a place where everything works perfectly. Deviating from the established starter-main-dessert route is always risky, but the idea of ordering two smaller plates, then one of the larger dishes, followed by dessert, is a revelation when the portion sizes are perfectly judged and the food is outstanding. Here they are. Smaller dishes like the veal pastrami with carrot and yoghurt or goat’s cheese with rosemary and shallot are faultless and imaginative. Inventions like the “potted plant with edible soil” are quirky and fun as amuse bouche, while larger plates like the lamb with smoked aubergine, scratchings and tomato are truly excellent. The Brie de meaux or the pear with cream cheese and honeycomb are both stunningly good ways to end a meal. And here’s the kicker — the prices are very competitive with starters all at Dhs80 and mains all at Dhs100. In 2013, there are more top restaurants in the region than ever before. All of them now have to up their game, offer something different, cook something fantastic and – more-so than in the past – really offer value. Table 9 does that better than anywhere. You really need to try this place.
Hilton Dubai Creek, Deira (+971 4 212 7551)
For Esquire Magazine – for original PDF click here – Best Restaurants 2013