I don’t really do Michelin stars any more. It was a phase and it was good while it lasted but it is all over now. No celebrity chefs either, thank you very much. I am happiest when dining out on the streets or comparing one shawarma to the other (thoughI do sneak in a cheeky brunch whenever I can!) So, when asked to review Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria, I wasn’t really sure why!
As we walked into the restaurant, I began to understand why they may have asked me to review it. This was a far cry from the fancy, Michelin starred, award winning, celebrity chef restaurant I was expecting. It had a classy roadside diner feel; the kind of place that would take your jacket, ask you how you were doing and seat you at your preferred table while still serving breakfast, chicken wings and pizza. This was a wonderful world of contrasts and I was already very excited.
We ordered the Mushroom Fritti, Chilli Chicken wings, Chicken Ala Diavola Pizza and Lemon Herb Chicken. The Mushroom Fritti was basically a mushroom tempura (if there is such a thing) and was my least favourite dish of the day. Every other dish was good enough for me to go back to this place to have just that.
The free rangeChilliChickenWings were supposed to besticky afterbeing tossed in what was called a spicy freak sauce so I asked if I could have the sauce on the side and use it as a dip. I did not expect them to agree because that would essentially change the whole concept and they would have no control over the amount of sauce andflavourdoused on to the wings. To my surprise, they agreed. Such is the effect of a customer centric attitude that you are willing to take risks and bend the rules a little bit. It was a gamble that definitely paid off. One thought going through my mind as I dipped the little drumsticks into the spicy freak sauce was thattheonly way toexplain how unbelievably addictive itwas, is to bring my foodie friends back to this place.
I was intrigued, yet apprehensive of the Lemon Herbed Chicken. I don’t know why but for some reason I feared it may have been under cooked. I think it had something to do with a similar sounding dish which I had tried to eat a week prior to that day in Baku. To my relief, this chicken was neither under cooked and rubbery nor had it been cooked to oblivion and was succulent and tender with a lemonflavoured layer of skin on top. The first thing I did when I got back home was to google the recipe. No, I wasn’t trying to save myself a trip back to the restaurant. I was just curious on how a dish with such basic ingredients could taste so good.
It turns out, all you need to create the most awesome chicken dish were a few fresh basil leaves, a couple of rosemary sprigs, some garlic, your choice of veggies and a large lemon. It is what you do with these ingredientsthatmagically transforms this into a signature Jamie Oliver dish. Don’t google it yet. Go and try the real thing first; just so you know what it is supposed to taste like.
Chicken Ala Diavola at Jamie Oliver’s Pizzeria
Last but not least, theChicken AlaDiavolaPizza because this was after all a pizzeria, right? I was pleased to be offered a choice between whole grain and sourdough. Jamie is the poster boy healthy eating in the UK so it had to be so. I opted for the whole grain option of course because it would help to ease my elevated guilt after consuming 300 grams of animal fat smothered onto a carbohydrate base. I did not expect it be as good as a normal pizza because let’s face it, who wants a whole wheat pizza, right? Me, that’s who. After this day, I am not sure if I want to go back to a normal pizza base. The whole wheat dough lent a unique, earthyflavourto the pizza while carrying half the calories of a sourdough base. It complimented thechilliand the mint and yoghurt sauce to create a wonderful fusion between East and West. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start copying this on the streets of Naples soon; or Lahore, depending on who gets a taste of it first.
I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm!
I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm! I wish this article had space for more than 11 because I was absolutely spoilt for choice between the Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Turkish and even Greek versions of the popular street food. I have listed my favourite 11 but by no means do you have to agree with me! In fact, I would love your comments and suggestions on places that I may have missed out. So without further ado, I present to you, 11 of the top shawarma joints in Dubai.
11) Barasti, Dubai Marina. Power House Wrap – AED 60.
Go ahead, judge me. Mishal did too. “You have lost it” is what she said to me when I told her that Barasti makes one of the best shawarmas in Dubai. “Never mind if it is good or not”, she said. “It’s not even a shawarma!” “Well technically it is a wrap and it has chicken in it” I told her. “That is exactly what a shawarma is” “So it doesn’t have heaps of garlic sauce or a pickle or grilled chicken from a rotating spit but it does have Japanese mayo and cheddar cheese and breaded chicken from a fryer! And who needs French fries in their wrap, not only do they take up space where there could have been more meat, they are not even remotely Arabic.” I think I won that argument; plus shawarma or not, who can argue with the convenience of a greasy wrap after a big night out, without making any additional stops on the way home.
10) Shawermania, JLT. Burger Shawarma – AED 20.
Hardcore shawarma fans and purists might put a bounty on my head for this but that is a risk I am willing to take. I believe in constant innovation. The only thing constant in life is change. If we can’t try new things, we just cannot improve or innovate. The guys at Shawermanaia have ditched the pita and saj for the burger bun. It is a strange combination that works. Your first impression is as if you just bit into a nice old Philly steak sandwich. As you explore further, there is an explosion of Arabic spices and garlic. You suddenly find yourself teleported to the land of falcons, sand dunes, camels and belly dancers.
9) IKEA. Chicken Shawarma
Klippan loveseat: check. Stockholm rug: check. Chicken Shawarma: check. This is probably the only Swedish shawarma on the list and like everything else Swedish, it gets the job done. They don’t cut back on the chicken or pretend that the French fries are made of meat like one pathetic (and famous) shawarma chain I don’t want to name. It has garlic paste, pickles, a few fries and chicken (lots of it). I never knew simplicity could taste so good.
Doesn’t matter how good your Tahina is or how much garlic you smother on the bread, if your meat is not of a high quality, it will show. The folks at Automatic know this. I would be upset if they didn’t because they have been in Dubai longer than I have! Expect perfectly charred strips of succulent lamb, creamy tahini sauce, coriander, some fries and slightly toasted pita! Mmmm mm mm. 😉
7) Filful, Box Park. Chicken Shawarma – AED 12.
Go for the place, stay for the taste. This is a hipster café/Beiruti street food joint and upscale Boxpark eatery with creative interiors all rolled into one. If you haven’t been or don’t like shawarmas, please do visit for an authentic Lebanese street food experience. It is the next best thing after hopping on a plane to Beirut.
6) Aroos Damascus, Muraqabat Street Deira, Shawarma meat or chicken – 6 AED.
More than half of you would not have heard of this place and unless you are brave enough to cross the bridge and land on Muraqqabat street near the Dubai clock tower most of you will never be able eat here either. I pity you all. You have not really had an authentic Dubai experience if you have not eaten at this Syrian restaurant in old Dubai. You will understand what I mean once you see the number of cars outside, or the 80 waiters doing laps between the cars, the kitchen and the 400 tables inside.
Tip: Take the metro to Salah al Din Station and just walk for 3 minutes if the weather permits.
5) YaSalam, JLT. Superfood Shawarma – 25 AED
The harmless looking pita bread that blankets the meat and pickles you hold in your hand carries 266 calories per 100 grams. Go ahead, google it. To put into perspective, you burn a 100 calories by brisk walking for 20 minutes. For times like this when some smart ass makes you feel fat and miserable and all you want to do is eat healthy even if it is just for a day or 2; read on. Lean chicken breast, quinoa, slices of beetroot and avocado, sundried tomato and balsamic dressing all wrapped in a brown multi grain bread. I burned some calories just by thinking about it.
Craving a late night shawarma? Do not fear if Zaroob is near or if you don’t mind travelling down to the World Trade Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. Yes this place is open 24 hours and they really do make a killer shawarma. Authentic Lebanese flavors await, regardless of the time. Another high end joint from the new wave of ‘cool’ Arabic restaurants. Attracts families, office types and a younger crowd, the latter mostly after the midnight hour as they stuff their mouths with pocket sized meat delights before heading home to crash.
3) Operation Falafel, JBR. Chicken Shawarma in Saj bread – AED 20.
These guys take their falafels seriously and they also make one of the best chicken shawarmas in Dubai. The Saj bread somehow enhances the flavor of the garlic paste but there is less of it so it shines through without ever overpowering the rest of the ingredients. This results in a well rounded and balanced shawarma. This is posh street food, if there could be such a thing. Expect to see a cooler crowd than many of the other joints because of the location.
When you do go here next, please do order the traditional pizza. I know this article is about shawarmas but Zaatar w Zeit have adopted the Pizza as their own and it has now become more Lebanese than Italian. I know it has a super thin crust and heaps of mozzarella but I haven’t quite been able to figure out what makes this pizza as good as it is. Oh yes, and now the Shawarma. So if this Lebanese joint can make Sicilian street food it’s own, imagine what it would have done with Beiruti street food? PS It is also open 24 hours.
1) Al Mallah, Satwa. Lamb Shawarma -AED 7.
Nostalgia wins again! This used to be our go to place for shawarmas in college and not much has changed since then. Yes a lot of fancy joints have opened up since then and I also have a little more money to ‘live it up’ but the Al Mallah lamb shawarma still has no equal. Succulent lamb meat, a liberal dash of creamy tahini and fresh coriander with mint; a formula that has worked wonders for 20 or so years and continues to do so.
Just like the wheel can not be reinvented, a burger can’t be made to be elitist or aristocratic. It is either a burger or it isn’t. Sure you can stick a toothpick in the middle of the bun and add onion marmalade instead of onion rings but that wont take away from the fact that you would still be better off eating it with your hands and regardless of how you do eat it; things could get messy.
While hunting down the best burgers in Dubai for this article, we ate buns and beef patties every day for a whole month. Not only did we get to try some cool new restaurants but also went back to a place I used to frequent 18 years ago!
11) Johnny Rockets, multiple locations. The Original. AED 39.
It looked like a roadside diner in Jumeirah but this was the only ‘fancy’ burger joint I knew of back in 1998. They have since modified their menu but ‘The Original’ burger remains unchanged. This was the burger that opened my mind up to a world where it was worth waiting for a burger that took longer than 4 minutes to prepare. It was the burger that first demonstrated the affects of a good cheddar on prime beef, it was the burger that made going to a burger joint cool. For me, it was a part of growing up in Dubai and thankfully, it remains just as good now as it was back then.
TIP: Please do order the cherry coke.
10) Five Guys, multiple locations. Cheese Burger AED 42.
Their cheese burger is the most awarded burger in Vegas and it is definitely one of the best in Dubai. You get free peanuts while you wait for your order and there is a sign on the wall that tells you exactly where the potatoes being used on that day were grown.
You have the freedom to add whatever toppings (you must try the mushroom) you want and you essentially end up building your own burger. The size of the meat patty was small but they made up for it by adding 2 instead of 1, so you still get a mouthful in every bite. They used 2 slices of good old fashioned American cheddar (yes it was messy) that did the job well and the skin on spicy french fries were way up there on the potato charts.
09) L’eto Cafe, multiple locations. California Burger. AED 110.
Healthy, basic and world class. This consisted of avocado slices on a thick beef patty placed on a bed of greens resting on a toasted bun. The other half of this ‘open’ burger was layered with tomato salsa which had pomegranate seeds mixed into it. It was like a Sicilian love affair in Tehran, or LA – depending on what side you ate first. We were not in any of those cities though. We were in the only city that could be all of those cities and more; a place that is a melting pot of cultures with a distinct identity of its own. We were in Dubai and this burger was the definitive Dubai Burger.
Excellent quality beef patty in a freshly baked bun with all the bells and whistles you could expect in a winning burger. Definitely one of the best in Dubai and may have been higher on my list only if it were a bit messier! There were moments when I could taste the chilli mayo and then there would be a dry patch with nothing but meat all around. A fried or a pickled jalapeno (it had both kinds) here and there was like an oasis of flavor in a desert of meat. I guess that is how they want to position themselves, as purveyors of squeaky clean gourmet burgers – no drips intended.
7) Sugar Factory, La Mer Beach. Rainbow Sliders 99 AED
These little burgers were so tasty, I was forced to edit this annual list a couple of months before it was up for a refresh. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely the cutest things on this list but that is not the only reason they are up here. They were punching way above their weight in the taste category as well.
The 5 multi coloured mini buns were stuffed with a grilled Angus beef patty and melted cheddar. Along with lettuce and tomato, they was smothered in a secret sauce and my personal favorite – caramelized onions. Now the thing with sliders is that there is relatively little room to add stuff so you’ve got to choose your ingredients carefully. The most important ingredient of course, is the meat and I am happy to report that the thick Angus patty in these sliders would receive a rating of ‘fantastic’ from any burger connoisseur.
The secret sauce (whatever it was) seemed to work wonders and the crispy crunch of the caramelised onions provided a great finishing touch.
Click here to read the complete Sugar Factory review. 06) Mooyah, opposite Safa Park. Moohyah Style 39 AED.
Not many people are talking about it and I do not recall this being ranked as one of the best burger joints in Dubai before. Tucked away in the alleys of Jumeirah, this is the one place that took me by surprise. If you still haven’t been, I suggest you visit this little restaurant opposite Safa Park. I promise you will not be disappointed .
They use high quality beef and real American cheddar. The good thing is that the burger is made in front of your eyes and you could have it kept medium or rare. The secret Mooyah sauce kills it with the grilled onions and I suggest you pair it with sweet potato fries.
TIP: Wash your burger down with milk shake.
5) Burger Fuel, multiple locations. Hot Rod. AED 36.
If you are a meat lover who can tell the difference between good and excellent beef, this may be the burger for you. Burger Fuel uses 100% pure grass fed beef ‘smashed’ to order with wholemeal, sugar free, dairy free artisan buns and naturally aged, batch brewed tomato relish. Tempted?
They are also behind one of the most important breakthroughs in cutting edge burger technology known simply as, ‘The Doofer’. It is essentially a cardboard pocket that wraps around your burger so you can enjoy all that messiness without getting your hands dirty. My favourite here is the Hot Rod which is basically some chilli salsa added to the awesome beef patty and tomato relish along with some melted cheddar.
4) The Counter, multiple locations. Build your own AED 49.
Sauces, condiments and fancy pickles (The Counter has enough of those too) can go a long way in deciding the ultimate fate of a burger but the one thing that turns a normal burger into a culinary treat is the meat. The folks behind the ‘The Counter’ say they use hormone and antibiotic free meat. While it is hard to verify something like that, I would like to believe it because you can taste the difference in every bite. Besides, I knew I was in the right place from the moment I laid my eyes on that burger because the meat patty was bigger than the bun and it still looked pretty!
You can build your own burger here by ticking the desired ingredients on a little chart. Customization options include type of bread (or you can just have the burger in a bowl), size of patty (up to one pound), type of cheese (10 options) and every single topping in the world that you could imagine (including a sunny side up egg).
What is fascinating though is that no matter how many toppings or sauces you add, they will figure out a way to make the burger good looking and ‘clean’. I think they reduce the actual quantity of toppings but what that essentially means is that no matter what you do, it is hard to get this burger to be messy. I found that to be a bit offensive but it may work for you if all you wanted to taste was the excellent meat. I personally like a bit of sauce and additional flavor in my burger. On nights that I do want to eat clean, I just go ahead a grab a steak.
TIP: Please order the onion rings. Unlike anywhere else I have seen, they do actually look like onion rings (and taste great too).
3) Elevation Burger. The Elevation Burger. AED 39.
Elevation burger has been quiet the rage since the day they first opened. I think it was party due to the fact that they offered grass fed, free range, organic beef which was of a significantly higher quality then what most people were used to at that time. It was also partly because people could now customize their burgers and make greasy meat towers by adding as many patties as they wished.
Here was a company that cared about the environment, empowered you to choose the toppings you wanted and used premium cuts of freshly ground organic beef; it was a winning formula that still works.
TIP: If you choose to have the Elevation Burger here (highly recommended), please do tell them to dial up the Elevation sauce and don’t forget to add jalapenos for a fiery little kick and caramelized onions for that final finishing crunch.
What were the cattle fed on? How long did it take for the meat to reach from farm to kitchen? How long ago was the meat ground? What are the cuts being used in the burger? These are all questions that might go through the mind of a meat connoisseur as he carefully chews on his Cheddar Shack. If however, you are a burger obliterator like me – the only questions going through your mind would be the reason the burger is so small and whether you should order another.
The bun is kind of funny (did I mention small), the patty is disproportionate, there are no fancy ingredients and the condiments are pretty basic but none of that matters. Shake Shack is not too big on looks or side shows but they do one thing better than almost every other burger joint in Dubai; they deliver the burger you dream of at night. Each bite of this burger is smooth and buttery and as you chew on your food, you develop an attachment to it. You wish the moment could be frozen in time and that you could be with each other forever, you and your burger. You want to keep chewing and wish there was a way to extend the moment but before you know it, it slides down your throat leaving only a memory that will stay with you forever.
TIP: Order 2 burgers at a time so you don’t have to queue again for the 2nd.
01) Black Tap, Madinat Jumeirah. Mexico City Burger. AED 95.
My friend G says that everything tastes good after a couple of Stellas so some may consider it unfair to rank a licenced venue alongside a roadside diner but I disagree because all I had at Black Tap was a burger, sweet potato fries and a shake. If you saw me singing along to the music, it was A) the sugar rush and B) because I had not heard Stephen Tyler telling people to walk that way since 1999.
I had decided to not take any pictures for this article simply because I forgot to or didn’t have my camera at a couple of the restaurants I visited. SO to be fair to everyone, I decided to get one picture each from their websites, Instagram feeds or other websites (with credits of course). That was working fine until I went to Black Tap. Once in a while, there comes along a burger joint that just makes you throw all your rules out of the window.
Black Tap serves slurpable works of art in a milkshake glass that would not be too out of place at Art Dubai. There were a couple that could easily have given the Abraaj art finalists a pretty hard time but this article is not about the restaurant, the art or about the milkshakes. Neither is it about Stephen Tyler. It is about the burger and that is precisely what has landed Black Tap the number 1 spot on this list. In my opinion, the Mexico City burger from Black Tap is the best burger in Dubai.
I have no doubt that the quality of meat at The Counter, Elevation, Shake Shack and Black Tap is very close to each other if not similar. What sets them apart is the winning combination of sauce, cheese, bread and pickles. How much is too much? Reduce it and it may be too little. The trick is to excite your taste buds to the point where they take over your senses and imprint on the brain and for that the burger needs to stand out but it also needs to have a familiar taste; so it can gently stroke the fuzzy memories you associate with a great burger. The folks at Black Tap have got that all figured out.
The Mexico City burger comes with a prime beef patty, pickled jalapenos, chipotle mayo and crunchy onion rings and everything goes well together but that is just half of what makes this a great burger. The only ingredients on the bun are the cheese, jalapenos, meat and the sauce. Everything else, like the crisp lettuce, gherkin and the gigantic onion ring are provided on the side. So you eat what you want when you want it. It is the kind of control that is unprecedented in the burger world. You end up controlling the crunch, the smoothness and the flavor because you can bite into different ingredients at different times. It also means that nobody can force you to eat vegetables every time you go out for a burger.
TIP: Please call in ahead unless you do not mind waiting for up to 60 minutes for a table.
Indian/Pakistani Cuisine has made its way into British lives like Donald Trump made his way into the White House. For years it wasn’t taken too seriously and now nobody seems to be able to get rid of it.
Edited 18th March 2018.
As much as I want to live on the edge and eat only at restaurants that use ingredients like magic budwig, raw fish eggs, a force fed goose’s fatty liver or any of the other wonderfully weird things that I can’t make head or tail out of, it is sadly not possible. I enjoy being adventurous once in a while but nothing matches the pleasure derived from sampling different renditions of a dish that you are familiar with.
For some, it may be an old fashioned cheeseburger and for some a bowl of ramen but for me, it is a textured medley of rice, meat and spices; also known as a biryani.
There are numerous different ways of cooking a dish and not all biryanis are created equal. Since I am a bit of an expert on the subject, I have taken it upon myself to list 11 of the most exquisite Biryanis in Dubai.
This is a quaint little hole in the wall sandwiched between the quirky ‘Billo Ice Cream’ and half a dozen hardware stores. What they lack in seating capacity (they actually have two chairs and a table) is made up with good, no nonsense food. Better known for their Karachi Bun Kebabs, I think their Spicy (yeah man!) Chicken Biryani is a force to be reckoned with. Couple that with an AED15 price tag and we have a definite winner.
Kabab Rolls started the whole BBQ roll trend in Dubai (hence the name). It is a lively joint in the streets of Barsha that is quiet popular for its cheap lunch buffet. While I enjoy an occasional Bihari Roll (must try ) from here, I tend to stay away from the buffet. What these guys do really well however, is the biryani.
Like India, Pakistan also has a multitude of subcultures and the local cuisine is influenced by lands as far off as the Persian and the Ottoman Empire. Each of the provinces has it’s own rendering of this dish.
The standout winner here is the Meat Biryani which is made in the traditional Sindhi style of cooking. It is basically a dum biryani with mild spices and saffron but the meat is slightly pre-cooked before being layered with rice (as opposed to the Hyderabadi style where the meat is mostly raw).
09) Gazebo – Bay Avenue, Business Bay (multiple locations) – Gosht Hyderabadi Biryani – AED47.
Not too long ago, believe it or not, Gazebo was my go to place if I craved a good Biryani but as always, unprecedented growth may not be a good thing. Despite somehow losing their mojo along the way, Gazebo still serves one of the best Biryanis in Dubai. That is not a small achievement considering that there are probably a thousand restaurants with just as many different interpretations of the dish but this place could have been a contender for the top spot on this list a couple of years ago.
A true Hyderabadi would never try to please others at the cost of losing his identity. The same goes for their biryani as well. There was a serious dearth of masala and absolutely no chilli powder in Gazebo’s Gosht Hyderabadi biryani. Most of the rice was white and bland, untouched by whatever masala there was. No self-respecting Hyderabadi chef would cut out on the masala or compromise on the heat just to reach out to a wider palate (or even to save a couple of bucks) . Despite that, Gazebo still managed to edge out the 30 odd biryani restaurants that I have visited in the past 3 months while doing my research. I guess I am a sucker for good presentation.
If Billboard could have Elton John and Samantha Fox on the same top 10 chart, I can have a Fast Food type Biryani joint together on the same list as a Michelin Star chef as well. The type of biryani and the classification of the restaurant do not matter. What matters is the quality of the dish.
Student Biryani achieved a bit of a cult status in Karachi before they ventured out to Dubai. Legend is that they used to sell biryani to college kids from a mobile food cart. Word of this supposedly awesome Biryani spread far and wide and people used to come from all over to sample it. Fast forward to today and the company operates multiple restaurants in Karachi, Sharjah, Dubai and Toronto.
I love a good success story and their Biryani is pretty good too. I am a little unsure if it is good enough to spawn an international chain of restaurants. If you want to see the fast food methodology at work in a biryani restaurant, Student Biryani is the place to be. You get served within 10 minutes, the strength of the ‘masala’ (spices) can be controlled easily and they have more combos there than there are banks trying to sell you new credit cards in Dubai.
07) Shahi Mahal, Al Faris Mall, Near Dubai Bowling Centre, Al Quoz – Meat Biryani – AED16
‘Shahi Mahal’ translates to Royal Palace and for a while, I felt I had teleported to Nawab Nizam ud Din’s court in Hyderabad. It was great while it lasted, but then I was asked to pay 16 dirhams for my meal. That didn’t feel regal at all and back I was in Al Quoz.
Yes, tucked away somewhere in the back alleys of Al Quoz is a place which serves authentic Dum Biryani for AED 16 per serving. The aroma, the texture and the flavour of this Biryani are second to none. You can see tender meat sandwiched between layers of fragrant basmati rice as it gets to your table. You can tell that this Biryani was left to cook on low heat for a long time. What you can’t understand is how they manage to be profitable at this price point, especially when you see the quality of ingredients being used. I think I know now why the Mughals went bankrupt.
06) Brit Balti, Al Barsha (multiple locations) – Special Biryani (lamb chicken prawns and omelet) – AED56
The Koh-I-Noor wasn’t the only Indian thing taken back by the British to make their own. The Chicken Tikka Masala was probably invented in Southall but for some it will always be an Indian dish.
Indian/Pakistani Cuisine has made its way into British lives like Donald Trump made his way into the White House. For years it wasn’t taken too seriously and now nobody seems to be able to get rid of it. It is loud, colorful and not everyone seems to agree with it but that doesn’t seem to bother it too much.
Brit Balti is my favourite Desi-Brit restaurant in Dubai (Yes, there are several of those down here). It is appropriately peculiar, incredibly experimental and unapologetically British. The winner here is the Special Biryani. It is not a Dum (layered and cooked on low heat in a sealed clay pot) Biryani but a sort of a stir fry of rice, spices, lamb, chicken and prawns with an omelet added for good measure. Not at all how a purist would want a Biryani to be but good enough to make this one of the best Biryani joints in Dubai.
05) Milas Emirates. Al Nasr The Village, Dubai Mall – Spicy Lamb Biryani – .AED89
This was not the ‘Dum’ Biryani you get at Indian and Pakistani restaurants or the Stir Fry type thing you get at Brit Asian restaurants. This was a creamy lamb gravy layered on top of aromatic rice. It was made of choice lamb meat that had been cooked to perfection in Arabic spices. Its tantalizing flavor had infused deep into the rice and it is the only Emirati Biryani on this list!
04) Dum Pukht, JLT – Mutton Biryani – AED60
I can imagine how unsettling it could be for a ‘Best Biryani in Dubai’ contender, especially if you are a small-time restaurant that can’t seem to sort out its ventilation woes. Even more so if you are competing against Michelin Starred chefs, a Biryani behemoth with outlets as far off as Canada and a restaurant chain that employs more than a couple of hundred people in the UAE. From the looks of it though, Dum Pukht seems unfettered by the competition.
Not the kind of place you go to for an upscale fine dining experience but they have definitely cracked the biryani code. They use a metal handi (pot) instead of a clay vessel but the recipe seems to be the same as it was hundreds of years ago. The distinct scent of freshly ground spices enchants you as the subtle fragrance of basmati rice pulls you in. Sealing in the aroma is the secret to a good Biryani and this restaurant has got that all figured out.
03) Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar, JW Marriot Marquis – Hyderabadi gosht ki (lamb) biryani – AED140.
It is about the value proposition and the presentation but most of all, it is about the experience and good food. The cost of eating a Hyderabadi lamb Biryani here is AED 140 (most expensive on this list) but the opportunity of sampling the wares of one of the world’s biggest chefs is priceless.
Atul Kochar has 2 Michelin Stars and is one of the world’s most famous chefs but you already know that. What you don’t know is that ‘Rang Mahal’ is not the ‘behave like you are about to dine with a Michelin Star Chef but don’t forget to breath’ kind of a place. It is more of a ‘Oh Beehave! But have some fun while you are at it’ kind of place.
Ali, my friend from Hyderabad would have been proud to call this Biryani authentic. A bit of nostalgia kicked in as a familiar fragrance filled the air when it was being served. Saffron had infused every single grain of rice and the meat was ever so tender. The masala (spices) were well balanced and they had made it extra hot on request. Just the way Ali’s mom made it on every Friday.
02) Bhoujan, Motor City Dubai – Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani in Handi – AED50
There may have been a tear in my eye while I carefully chewed on my first bite straight from the clay handi (pot). Tradition (and manners) dictate that I should have waited for it to be served on to my plate but a whiff of the aroma caught me off guard as soon as my server removed the seal.
It was the perfect Dum biryani and the presentation was second only to more expensive restaurants on this list. Excellent value proposition with a generous amount of meat (just as the Nawab would have liked it), a side dish of ‘mirchi ka salan’ (green chilly curry) 3 chutneys and a raita (spiced yoghurt).
As I savored every bite, I realized that I may have finally come across the underdog that could unsettle the heavyweights. I couldn’t stop smiling because I had discovered the gem that would take on some of the biggest names in the culinary world, all from that little shop in Dubai Motor City.
01) Ashiana by Vineet Bhatia, Sheraton Dubai Creek – Dum Biryani with dates – AED108
I smiled as I walked through the Mughal inspired entrance of Ashiana. This was the world of a man who was clearly rooted in tradition so I immediately formed an opinion on how the Biryani would be. A part of me was a bit disappointed though. I had travelled to the other end of Dubai just so I could surround myself with the greatness that is Vineet Bhatia. The forward thinking genius who had helped to transform the way Indian food was perceived in the West and in doing so had become the poster child of contemporary Indian cuisine yet here I was, walking through a Mughal walkway while admiring the Mughal art that adorned it’s walls.
I could see that Bhatia had tried to stay closer to his Indian side, probably so because he thought that was what the customers wanted. He did add a twist to everything though; take for example the purple beetroot chutney that was served with poppadums while we waited for our Biryani.
This could have been just another very good Dum Biryani but it was not. It did not try to entice me with the aroma and please me with the intimate sensation of a home cooked dish. It took it a step further. This was clearly the work of a nonconformist. The spices and the juicy meat were complimented with the most subtle and sweet taste of dates. Not only was this a great combination but I think it had some symbolism, dates being the national fruit of UAE and Biryani being the unofficial national dish of the sub-continent. In fact it is the dish that still binds together two countries that have been separated by decades of war, mistrust and politics and this Biryani had just added a third to the list.