Best for chic nights out
Caramel Restaurant & Lounge, DIFC
It’s hip, has a DJ, hostesses who look like supermodels, and feels more like a club than a restaurant – until you try the food. Then you realise Caramel is no gimmicky new kid on the block created to entertain the city slickers. It’s actually an über-glamorous restaurant brought to Dubai from the group behind the world-famous celebrity haunt in Las Vegas, Caramel Bar and Lounge at the Bellagio. That explains the trendy decor, the contemporary cuisine and the ultra-chic maître d’.
The menu is exciting, with ingenious fusions of flavour as well as global cuisines. Starters of Caramel veggie roll – sesame crusted sushi rice with cucumber, avocado, carrots and mango, and lobster and grilled mango tacos delighted the eyes as well as the palate leaving us ready for mains.
Veggie risotto can often be boring but this was a tasty dish of creamy rice with crunchy asparagus tips, baby spinach and mushrooms. Seared Chilean seabass with rice and a lively tomato and basil tapenade was fresh with a crispy top and soft, melt-in-the-mouth fish. I had space left for dessert, but the baked Alaska meant I wouldn’t be dancing later no matter how good the DJ’s tunes. It was huge and so delicious I devoured most of it, even though I was supposed to be sharing.
By the time I’d finished the restaurant was packed even though it was mid-week. Couples, friends, colleagues and families were all enjoying the bustling atmosphere and tasty dishes. Book a table to avoid disappointment.
For reservations call 04 4256677.
Best for special occasions
Rhodes Mezzanine, Grosvenor House, Tower One
If I could design my perfect restaurant it would be pure white with splashes of red velvet roses, impeccable service and a menu created by Michelin-starred British chef Gary Rhodes. So walking into Rhodes Mezzanine at Grosvenor House was literally a dream come true.
First up was the wow-factor decor, all soft, buttery white leather – including a stool for my handbag – sparkling glass and silver cutlery. Then there were the ever-attentive white-suited waiters who had more star quality than your average celebrity. Maybe it rubbed off from their boss? Finally there was the impressive menu, which is contemporary British fare with a European twist.
From the moment our itzy-bitzy canapés arrived, I was enthralled. My teeny Welsh rarebit was the size of a postage stamp but packed more punch than the average three-course meal. A taste of things to come. In keeping with the surroundings, our soup was white, frothy and served in an espresso cup, even though it was tomato. I expected it to be bland because of the lack of colour, but the rich, intense flavour burst through, and I begged one of the waiters to tell me the trick to making the colour disappear. He refused to divulge the secret of the signature dish, but no matter as it was time to have my taste buds exploding over another delight – a truffle crumpet with quail’s egg. There was also a foie gras version but mine was so delicious I knew I could never look at a plain crumpet again.
Darting between the à la carte, tasting menu (which is smaller portions, but there’s more of them so you can try extra!) and vegetarian offerings, we made our way through the crab and lobster omelette among others – all amazing – before coming up for air.
After a brief interlude in which we asked how often Gary comes in – “He was here this afternoon cooking actually. You’ve just missed him” – we tussled with the cheese versus dessert dilemma. In the end, I went for the selection of cheeses – six in total – that rounded off an exceptional dinner.
I left full, happy and an even bigger fan of Gary Rhodes than before. His restaurant and staff have the X factor in abundance, and his menu is to die(t) for.
For reservations call 04 3998888.
Best for wholesome English food
Alfie’s, Jumeirah Emirates Towers
Right now, all eyes are on Britain. It’s just celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and next month the Olympics start. But the best of British could be hidden away in the Boulevard of Emirates Towers in Alfie’s, the latest offering from the Alfred Dunhill brand.
Right next to the eponymous shop, this quintessential British restaurant is more reminiscent of a gentleman’s club with its luxuriously soft grey sofas, cigar lounge and exclusive atmosphere. Ladies are definitely welcome and are bound to appreciate the menu by award-winning chef Christopher Driver.
The dishes, which include fish and chips, could be from a gastropub in the heart of London, but the surroundings are more James Bond country club than any local I’ve ever been to. So I was looking forward to tasting the hearty creamed cauliflower soup with cheese straws to see if this was ‘pub grub’ or fine dining – and with one spoonful I understood why Driver has more than a handful of culinary awards to his name.
Cauliflower can be boring, but he managed to make the soup a smorgasbord of tastes. The cheese straws literally melted as soon as I bit into them, and complemented the soup perfectly. Next was a classic dish – pear and walnut salad with Ticklemore goat’s cheese while my husband had dressed cornish crab. I half expected it to be wearing a top hat and tails, our surroundings were so sophisticated, but it was so delicious I forgave the lack of sartorial elegance.
My salad was a delight of different textures, and refreshingly light, so I could enjoy my main of potato dumplings with wild mushrooms and a side of tossed spinach. It’s the sort of food you’d expect a British nanny to serve to children – all hearty, and filling – but in Driver’s capable hands it’s a dish to write home (or reviews) about. My husband attacked his rabbit pie – served with mustard mash and glazed carrots – with equal gusto and didn’t stop telling me how delicious it was until his plate was clean.
We could have stopped there, but the trifle – what else? – and chocolate tort with spiced cherries were too tempting. We polished off the lot and before we’d even left the restaurant were planning our return.
For reservations call 04 3198785.
Best for romance
Capanna Nuova, Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa
Ask any Italian the ingredients for the perfect night out and they’d say an authentic, bursting-with-taste menu, romantic atmosphere and a restaurant with a view. Capanna Nuova has all of these in abundance – and what a view.
Dining alfresco, with the Burj Khalifa twinkling centre stage, our table was overlooking the Arabian Gulf, so we had the soothing sound of the rolling waves hitting the rocks below. But even if we’d been ushered inside the rustic-style restaurant I would have been delighted. It’s traditional, with white, crisp tablecloths, the enticing aroma of pizza, seafood and pasta wafting in from the kitchen, and a menu that made my Italian husband’s mouth water.
After diving into a basket of homemade bread, which we dipped into olive oil, we ordered tricolore and Caesar salad, which looked as delicious as they tasted. I eat caprese (tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad) every time I go to an Italian restaurant, but the clever ‘hat’ of avocado sitting elegantly on top of the tomato and mozzarella stack was an elegant and unexpected, touch. And my husband’s Caesar salad was as good as his mamma makes in Rome, with anchovies, crunchy croutons, and shavings of parmesan.
I didn’t need to order something sophisticated and unpronounceable to convince myself I’d had the best. The simplest food, cooked brilliantly, is what Italian cuisine is all about, so I opted for tagliatelle pomodoro for my main, while my husband had linguine astice.
We were both impressed – the pasta was al dente, the sauces spot on, and I would have cleaned my plate with the delicious tomato focaccia if there hadn’t been other people around.
I needed a rest, but Alexio had room for another course – the mixed seafood platter, complete with jumbo prawns and lobster and a salsa that was so good, we asked the chef to give us the recipe. In Italian, he told us how he infuses herbs with oven-baked lobster and prawn shells and simmers them with tomato for a day before sieving and reducing. It was a complicated labour of love, which enhanced, rather than overwhelmed, the seafood and made it, in the words of a fussy Roman, “lipsmackingly good”.
Dessert was pure Italian – panna cotta and tiramisu, which were just as good as anything we’d ever eaten in Italy. The food, the atmosphere and the view are amazing. Book this for a memorable and magical evening with your other half. It will be perfecto!
For reservations call 04 3461111.
Best for meat-lovers
Fire & Ice, Raffles
With a name like Fire & Ice, it’s fair to expect a cosy, yet sophisticated restaurant with plenty of drama – and this didn’t disappoint. Nestled on the third floor of über-chic Raffles, the dark wood, large windows and exposed brick are reminiscent of a London or New York eaterie.
A quick scan of the menu and I realised I was in meat-lover’s paradise. This was fantastic news for my husband, who couldn’t wait to try the steaks. But first there was a starter to order. I went for the chilled tomato soup while he asked for the Fire & Ice prawns. It’s the litmus test of any restaurant – if it comes in a cocktail glass on a bed of lettuce and drizzled with pink dressing, the chef is either stuck in the Seventies or lacking in imagination. Luckily, ours was neither. My soup arrived with special effects – dry ice-style vapour – which was very exciting, but even better was the rich, intense flavour. The prawns were big, succulent and served with harissa dressing and mint stilton crumble, which packed a powerful punch.
Served by attentive but not intrusive staff, we were allowed to order off the menu – always a test of the kitchen.
I went against the grain and asked for a vegetarian dish, while my husband ordered grilled lobster. I was surprised with a cheese gnocchi, which was so delicate it melted in my mouth, while the lobster was cooked to perfection and didn’t need any accompaniment apart from a squeeze of lemon and a dash of tarragon.
We soon demolished both dishes, and while I retired, full, my steak-obsessed husband couldn’t wait to sample three of the steaks. He simply couldn’t decide between the Australian-Certified Angus, Rangers Valley Black Angus or Stockyard USA Angus Prime.
So he had an off-menu chef special – a sirloin from each, along with rosemary and truffle rub and wild mushroom sauce served with steak fries. But this was no ordinary steak and chips. My husband oohed, and aaaahed and mmm’d his way through his main, a smile on his face the entire time. “The best I’ve ever had”, he kept saying, while I couldn’t wait for him to finish so I could have rhubarb and blackberry crumble with custard.
Like everything else we’d tried, it was totally delicious. My husband can’t stop talking about how great his main was – and is already begging to go back for the Irish specialities menu in July, which boasts oysters from the island’s west coast, steak pie and dry-aged grass-fed beef. A meat-lover’s haven!
For reservations call 04 3248888.