It’s not by mere accident that some restaurants and bars do better than others — they are designed to do so. How a place makes us feel — through effective design intent — subconsciously informs our overall review of the venue. This is our edit of the hottest design-led restaurants in Dubai right now. 

Mint Leaf

A modern take on Indian luxe, you will not find a single loud colour or unnecessarily over-designed elements in the sprawling DIFC outpost of the celebrated British restaurant. Instead, the interiors excel in restraint. Shimmering in the golden glow of recessed lights, a dark wood palette reigns — with wooden panelling carved in delicate henna patterns synonymous with India.

Columns come clad with delicately perforated materials that dance under the backlight, subtly complimenting the larger-than-life wooden flowers that adorn the high ceilings. Norman Cherner bar stools and dining chairs inspired by the Danish designer Ejvind A Johansson ensure the mod vibe — set by the stunning swings and industrial style floor lamps — is not diluted. 

XVA Café

Set in the heart of Bastakiya and part of the XVA Gallery, Mona Hauser’s labour of love has withstood fickle trends to emerge as the closest you can get to an authentic dining experience in Dubai. Mona and her team of A-list Middle Eastern designers have remained faithful to the original building, the former home of the Seddiqi family.

At the heart of the sand-hued upscale home is the café, flanked by a wood trellised corridor and earthy furniture. An organic café by day, the courtyard is known to host magical sit-down dinners and intimate soirees as it can adapt to any design scheme. Easily the best place in the emirate to host an exclusive event without the chintz — but with a whole lot of character. 

GQ Bar

Set across two floors, the sleek, masculine counterpart to VOGUE Cafe is splendid in its dark, moody vibe. Bash Hesnef designed the space as a modern cigar lounge, complete with a liner fireplace. Sit back into antiquated Chesterfields and marvel at the 3D wall panelling in the double-height area as a bespoke installation of mannequins suspended mid-air grabs your attention.

The ground floor bar, lit by classical glass drum lamps, is smartly updated with a black projection wall streaming monochrome classics, delivering an almost halo-like effect. A darkly lit granite staircase leads to the second floor; the terrace comes equipped with an electrical pergola system for a smart, climate-responsive open-air setting. 


Conceived by award-winning Tokyo-based interior design studio Glitt (Noriyoshi Muramatsu), Qbara is a skilful juxtaposition of vernacular Middle Eastern cultural elements and ultra-contemporary design philosophy. The two-storey restaurant is unified by a double aspect, double-height bar-back: a bespoke installation of carved timber panels that serves as a projection surface for 3D art displays and animations created specifically for the venue.

Right from the entrance, the warm, defiant spirit of fire sets the tone as a modern, glass encased fireplace welcomes you; the bar comes with its own set of fire-spewing displays and fiery back-lit crystal-encrusted walls create a sultry, glamorous feel when set against rich floors. Walls clad in panels of traditional tapestry provide the comfort familiarity brings. 

TOKO Dubai

Australia’s coolest culinary export is an exercise in a contemporary interpretation of Japan. Playing with a minimalist, neutral palette featuring beautiful natural timbers and streamlined joinery, Australian architect Matthew Darwon delivers an intimate environment, staying true to the sense of the traditional aesthetics from Japan.

The VIDA outpost boasts a dining room, an expansive and eloquent terrace with an array of Japanese umbrellas hanging on a framework, a private dining area and a glass-boxed cellar. The lounge and bar area triumphs with its lofty ceilings that curve and ebb. Fitted in intricate wooden rib work, the bar salutes Japanese precision and crystallises the ethos of TOKO brilliantly. Stone-clad walls provide the perfect canvas for contemporary art installations. 

Iris Dubai

Designer Suzanne Nasr was entrusted to create tropical yet modern getaway in the heart of the city — and she delivered. Perched on the 27th floor of The Oberoi, Dubai, Iris has a plush feel thanks to predominantly lightwood furniture. High-gloss metallic lattices, minimalist black steel lights and a backlit plexi-floored terrace area bring a sense of relaxed luxury without being too obtrusive.

The new indoor space follows the design code of the terrace – the bar at the heart of the space accented with funky false ceiling panels – designed along a system of triangles, a geometry that resonates throughout the space. Between high community-style tables, cozy booths and bar seating, you are sure to find a place perfect to celebrate in style. 

Em Sherif

Downtown’s latest hotspot that makes you feel you are sat in the living room of a stunning Moorish villa. Maybe it’s the handmade floor tiles, or the accent wall with an array of antique plates or that magical hue of blue that is so casually applied to the walls, whatever the formula for effortless glam, Mireille Hayek — the owner and founder of this Lebanon-based brand — has nailed it. Her hands-on approach to designing her spaces lends the lavish place an intimate, lived-in feel.

Loaded with exquisite details that would do an old Lebanese mansion proud, Hayek’s personal touches evoking a sense of familiarity in a luxuriously decked space, lending a balance that goes askew in many a luxury establishments. 

Eat Greek

The trouble with regional cuisine led restaurants is their interiors often fall victim to the stereotypical images of the country. Luckily for Eat Greek, designers, Harrisons of London sidestep the pitfall with not one blue door in sight. They’ve explored the taverna decor of the region, bringing a contemporary view of Greece to The Beach on JBR.

Anchoring the design scheme on a rich, earthy palette of browns and beige and taking an industrial route to rustic chic, the birdcage chandeliers are stunning, and the olive trees are still very much Greek, but used intelligently, are elevated from being mere stereotypical references to key design elements. The result is a warm, friendly place that is of the times and still speaks of its region. 


Dubai-based LW Design have excelled, creating a sleek and relaxed atmosphere that has not only lifted the brand value of H Hotel, but also wowed critics, winning many prestigious design awards. A contemporary take on traditional Belgian elements with sharp industrial accents, the result is a glamorously Gothic space that feels like home.

The impact of Blackwood cladding and rich damask wallpaper — brought to life by the Edison Light Bulbs chandelier above the zinc-tiled bar — is further heightened by strategic use of mirror panels, effectively making the space seem bigger than it really is. The winning element is the window wall marked with elegant metal frames and a band of frosted panes that instantly lend a very urban European feel. 

Cle Dubai

No other venue has name-dropping value quite like Greg Malouf’s. The rather stellar collection of design icons you can find at Cle Dubai is simply staggering. From the stunning constellation of Moooi light globes that sparkles in the private dining area to the Philippe Starck Gun Lamps that dot the mirror-clad lounge, Cle is quite the museum of modern design classics. Laid out like an unfolding evening, the bar, dining room and lounge come to light as rotating wall panels allow for a seamless spatial experience.

Morphing between various material and textural finishes, a captivating play of arabesque geometries lends a subtle regional charm and visual identity. Set to the sultry tones of smoked wood, bevelled mirrors and golden light orbs, the A-list hangout delivers a well-layered designer punch courtesy of an eclectic mix of furniture — including much revered pieces by Tom Dixon.


Pratyush Sarup edits the design site You can follow the site on twitter @DesignCarrot