Each of our taste buds consists of up to 100 gustatory receptor cells that send the chemical information about the food we eat to the gustatory cortex in the brain. While we are chewing on the chow, the tangible scenes that unfold before us help create memories associated with food. Here’s a shortlist of ‘food- experiences’ you can squeeze in between your shopping, business meetings or sight-seeing in Dubai to create long-lasting food memories.
HAMMOUR AT WAFI GOURMET, DUBAI MALL
Hamour, a grouper fish, is considered the “national fish” of Dubai. The orange-spotted hamour is popular in the land of Lamborghinis. One can have hamour anywhere in Dubai, but it is the grilled-to-perfection hamour at the Wafi Gourmet restaurant inside the Dubai Mall that makes the fish memorable. On a table, deliciously cluttered with tabule, fatoush, mutapal and lamb kibbe, the hamour lounging in a lemony sauce occupies the prime spot. However, what hoists this hamour-experience is the spectacular show that unfolds a few feet away. While dining alfresco at the Wafi, you can watch the renowned Dubai Fountains – the piece de resistance of the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake in Downtown Dubai. This is the world’s largest choreographed fountain. Every 30 minutes it is illuminated by 6,600 lights and 50 coloured projectors. It swings and sways to music from around the globe while shooting water up to a height of 500 ft. Imagine two football fields, one on top of the other. In the land of superlatives, even dining is gilt-edged.
OUZI AT AYAMNA
Just like how every Indian state as their version of the dal, every Arab nation has its own Ouzi, a traditional dish of the Arabs. To taste the delicious Lebanese Ouzi in Dubai, one should head to The Palm, a human-made island. At the tip of the island stands the Atlantis, a colourful fairyland that is home to 65,000 marine animals and numerous top-notch restaurants including the Ayamna Lebanese restaurant. Black and white décor, Arabian arches, blue Iznik tiles and mashrabiyya patterns create a perfect setting for an exotic Lebanese feast. Dining in an open courtyard under the crisp night sky sets the tone for the Lebanese spread of mezze platter fattoush (Lebanese salad), fish tajine and kibbeh mabroumeh. But it is the Ouzi that outshines. The Lebanese Ouzi is a large ball of baked stuffed pastry filled with rice, minced lamb, chicken, pistachios, pine nuts and Lebanese spices. When the dish is placed in front of you, the staff cut it open ceremoniously, and the sweet and spicy flavours swirl out in tune with the lilting Arabic music that fills the night air and the belly dancer gyrating into mesmerising contortions by your side. Here, the Ouzi is an elevated experience.
LUNCH AT LIDO
Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) was known as the Concorde of the seas when she made her first maiden voyage in 1969. She’s a large ship weighing 70 327 tons and measuring 963 ft in length and 105.2 feet in width. She is considered an engineering marvel and a pioneer of cruise liners. After circumnavigating the world more than 25 times, QE2 was retired. Today, she is permanently docked at the Mina Rashid port in Dubai where she’s turned into a living history — an excellent lifestyle destination with culinary discoveries, historical exhibits and heritage tours. There are nine restaurants inside the QE2. After a guided tour of the ship (where you learn that the ship’s anchors weigh the size of two elephants or that David Bowie wrote few of his songs while at the QE2) you can enjoy a sumptuous lunch at the Lido Room with the view of the Arabian Gulf on one side and the imposing Dubai skyline on the other. There’s something to suit every taste bud here — Indian, Emarati, European and a host of different cuisines. As you lick the last of the mohalbia (apricot and date pudding) from your spoon, you know that dates and apricots will always remind you of a ship where once 70,000 bottles of champagne were consumed every year, and the amount of juice consumed onboard per year could fill the ship’s swimming pool nearly eight times over.
FINGER FOODS AT BURJ KHALIFA
Baklava at 1500 feet, it creates a different kind of food memory. Eating finger foods and sipping mocktails while watching the sunset in the far horizon from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is the closest you can get to the feeling of eating while sky diving without actually jumping off a plane. At 1820 feet, Burj Khalifa SKY is fittingly Dubai’s most iconic destination. From this world’s tallest observatory, you can see how the desert land has been transformed into an area of skyscrapers. There are specially designed projections that give you the feeling of flying over global landmarks. On Level 125 there’s a spacious deck to enjoy the stunning 360-degree view of the city. This level also houses Dubai – A Falcon’s Eye View that allows you to explore the city from a unique perspective. One can also opt for the High Tea experience with all its bells and whistles at The Atmosphere on the 123rd floor. It is the Guinness World Record holder for the highest restaurant in the world at 1447 ft.
LONDON SOCIAL BRUNCH AT CARAVAN
You can experience a slice of England in the desert land of Dubai at the Caravan restaurant in the Ritz Carlton JBR. This is where you get the taste of an award-winning brunch. Twelve live food stations are modelled after London’s major tube stations – from Piccadilly Circus to Bricklane to Leicester Square and so on. You embark on a culinary journey of the various districts en route the London tube. From the spices of Banglatown, Brixton, and Little Beirut, to the vibrant stalls of Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Borough Market. Of course, a tour of London would not be complete without a nod to Britain’s favourite pub classics and puddings, and Mr Whippy ice cream. And once you are satiated, you can always take an Instagram-worthy picture at the traditional red telephone booth. The London paraphernalia would not be complete without it. Alternatively, you can experience one of the best High Teas, worthy of the Queen at the Lobby Lounge. Sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries, jams and creams, biscuits and shortbreads along with an array of English tea and other infusions. You can indulge in a selection of elegant sandwiches including Foie Gras Croque monsieur along with an assortment of eclairs, cheesecake and tarts. But you would be missing something if you skip the rose jam or the cranberry scones with Devonshire clotted cream and lemon curd. It’s a refined affair.
HOT CHOCOLATE AT THE COCOA ROOM
The Cocoa Room at the Galleria Mall on Al Wasl Road is where you go to have a luxurious breakfast and watch the family dynamics of local emiratis. It’s like watching a Satyajit Ray film where all the characters are local Emiratis. Locals will tell you that this is a “godsend if you are a fan of eggs”. There are five Benedicts to choose from, and you can safely bet your last Dhiram on the Ancho & Cocoa braised short ribs benedict. It’s also difficult to be disappointed with the Turkish eggs. Then there are the pancakes and waffles, not to mention the pina colada doughnuts and the “Ninjawich” sandwiches (with maple and candied chipotle bacon) that can turn you into a happy glutton. However, there is one item on the menu which is Instagram famous. It’s the hot chocolate with salted caramel and burnt marshmallow. When it finally arrives at the table in a tall glass – it looks like a bouquet from a lover. Spot on.
BLACK TRUFFLE RISOTTO & STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING AT HELL’S KITCHEN
Gordon Ramsay’s famous Hell’s Kitchen (HK) started as a television show and then came the restaurant. The first HK is in Vegas. And the second is in Dubai. This 260-cover restaurant is situated in Blue Waters, a human-made island which is a shopper’s paradise and a foodie’s delight and at night Bluewaters transforms into something from a Chinese fantasy drama – mysterious and dazzling. HK is designed to give it’s guest a feeling of being in a television studio. It’s large and spacious with a blue and red open kitchen in the middle. There are pitchforks, symbolic of HK, everywhere from the chandeliers to the toothpicks. The menu is British. The pan-seared scallops, Tuna tartare, Burrata salad and braised short ribs are all worth making a trip to HK. However, one comes to HK to taste Gordon Ramsey’s signature dishes including the saffron, courgette and black truffle risotto and the famous sticky toffee pudding. They are so good that even a hardcore Ramsay-hater might turncoat.
LOBSTER RISOTTO AT ROCKFISH
Not long ago, Jumeirah was a village populated by Emirati fishermen and pearl divers. It was dotted with 50 areesh (palm leaf) huts. Today, it is known as the Beverly Hills of the Middle East. It has the most expensive and luxurious hotels and resorts in the world (Burj Al Arab, Madinat Jumeirah and so on) and also other attractions like the Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah Beach Park, Madinat Souk and Wild Wadi Water Park. In the midst of all this sits the Rock Fish restaurant at the Jumeirah Al Naseem where you can taste the specially chef-crafted creamy and delicious lobster risotto while enjoying the panoramic view of the Arabian Gulf. Eating a meal at this eclectic, beach-front Mediterranean restaurant would also mean watching spectacular sunsets, daredevils indulging in water sports or sky diving and an up-close view of the Burj Al Arab, built to resemble the sails of a ship. The roasted langoustine or warm rockfish salad of crunchy vegetables, fresh herbs and condiments, the Crudo platter of freshly cut raw and marinated slivers of salmon, scallops, yellowfin tuna or the salt-crusted sea bass are all worthy of writing back home. And so is the Rockfish Bicycle of freshly grilled local fish. Like a memorable postscript is the vintage gin trolley which the barman rolls down to you. He will make you a beverage to suit your mood, but before that, he will ask: “What’s your mood like today? Fruity or cheeky?” The latter wins over the former.
A different version of this article was earlier published in The Tribune.