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Michelin without the madness: 8 uncrowded fine-dining restaurants in Dubai

Sarah Hedley Hymers
Dubai's restaurants offer a great way to get a taste of Michelin-style dining - without the waiting list - Umar Shariff Photography

If a restaurant has both Michelin stars and a place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, don’t bother.

It’s the culinary equivalent of being able to sing and act – and then winning an Oscar – so getting a meet-and-greet with Lady Gaga would be easier.

Fortunately, there is less of a spotlight on Dubai. The Michelin Guide doesn’t publish a UAE edition and the Emirates have been overlooked by judges of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

All of which is brilliant news for foodies tired of playing a reservations lottery. In Dubai, Michelin-standard dishes are available without waiting lists.

1. Stay by Yannick Alléno

Stay by Yannick Alléno enjoys the relative seclusion of One&Only The Palm. Its dramatic dining room is defined by tall ceilings, black chandeliers and high-backed armchairs fit for cat-stroking Bond villains. The plot thickens when it comes to the menu. Hidden in plain sight among the à la carte temptations are replicas from Alléno’s three-Michelin-star Pavillon Ledoyen in Paris.

Dubai's famous The Palm hotel has plenty of Michelin flavour Credit: Getty

One such welcome export is the langoustine tartlet topped with caviar, served with French butter sauce. Crusty dairy-laced pastry encases smoothly blended sweet lobster meat covered in a blanket of caviar and gold leaf, gently warmed by the beurre emulsion pooling at its side.

It was the maître d’ who tipped me off. I didn’t believe him at first, but then I flew to Paris and tasted the original tart for myself. A doppelgänger in flavour, the Dubai dish actually holds a considerable advantage. It can be ordered in individual portion sizes for the equivalent of £56, while the Parisian original is only available for two at double the cost.

One&Only The Palm is as tasty as it is secluded Credit: Rupert Pearce

2. The Palm by Akira Back

A few doors along Palm Jumeirah’s crescent, acclaimed Korean-American chef Akira Back has opened his eponymous Middle Eastern outlet atop W Dubai – The Palm. The first thing fans will happily notice is that Back’s signature tuna pizza is on the menu for £25.

First seen at his Michelin-star-winning Dosa in Seoul, this tasty Asian-themed tondo is a perfect circle of wafer-thin dough painted with umami aioli and white truffle oil, neatly layered with lustrous ruby-hued slithers of tuna. Served cold, a garland of micro shiso (an edible plant) completes the masterpiece.

3. Social by Heinz Beck

Venture further around Palm Jumeirah’s crown and you will reach Social by Heinz Beck at the Waldorf Astoria. Heinz once gave me a tour of his science lab-cum-kitchen at Pergola, his three-Michelin-star restaurant in Rome. A Willy Wonka of molecular gastronomy, he demonstrated how to make vegetables vanish into clouds of foam and reduce berries to dust to intensify their taste.

When I met him again at his Dubai restaurant, I was not surprised to discover he has recreated his Italian kitchen, with all its magical machines, and that his desert desserts, sprinkled with pigment-rich, freeze-dried fruit reductions, are as vivid in flavour and colour as they are at his flagship. His signature Raspberries 1.1 is compelling no matter where you sample it.

Delicious sipping at Akira Back's Dubai restaurant Credit: Atif Balouche

4. Tasca, José Avillez

Back on Dubai’s mainland, Portuguese chef extraordinaire José Avillez has brought a slice of Michelin-lauded Lisbon to Mandarin Oriental Jumeira. At Tasca – his laid-back rooftop restaurant with picturesque pool terrace – diners can experience creations from José’s two-Michelin-star Belcanto and Michelin Plate-rated Mini Bar.

It was love at first bite when I sampled José’s seasoned Wagyu tartare in a miniature nori (seaweed) cone. At Belcanto, this amuse-bouche was capped with a purple petal and brought to my table tucked into a small bouquet of flowers.

The presentation is less elaborate in Dubai, but the flavours are in no way diminished by a humble holder. Other Michelin-blessed morsels to marvel at include Jose’s tempura of heat-puréed avocado locked in a crisp batter jacket, and the green apple margarita – an “edible cocktail” of vacuum-sealed apple wedges infused with spiced salts used to dress margarita glass rims.

5. Lima Dubai by Virgilio Martinez

Virgilio Martinez, the man behind Central (a World’s 50 Best Restaurants regular) and Lima London (one Michelin star), opened Lima Dubai in new hipster zone City Walk in 2017. Peruvian dishes such as catch of the day ceviche and tiraditos in tiger’s milk bring pops of colour to the teak tables. Hamachi with yellow chilli, yuzu gel, Jerusalem artichoke purée and rocoto pepper crisps is a must.

6. Pierre’s Bistro & Bar by Pierre Gagnaire

Michelin has showered Pierre Gagnaire’s establishments with stars (his flagship in Paris’s Hotel Balzac has three) and his restaurant at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City raises the bar for the emirate. French classics including frogs’ legs grace the menu.

7. miX Dubai by Alain Ducasse

With more than one three-Michelin-star restaurant, Alain Ducasse made a grand entrance on to the Dubai dining scene. His Palm Jumeirah restaurant looks like a fashionable space station. Metallic booths and hanging glass sculptures centre around a futuristic three-storey Fabergé-inspired egg containing a private dining room. The menu is eclectic, from Peruvian ceviche to Arabian hamour (a type of fish) with asparagus and turmeric. The setting beneath the Palladian domes of Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai is nothing short of spectacular. 

Dine on Alain Ducasse fare at The Palm Jumeirah Credit: miX Dubai

8. Torno Subito by Massimo Bottura

Foolishly, last year, I booked non-refundable flights and accommodation for a tour of Italy’s three-Michelin-star restaurants before securing tables. This turned out to be a recipe for disaster. The ultimate goal was to visit Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, number one on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at the time.

Reservations open online three months in advance of available dates at precisely 10am local time. With only 12 tables, I didn’t stand a chance; more nimble-fingered epicureans snapped up all the seats in seconds. Months passed, punctuated by ill-fated attempts to beat the booking system.

When at last I got my teeth into the Osteria Francescana dish I’d been salivating over – Massimo’s “Crunchy Part of the Lasagne” inspired by his childhood love of the burnt ends of the pasta – I was struck by a revelation. I actually prefer his “Tagliatelle al Ragù, Memories of Massimo”, another nostalgic preparation paying homage to his grandmother’s cooking.

This, however, is a third of the price and on the menu at his new place, Torno Subito in W Dubai, a 20-minute cab ride from my apartment.

My takeaway is this: good things don’t always come to those who wait. If reservation waiting lists are making you and your stomach growl, step away from the computer and get a taste of Alléno, Avillez, Beck, Back and Bottura simply by coming to Dubai.

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