Dubai,  Published Work

Hidden Gems of Dubai | My Pick of Restaurants

There are little gems all around us that can hold glimmers of inspiration. ∼ Richelle Mead

Dubai Creekside

Hidden Gems. The term is sometimes too clichéd and overrated, specially in an ever evolving city like Dubai. Here, big shopping malls are easier to spot than hidden gems and the few gems that have remain hidden are exposed all too sudden. The example of the latter is perhaps the popular seafood joint Bu Qtair – it’s the most *unhidden* venues of Dubai! However, not everything is lost as yet and there are still many such quaint places in Dubai that provides comfort to one’s soul. I write about such places in my *Hidden Gems* column in the Gulf News’ Property Weekly. Not all of these write ups have been about cafes and restaurants and there have been some quirky finds as well, like the Architecture Museum, the furniture shop called Warehouse, Calligraphy House in Bastakiya and more. Here’s a roundup of my favourite Hidden Gems amongst restaurants that have been utterly delicious. To avoid replicating the content of my column, I have jotted down only the highlights below – what you should order, when to visit and other pointers that may be of interest to Dubai diners as well as tourists.

Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant by the Creek

Hidden Gems in GN Property Weekly - Barjeel Heritage Guest House


The location: This is a perfect venue when you have visiting guests. Located on the waterfront overlooking the creek, in the heart of Al Shindaga, adjacent to Al Ghubaiba Metro Station, it is easy to find Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant. If you are reluctant to drive into the Meena Bazaar traffic, there is a paid parking building just two minutes away. The restaurant is housed in a traditional wind towered house that once reflected Dubai’s architectural landscape in the 1960’s and is a reflection of Emirati hospitality at its very best. The restaurant is a part of the Barjeel Guest House and is open to outside diners as well.

Our favourite spot: The terrace on the first floor for the vantage view of the Dubai creek.

The food: Do try the authentic Emirati breakfast dishes like Pancakes and Khameer (cardamom and fennel flavored yeast bread) with dates honey and homemade cheese; the Shorba Harees or the wheat soup, Shorbat Adas or the traditional lentil soup, Salona or gravy based dishes like Thareed – lamb or chicken stew poured over thin and crispy Regag bread, Machboos or spiced rice with chicken or Lamb and the Robyan Mashwi or grilled tiger prawns. Our top picks are fried potatoes (order regular french fries and you will be served a garlic-sprinkled potato fritters!), grilled Halloumi, fresh Mezze and the traditional dessert of Leqaimats and Umm Ali. For a camel meat experience, you could also order a Camel Shawarma or the Camel Fajita that is served with Mexican Tortilla bread, sour cream, tomato salsa and spicy jalapenos.

Soak in the warmth of the Gulf sunshine, the wind across the Dubai creek and a fleet of seagulls!

Open from 7:00 am unto 10:30 am and from 12:00 pm unto midnight. Located adjacent to Heritage village, by the Al Ghubaiba Metro Station. Do check before you visit as the venue is often closed for private functions. More info here.

Sim Sim Restaurant in The Walk, JBR

Updated: SimSim has closed down 20150408_082546

Musakhan Dajaj

The Location: This is one of my favourite restaurants in The Walk as it gives me the warmth of home. Although the area is disrupted with a lot of construction right now and the restaurants in The Beach Dubai have overshadowed their counterparts in The Walk, I would return only for Sim Sim. The decor reflects a Palestinian home, including the rough cemented floor.

Our favourite spot: The mezzanine level seating with cozy sofas and soft cushions – it looks so lived-in. This is a perfect venue for a casual get together with friends and family.

The food: Sim Sim is a Levantine restaurant with special emphasis on Palestinian food. The more popular dishes are the Jordanian Mansaf (cooked only over the weekends during lunchtime), Shakshukat Bandora, Fattet Batinjan bil Lahmeh, Musakhan Dajaj, Fattoush Gazawi and the traditional sweets – both hot and cold. Our top picks are the Musakhan Dajaj (above picture) – the Palestinian speciality of chicken baked with onions, sumac, almonds, pine nuts, and served on fresh taboon bread. Tender pieces of chicken lace the soft taboon bread, enamored by the pink colour of sumac – the reddish-purple spice used in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads and meat. The next on the rank is Jordanian Mansaf and Lamb Kofta. Our pick from the traditional desserts are Tamriyeh, the filo parcels enclosing layers of orange blossom flavoured semolina topped with confectioners’ sugar, Kunafeh Nabulsi, the cheese pastry soaked in orange blossom syrup, topped with pistachio and Osmalieh bil Ice Cream where layers of roasted vermicelli is served with ice cream.

An excerpt from my PW write up: A chat with Rula Hamed, the owner of Sim Sim, will transport you to the region where her grand parents come from. The floor, she explains, have been replicated in the same manner as in her grand parents' house - rough, cemented and a bit uneven. Even the cemented railing on the upper level has been brought all the way from Palestine. She adds, “The feeling of ‘eating at home’ evokes wide sentiment among expatriates of Levantine descent, when they crave the cooking and the culture of their native lands. Simultaneously, it is our aim to act as an ambassador for Dubai’s many residents and visitors who are yet to discover the simple but sumptuous tastes of Levantine food. We have carefully chosen classic recipes from the Levant countries - Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Egypt - and our interiors showcase a range of hand crafted objects that were built to order in the region. As a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, it is the tastes and treats of my home that are most beloved to me. My restaurant embodies the family meals and the family values I have grown up with, and I am sharing them at SimSim. We serve recipes borrowed from grandmothers in Gaza and Ramallah, and natural ingredients sourced from Nablus, Toulkarem and surrounding villages – it is as authentic as it gets."

Put your feet up and sip into a glass of chilled drink – Karkadeh or the Hibiscus infused tea… to start with!

Open from 8.30 am until 12.00 midnight on weekdays, and until 1.30 am on weekends and public holidays. Home deliveries and catering services available in Jumeirah Beach Residence and Dubai Marina. Located on the Ground Floor, Sadaf 4, adjoining the Movenpick Jumeirah Beach Hotel. More info here.

Marta’s Workshop in JLT

Updated: Marta’s Kitchen has closed down Marta's Workshop

The Location: A tiny verandah overlooking the high rises in a residential area, this could very well be your home rather than a regular restaurant. Marta’s Workshop, a café-cum-restaurant-cum-atelier cum-tapas bar is one of the places where I can vouch for the most delicious food in Dubai. Sigh it’s only open during lunch hours.

The Food: Prices start from Dhs 40 and goes up to a maximum of Dhs 110 – that includes a Starter, main course and a dessert. The menu changes daily so it’s very difficult to pinpoint a few sample dishes from the menu. Rest assured you will not leave the restaurant with an empty tummy and a hungry soul!

An excerpt from my PW write up: Chances are that you will be served by the charming Yanci and her team of five chefs. The food is presented in a unique way: there are no waiters, the water is on the house and you have to make your own coffee — no frills and no hidden costs. But rest assured that you will be tasting some great food at a decent price (a main course starts at Dh40).

The menu is creative and uses fresh ingredients. Picks include locally sourced burrata with marinated cherry tomatoes and peas, sea bream on a bed of creamy carrots and peas and a fruit tartare with mango sorbet and strawberry sap. For the mains, Yanci suggests carrot and hoisin dumplings or the beef fillet. The dish is prepared with smoked potato mousseline and caramelized onions or sweet potato. For desserts, she offers a choice of her favourites — chocolate and coffee your way or the choco crinkles, coffee cream and home-made espresso ice cream.

Born in San Sebastián in Spain, Yanci gives a Spanish touch to her dishes. Her cooking philosophy? ''To maximise taste and texture. We blend different cuisines in our workshop and catering,'' she says. ''I basically pick whatever I like from a cuisine and incorporate it — be it local, Vietnamese or French. Also, blending our cuisines with Emirati fare makes perfect sense.'' Her culinary journey began in 2011 when she won Dubai One's Amateur Chef Competition and today she is part of Dubai's culinary landscape. When asked about the challenges she faces as a female chef, she laughs and says, ''None really. In fact, people are quite nice.''

While there is a set menu, it changes daily depending on the availability of fresh seasonal produce. You can find the day's menu on the restaurant's Facebook page as well. Have a look to see if it suits your dietary preferences and head out to the Martha's Workshop after calling to reserve a seat.

You want to eat gourmet food within a budget, check with their facebook page whether they are serving any lunch – soul satisfying food and the warmth of home – that’s what you will get at Marta’s Workshop! More info here.

Tapri Cafe in Dubai Silicon Oasis

Updated: Tapri has closed down


The Location: A roadside Indian cafe in the most unlikely of an urban location – the ground floor of a high rise in the Dubai Silicon Oasis? A tiny space perfect for a very casual hangout, this is a cafe that strikes a chord in the neighborhood not only amongst the Indian residents but also the Emirates Airlines staff living in the vicinity.

The Food:  From Cutting Chais, Bun Maskas, flavored Sodas and Bhajiyas – the freshly made crispy fritters and cream rolls, custards, ‘Shrewsbury’ biscuits, and Nankhattais and other fresh bakery items. For those having a connection to Mumbai, Tapri would bring back a lot of memories – specially with the bakery items that are reminiscent of the decadent Iranian cafes the city.

An excerpt from my PW write up: One word that runs throughout the restaurant is Passion. As Aneesa Mulla, the owner of Tapri says, ‘Having a restaurant was more of a passion. There are many good Indian restaurants but not a single Indian café – a version of say, a Starbucks, where people – from office going crowd to younger generation hang out.’

Considering that the menu was a reflection of Mumbai street food, was the Butter Chicken (the popular North Indian dish) more of a fashionable inclusion as it is one of the most popular Indian dishes in the West? Aneesa, a certified dietician and one of the brains behind Tapri explained, ‘Yes, it’s true. But I also felt that not many places made a good and authentic Butter Chicken. They all taste sweet but that buttery element is missing in most Butter Chickens. The Butter Biryani, for example, is again my own creation. My children love it and I thought of putting that in the menu. Everything that you get in Tapri is freshly cooked – no frozens and precooked ingredients. The food is what I wouldn’t think twice giving to my own children.’

For when it’s time for the evening tea and the *desi* hunger pang strikes, Tapri is the place to get your onion bhaaji and the bun maaska from!

Located in Apricot Towers, Dubai Silicon Oasis. More info here.

Creekside Cafe in Dubai Creek

French Toast in Creekside Cafe

{An elaborate review of Creekside Cafe from an earlier blogpost}

The Location: With the best view that Dubai creek can offer, this is a real haven despite the trek it might entail to reach the cafe. Housed in a heritage building with barjeels or wind towers that lines up this neighborhood by Dubai’s historic creek side, this is a contemporary cultural space and cafe and has been visualised by the same Emirati twin brothers Ahmed and Rashid bin Shabib, the creators of The Archives in Safa Park. The walls of the indoor area are adorned with black and white photographs taken by Wilfred Thesiger, the famous British explorer and reflects the Dubai creek in the 1940’s and 1950.

Our favourite spot: The al fresco seating on the deck cum jetty along the creek and preferably during the morning time.

The Food: With a beautiful presentation and a creatively fused menu with Emirati flavours, this is more for the senses – both visual and gustatory. The menu had been created initially by Chef Allan Briones of the Archives fame who has now left for the Brooklyn Bros, a restaurant food truck serving gourmet hot dogs. Traditional Emirati dishes are deconstructed to modern flavours.

An excerpt from my PW write up: The presentation breathes life into each dish and like a painted canvas with minute detailing - drops of coloured purées, sprigs of fresh herbs and strokes with pastes and dips - each element adds to the beauty of the canvas. Chef Allan deconstructs traditional Emirati dishes and tweaks them to give them modern flavours. Hence the Ramadan special dish - Ghouzi which consists of rice with a whole lamb on top of it, transforms itself into a Burrito. Or the traditional crispy fried dough balls in syrup - the famous Emirati desserts called Leqaimats, paves its way into forming Red Velvet mini doughnuts. You can opt for the all-day breakfast menu or the mains created with locally sourced seafood and fresh produce. Or, if you could, like me, order the main course of Omani Crab cakes with pickled daikon and baby roquette for breakfast! For this is a place where you will have no choice but to let your hair down, legs curled up in the chairs and hands free of your smartphone. The wind will blow away your frowns and the helpful staff will serve you what you want. A note of caution here - it tends to get very busy, so why not hit the place early in the morning when it opens its doors? While food is just one of the many lures of Creekside, the main lure of this place is definitely the creek side, the feeling of being transported into the old world charm of what Dubai must have been years back - with the creek tearing into the heart of the small pearl diving and fishing village, much before the skyscrapers and the flyovers had engulfed this city.

If you want to show off Dubai’s most beautiful and authentic face – the Dubai creek, and gorge into some equally gorgeous food, gaze at the Abras and seagulls with a backdrop of changing waterscape, head to Creekside Cafe!

More info here.

The Majlis in the Jumeirah Mosque Premise

Majlis - PW

Cold Coffee with Camel Milk

{An elaborate review of The Majlis from an earlier blogpost}

The Location: In the calm surroundings of the Jumeriah Mosque, literally hidden and a breather from the snarling traffic, the incessant construction, the snowballing statistics (the world’s longest, biggest, tallest etc) and the infinite attempts to put the city of Dubai on the world map!

The Food: You can choose from sandwiches, sweets, cupcakes, flavoured shakes, camel-chino, camel-latte, ice cream by Al Nassma, camel milk praline, white camel milk cheese and creams. The age-old Middle Eastern tradition of using camel milk and other popular local savoury dishes are given a tweak to infuse modernity.

An excerpt from my PW write up: The interior is plush, elegant and perfect for unwinding after a short tour of Jumeirah Mosque (conducted by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding). The café also has an outlet at the Dubai Mall and one located in the desert. The Majlis Dubai claims to be the first and finest camel milk café in Dubai, although the city now boasts several cafés that serve camel milk. Guests can enjoy an all-day à la carte menu of finger food. All milk-based products at the eatery are made from camel milk. "Camel milk turns salty when heated,” says the café’s chef, Aziz. “Hence, it requires a bit of knowledge about the properties and characteristics of camel milk to use it appropriately in different dishes.” As such, there might not be much of a difference in taste between a camel milk shake and one made using cow’s milk, but a hot camel-chino should taste a bit saltier. Nonetheless, the fat content of camel milk is 50 per cent less than cow’s milk and it has much higher mineral, calcium and natural vitamin C content. Camel milk is also much easier to digest and it is not known to cause allergies.

The café also serves the more familiar Turkish coffee and traditional Arabic green coffee, which is served from a traditional dalla or Arabic coffee pot. If you want something cooler, there are carbonated juices made from dry flowers such as the karkadeh. You can also immerse in the local culture by sipping teas with local flavours such as za’atar.

When you want to forget that you are in the world’s most hot and happening city and just want to go into a time wrap, enter The Majlis and snuggle into the luxurious comfort of their white sofas, order a chilled camel latte and browse through a real book – not a kindle!

More info here.

Do you know of any such Hidden Gem? It could be a park, a library, a market {I have written about the Farmers’ Market on The Terrace earlier} – anything that is not run of the mill and that has a story to capture. Also, do hop in here to read about all the Hidden Gems that I have written about – even the non-delicious ones like the above! Next will be my pick of the cafes that make it to my list of Hidden Gems. Stay tuned and hidden!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: If you enjoy reading my blog and it inspires you in any way, do vote for me – the blog has been nominated as the Best Asian Blog in #MasalaAwards2015 under the Popular choice list.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. All bills have been paid my myself at all the venues excepting The Majlis Cafe, where I had been a guest. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all my bills have been self paid. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitterand Pinterest.



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