Delish Dubai: Revisit the emirate, legendary for all things luxe and lively, to discover there’s always something more
A land of traders and immigrants who built the city with glass and chrome on a foundation of sand and oil, Dubai’s constantly changing skyline is defiant.
The omnipresent cranes swinging high in the air amidst skyscrapers have become emblematic of the city’s indefatigable need to build.
Dwarfed by tall buildings looming overhead like titans, visitors are overwhelmed by Dubai’s gold souks and gigantic malls that spell extravagance and leisure.
Lush manicured lawns, trees of date palm and endless flowerbeds lining its impeccable roads defy every cliché of a desert landscape.
Home to the world’s biggest and tallest, superlative-obsessed Dubai is a veritable Disneyland in the desert. We checked in at InterContinental Dubai Festival City, set in a happening entertainment and culinary district.
Our room overlooked Dubai Creek and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library shaped like an open book! Still getting final touches, it will be one of the biggest libraries in the world and the largest cultural centre in the Middle East and North Africa region.
The view extended far into Downtown Dubai’s hazy but distinctive skyline in the distance.
A traditional marquetry and inlay mosaic Arabic chess and backgammon board lay half-opened on a table, hiding the welcome assorted hummus platter with salad reserved for special guests. It was devoured in minutes!
Still hungry, we hopped down to the hotel’s Choix Patisserie & Restaurant, helmed by iconoclastic Michelin starred chef Pierre Gagnaire renowned for modern French cuisine.
We carved into a delicious light meal prepared by the lovely French Chef Julia Demichelis — entrées of pan-fried duck liver, corn velouté with seared grape and grilled octopus with hummus (chickpea) and radicchio salad.
We skipped the main course and went straight for the French desserts and pastries that lined the display counter. It was easy to see why Choix was a much-favoured choice of venue for high tea in Dubai.
The hotel offered direct access to the 500-odd stores at the Dubai Festival City Mall, a big plus. But we had something more stimulating lined up…
Steak, steak and steak…
We had enrolled for a Meat MasterClass with Chef Andrew Owczarek at The Meat Co., counted among the most elite steakhouses in the world.
We arrived early at Dubai’s popular Souk Madinat Jumeirah, UAE’s largest resort and a popular hangout for people of all ages.
It recreated the atmosphere of a traditional souk or marketplace, as we took in the view of the palm-fringed waterfront.
The lucky residents in the surrounding apartments had a splendid view of Burj al Arab and we watched Emiratis and tourists waft under quaint bridges along the waterways in leisurely abra rides.
With a slew of swanky hotels and 50 restaurants to choose from, visitors often stroll around and browse through the shops and galleries inside the arcade.
Soon, inside the warm and cosy interior of The Meat Co. we were primed for a dinner to remember at our exclusive table with a bunch of international diners and a chef who truly loves and knows his meat.
Over a mammoth spread of starters — prime steak tartare, risotto arancini, rib meat cigars, boerewors (African sausage), wagyu bresaola and goat cheese, we got onto the real thing — a range of hearty steaks, as Owczarek explained the basics of choosing the right cuts for the right dish.
Elaborating on the different grades and fat marbling, the MasterClass was an invigorating session.
“Some exclusive luxury meat like Japanese wagyu costs up to $20,000 to $30,000. It’s very expensive because the meat has white marbling all over with just some flecks of red!"
"Wagyu steaks have a melt-in-your-mouth quality and flavour that is hard to beat. It’s a great product and people often pre-book years in advance.”
In his words, “Half my life has been only about steak, steak and steak… so I can assess what kind of meat it is, how much to age it and what it’s going to look on the grill by just looking at it."
"That comes from experience. I prefer grass-fed meat; it’s healthier and there’s no chemicals.”
A ‘boat to table’ concept
A captive audience of meat aficionados sat around the table lapping up every word. The meat is aged in-house in a special cold room at one degree over 45 days. A dry test is before actually cutting the meat and prepared by grilling on an open flame. “Our rush hour is called tsunami because we have up to 130 steaks on the grill at the same time!"
"We have 25 different kinds of steaks on our menu, plus individual preferences on how you want your steak, so it’s quite tricky and a real challenge, but we have to make every single steak perfect. Teamwork, speed and coordination are very important in a steakhouse, as we have to work like a machine. It all starts with pulling the right meat, putting the seasoning and leave it to rest."
"The preparation goes like clockwork with every steak cooking at the right temperature and the precise amount of time. We know from the shape, thickness and colour, visually, what kind of steak is cooking. Our basting or barbeque sauce is a top secret that we cannot reveal. We just ensure that every customer leaves happy and wants to come back for more!”
Stuffed to our ears, we realised we couldn’t move even if we wanted to join the staff entertainment at the end.
They put up a great traditional energetic African music and dance performance and despite the irresistible rhythm of drums and tambourines we could only bob our heads in appreciation.
Back at InterContinental Dubai Festival City, we explored The Anise restaurant at breakfast, which had a massive buffet and eight international live cooking stations with the additional chance of spotting well-known international faces from sports and entertainment!
Having heard a lot about the other F&B options at the hotel, we took a tour around. The Fish House ‘Purveyors of fine fish’ offers a relaxed dining experience in its cool mint and butter-toned interiors with clean Scandinavian décor and artworks celebrating seafood.
The kitchen follows a ‘boat to table’ concept, serving the freshest catch that is locally sourced. Pierre’s Bistro & Bar has a one-of-a-kind menu curated by inimitable Michelin starred chef Pierre Gagnaire.
Its classy interiors in pink and grey and private nooks for intimate dining and large tropical room full of forest green and flamingo pink make for a sensorial experience.
Art, drama and cuisine
At the adjacent Crowne Plaza Dubai, the original Belgian Beer Café was a true-blue vintage-style pub, completely atmospheric and far removed from the mood above.
The unusual overhanging swimming pool overlooking Dubai Creek presented a breezy relaxing ambience.
Evenings are dramatic with Imagine — the largest water projection screen synced to 30 fountains with laser, holograms and pyrotechnics making it the world’s largest permanent projection mapping beamed on the InterContinental Hotel.
A relaxing experience awaited us behind the beaded curtain of the spa before we dressed up for our tryst with ‘Carnival by Trésind’.
The Indian restaurant from the Trésind created quite a sensation with its ‘post-modern Indian cuisine’ and a thematic menu that evolves every season.
With black and white chevron floor design and warm light enhancing the copper glow of its simulated dry forest interior, it is a perfect setting for a dramatic meal.
An enormous spread of intriguing flavours and imaginative presentation of each dish — the place does leave quite an impression on every diner.
From the celebratory welcome with a bubble blown around your head to the closing theatrical presentation of the showstopper — Gazak, a dessert prepared with caramel peanuts, chocolate done the Alinea way by Chef Vinu — it was a fusion of art, drama and cuisine.
You leave Carnival by Trésind literally licking the chocolate off the table!
The sheer choice of gastronomic experiences that Dubai presents is mind-boggling. And we were in for an exclusive Japanese treat at Morimoto Dubai.
Ushered by a lady in a billowing silk gown to our window-side seat, we waited in anticipation in the dim-lit interiors.
Out came a slate platter offering tuna, salmon, yellow fin and eel sushi, followed by delicate black cod and one of the best contemporary Asian fine-dine experiences.
It was time to drive to T3, the largest airport terminal on the planet.
Dare we say, Dubai doesn’t need to race with the world; it only competes with itself to outdo and shatter its previous records and affirm ‘impossible is nothing’.
Direct flights from India to Dubai take 3-4 hours. National carrier Emirates has the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s.
When to visit
Nov-Mar is ideal with events all year round – Dubai Shopping Festival (Jan); Dubai Food Festival (Feb-Mar); Al Marmoom Heritage Festival and camel race (April); Al Gaffal Dhow Race (May); Ramadan/Eid (June); Dubai Summer Surprises (July-Sep).
Where to eat
The Meat Co, Souk Madinat Jumeirah; Choix-Patisserie & Restaurant, Pierre’s Bistro & Bar,
Anise and The Fish House at InterContinental Dubai Festival City; Carnival by Trésind, Burj Daman; Morimoto, Renaissance Downtown Hotel.