MY TOP 10 LICENSED RESTAURANTS (PART 1, 2018)

The year 2018 was quite challenging for the Dubai food and beverage market. The reasons seem to be obvious considering tough competition, nonstop openings of mega exciting projects, recession, expats outflow, etc. however the struggle is real. The best we could do to support a very unique dining-out culture in the Emirate is letting someone awesome serve us love and happiness in the form of cuisine. Here is a list of the licensed restaurants I love with my full heart and beyond.

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  1. The first is Ting Irie, a vibrant Jamaican restaurant with a personality so many call their go to when blue (including me). A true survivor, Ting Irie has seen its worst and its best since the opening but the amazing team is pushing through harder than ever. The creator of Ting incidentally initiated a Jamaican food craze in Dubai, when jerk chicken all of the sudden turned into a trend appearing on otherwise very settled in terms of spices and flavours menus. The Caribbean cuisine became so hot and sought after because of Ting Irie’s eccentric buzz. Come in for a plate of jerk hummus, chips o’mon burger or some seriously spicy chicken wings (you may need to convince your server you can handle the heat). Did I mention their rum infused cocktails would make you feel like you’re in paradise (here is my review).

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  1. Next is Asado, an Argentinian grill restaurant at the Palace Downtown with strong South American influence. My obsession with Asado started when I met Chef Josefinna, who is a young passionate perfectionist with a warm emotional side shown in her recipes. Chef Josefinna delivers dishes with a selected number of ingredients contributing to a rich taste you will crave after the visit. I certainly do! Asado is one of the most romantic restaurants in Dubai, featuring warm chalet-like interiors and an outdoor terrace with breath taking views of Dubai fountains and the tallest tower (here is my review)

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  1. Ninive is hiding away on a secluded terrace of Emirates Towers drawing allusions to the mysterious hanging gardens of Mesopotamia. Decorated in the best traditions of One Thousand and One Nights, where gold is everybody’s favourite colour, Ninive communicates Arabian luxury and the guest’s comfort as a priority. The menu is created with a deep understanding of the present desire for an unforgettable experience, exclusive food magic at the table and pomegranate seeds. There is no strict definition of Ninive’s cuisine type. It’s noticeably influenced by the Middle East, Persia, South Asia and nearby states, however things aren’t easy. I appreciated their intentional shift from serving a boring spread of stereotypical dishes towards crafting trendy Arabic cuisine to impress and startle (here is my review)

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  1. Vanitas is a beautiful Italian restaurant at Palazzo Versace. At Vanitas the haute couture design is combined with the tastiest ingredients, timeless Italian delicacies and naughty shots of crispy cold limoncello made in-house. Every Tuesday the restaurant turns into Serata di Sapori, a themed night featuring the Italian way of living: great food, great music, great wine and great ambience. I love sipping the night away on their open terrace facing the Creek to the lyrics of “Besame Mucho” by Andrea Bocelli.

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  1. Blacksmith is a true hidden gem of a restaurant I keep on coming back to. Located in the deepest corner of Dubai Marina, originally it intended to be a neighbourhood joint, a get together American smoke house, but the reputation of Blacksmith’s addictive smoky chicken wings spread way beyond. Apart from the wings (sooo good), their short rib is another highlight-delight. Served on a large plate with crunchy coleslaw and rich in texture cooked black beans, this dish is enough for three or four (I usually take away left overs for a heavenly sandwich the next day). The selection of music is focused around American rock’n’roll, soul and country, which is an ideal combination with food and beverages at Blacksmith (here is my review).

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Vanitas @ Palazzo Versace in Dubai

Mesmerized by the name, I couldn’t possibly resist a dinner at Vanitas, literally translated from Latin as “emptiness” in reference to earthy achievements and pleasures. In art circles, this term is closely associated with still life “memento mori” paintings, visualizing the worthlessness human desire – power, money, sweet luxuries – through the symbols of rusting metal, decaying silk and burnt candles. Obviously learning the history behind just one word, I was intrigued to visit Vanitas.

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Hoping to explore the gothic side of Palazzo Versace in Dubai, I chose to wear a rather contrasting romantic gown with open shoulders, floral motives and the most cheerful skirt ever made by Dubai based designers at Si Fashion Galerie. Boy, was I wrong!

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Decorated with the freshest and very fragrant red roses, Vanitas restaurant greeted me with a spacious well-lit hall, a prevalence of beige marble floors, wooden parquet, traditional Italian wall art and crystal chandeliers. So chic. So Palazzo. So Versace!

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As the evenings are still quite warm, I sat indoors where the lighting was slightly dimmed, setting a very charming intimate atmosphere. Candles, red velour on upholstery, bright royal blue dinner plates, roses and my beloved Versace prints celebrated life at her brightest, with a clear focus on the art of dining well.

The minute I got into my seat, the dinner had started with arrival of warm and fluffy focaccia bread and beautifully young olive oil.

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The amuse-bouche placed in front of me clearly indicated chef’s desire to experiment with textures, forms and ingredients, and ultimately with the audience. Vanita’s chef intended to transform the stereotypical perception of traditional Italian cuisine to the taste of millennials, hard to impress Dubaians and savvy travellers aiming to create an unforgettable dining ritual.

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While Lucia helped me to navigate through the Italian menu and must-tries, the place filled up with couples, families with well-behaved, well-groomed kids, joyful friends and even a solo diner. When I finalized my order, tables seemed to be rearranged to accommodate all and staff quickly moved from one corner to another prepping for a busy night. It was the generous serving of burrata surrounded by crunchy veggie rolls, lettuce and sweet tomatoes that turned my attention back to the table. What a creamy burrata it was!

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My next appetizer, a plate of octopus with purple potato puree, greens, chips and black olive powder was as tasty as it looked. Chef’s creativity deserves a special compliment.

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A few minutes later my table started to resemble a state feast with the finest china and cutlery, sparkles of gold and stylish Mediterranean touches at every level of detail.

The foie gras was layered like an opera cake with parmigiano ice-cream, grapes filled with tender goat cheese and crispy lettuce that could easily be mistaken for dessert. A really rich one!

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My mains continued with chef’s tendency to surprise. The seafood risotto featured nicely cooked rice with a lovely touch of black pepper. Interestingly the seafood bits, octopus, shrimps and fish were cooked separately and served on the top to add a crunchy texture to an otherwise creamy dish. I asked for extra Parmesan as I’m addicted.

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When I tasted the linguini it took a while to figure out chef’s trick. There was a very familiar softness in both texture and taste. The truth was revealed: the Pasta’s recipe was based on potatoes with a little help of wheat flavour. No wonder I though of homemade gnocchi at the first bite.

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I’m wearing a tailor-made gown with incredible skirt from Si Fashion Galerie.

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