A gentle breeze. Sunshine. Nature. Just three reasons why dining outdoors just can't be beaten. Whether it's a romantic moonlit dinner for two, a sun-kissed brunch blow-out with friends or a lazy afternoon's grazing with the family, it's simply refreshing to get a side-order of fresh air with your food. For six months of the year, the UAE is blessed with some of the planet's best weather for al fresco dining. But with the sweat-sodden summer about to descend on us, even mad dogs and Englishmen will be scampering for the nearest blast furnace to escape the rigours of the midday sun. Soon our mealtimes will be accompanied by the familiar icy whisper of our old friend the air conditioning unit. And when cabin fever finally gets a grip of you, you'll wonder why you didn't get out there more often when the weather was fine. Which is why this guide will be indispensable in the countdown to summer - whatever your budget, social preference or food obsession, here are the 10 best outdoor venues to enjoy before it's too late.
Bord Eau If you fancy a bit of fine dining to match the fine weather, then this top-end French restaurant at Abu Dhabi's newest 5-star hotel is hard to beat. Outdoor seats here are admittedly few and far between, as Bord Eau shares its terrace with another restaurant, but be patient and persistent when making your reservation and you'll reap the rewards. Such exclusivity will only make the view of the impressive Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque even more special, as the sun sinks beyond the horizon and the glimmering moon takes its place. Chef Gilles Perrin has drawn up a mouth-watering menu combining some of the finest French and international ingredients, from Belon oysters to wagyu beef. Both are superb, but the temptation to try the dishes inspired by 'chef of chefs' Auguste Escoffier, such as the foie gras terrine with aged balsamic figs and truffle, might be too much to resist. Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi, 02 509 8888. Average price for two Dh700-800.
Vasco's Eating at this waterside haven with its excellent food, lush greenery and relaxed atmosphere, is an enlightening experience. Vascos may be one of the capital's more established restaurants, but it remains one of the best places in the country to dine outdoors. Take a seat on the sleek wooden decking beneath one of the understated white parasols, and explore an eclectic menu that plots a course around the world from east to west. Its selection of salads and sandwiches makes it a great spot for a light lunch, but those prepared to venture further afield can unearth some belly-filling treats from Italy, India and the Far East. As authentic and tasty as these dishes might be, however, Vasco's has a long-held reputation for producing some of the best cuts of meat this side of the new world. The last cool evenings of spring should provide the perfect conditions for digesting a steak the size of a Portuguese caravel. Hiltonia Beach Club, Abu Dhabi, 02 681 1900. Average price for two Dh300-400.
Riviera Ok, so Abu Dhabi isn't exactly the quaint little town of Portofino on the Italian Riviera, but short of leaping onto a plane and jetting off to the Mediterranean, this little Italian restaurant is the next best thing for a bowl of pasta and some outdoor dolce vita. The stretch of clean, white tables overlooking the boats and yachts bobbing calmly on the marina is a perfect place to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours and pretend you're in Italia. Some of the dishes might test your powers of imagination, as the food here isn't likley to worry the restaurateurs of Liguria anytime soon. But the simple seafood dishes, such as the hammour carpaccio and the grilled prawns, will just about keep your little fantasy intact. Since you're already pretending to be in an Italian fishing village, you might as well make believe you're a child again and go for the Nutella calzone, which is as delicious as it is inelegant. Marina Al Bateen Resort, Abu Dhabi, 02 665 0144. Average price for two Dh200-300.
Ninar This colourful and slightly quirky cafe is the perfect lunchtime spot for anyone who wishes to escape the stuffy confines of the office for an hour or so. The outdoor terrace is a laidback little nook, where a re-humanising fruit juice can be savoured alongside a spirited salad. Indulge in a simple yet sumptuous manakeesh topped with gooey cheese. Don't underestimate this place, there's more to Ninar than lunchtime snacks and refreshing drinks. When the sun goes down and the terrace gets cooler, the hearty mains will certainly fill a gap. But what you'll miss most when the summer comes around is sitting outdoors and slurping down a short, dark shot of coffee - although there's nothing stopping you from doing that indoors. Khalifa bin Zayed Street, Abu Dhabi, 02 672 2267. Average price for two Dh100-150.
Finz We're not going to pretend we've hit on a previously undiscovered gem, because Finz is widely renowned as one of the best - if not the best - al fresco dining locations in Abu Dhabi. First, you've got the beachside deck that overlooks softly lilting palm tress on one side and the azure blue ocean on the other. Only the mood-altering serenity of this exquisite perch can prevent you from stripping down to your smalls and diving into the water - that and the exceptional food, of course. This is where all the edible treasures of the sea compete for your attention, and you'll be strongly tempted to try them all. Whatever you do, start with the fresh oysters, which will send waves crashing in your mouth with a flood of ocean flavours. Then it's really up to you - lobster, salmon, hammour, snapper… whatever you choose, you really can't go wrong. Unless it all becomes too much and you do end up belly-flopping into the sea. Beach Rotana Hotel & Towers, Abu Dhabi, 02 644 3000. Average price for two Dh500-600.
QDs It's always the first place to grind to a halt when summer lurches into town, and the first place to burst back into life again when the temperatures drop. That's because at QDs, there is no option but to sit outside. The Creekside haunt is one of the best locations by the water to relax and watch the fairy-lit dhows go by, and you won't have to pay a fortune for the privilege. The food hardly matches the splendour of the location, with simple Arabic salads and grills alongside pizzas and burgers. But as long as you're content just to snack, enjoy a quiet drink and let the rest of the world do its thing, you can puff away on a fruit-scented shisha and pity those who forgot to get their QDs fix before the summer came. Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, 04 295 6000. Average price for two Dh150-200.
Eau Zone One thing Dubai does extremely well is elegant dining with a romantic ambience, and Eau Zone does that better than most. The approach to its softly glowing portals takes you across wooden decking above shallow waters that shimmer as you pass each dancing tea light. Naturally, you'll have to book ahead for an outdoor table, but it'll be worth the trouble since this placid and perfectionist place is certainly the real deal. As meticulously thought out as the beautiful setting, the menu offers attractively presented dishes that will pamper your palate, but won't pilfer the contents of your pockets. The European cuisine is at the higher end of the scale, especially the fantastically fresh tuna tartare, the tender lobster and the equally yielding fillet steak. If you've accidentally spilt Dettol in your partner's fish tank, or mistakenly thrown out his old football programmes, a tranquil evening under the stars at Eau Zone will surely see you right. One & Only Royal Mirage, Dubai, 04 399 9999. Average price for two Dh600-700.
Ravi Restaurant In a city with criminally little street-food, Ravi Restaurant continues to blossom like a garden of concrete delights smack bang in the centre of Satwa. The near legendary restaurant does a roaring trade on the pavement merely yards away from the gnashing traffic and hurrying hordes that bring a sense of happy chaos to the area. It caters to a mix of Pakistani taxi drivers, young European expatriates and curious tourists, all crowded onto long canteen-style tables, tucking into food which is uniformly authentic, excellent and cheap. Few can resist the mutton biryani, which arrives with a small dish of cool raita yoghurt sauce; but the highlight is the chicken palak curry - a master class of chicken, spinach and spicy sauce which, rather like this restaurant, is thoroughly down-to-earth, but still up there with the best. Opposite Rydges Plaza, Satwa, Dubai, 04 331 5353. Average price for two Dh50.
Pierchic There's something that makes dining al fresco at Pierchic a unique and ever-so-slightly magical experience. It isn't the food - the seafood selection, which includes mainly imported items from Europe and beyond, can be matched and surpassed at a number of Dubai's restaurants. And it isn't the fact that the dining area is by the sea, which is par for the course at many of the big hotels that hog Dubai's coastline. No, it's the exact location of Pierchic - perched on a platform above the sea, with the Burj Al Arab's light show taking place within swimming distance - that makes it like no other restaurant. The long wooden pier between Pierchic and the mainland does just enough to detach you from the frenetic bluster of Dubai, leaving you to enjoy the impressive view, the serene ambience and the company of your dining partner. Al Qasr, Dubai, 04 366 8888. Average price for two Dh800-900.
Irish Village When the last manned mission to the moon landed in 1972 they found a handful of golf balls, a tatty star spangled banner, an abandoned lunar vehicle and an Irish theme pub having a quiz night. The famous faux-hostelries are all over the place, but without the sprawling garden, quaint little duck pond and convivial atmosphere at the Irish Village, Dubai just wouldn't be the same. This place is ideal for meeting friends, especially if you want to keep spirits high and the cost relatively low. The pub-grub does appear startlingly quickly after ordering, but it's fairly reliable - if unspectacular - stuff. Go for simplicity with bangers and mash or fish and chips, and while you wet your whistle, be thankful that the food the Astronauts had to contend with was a whole lot worse than this. Probably. The Aviation Club, Dubai, 04 282 4750. Average price for two Dh100-150.