Long before hotels set up huge buffet counters to tempt the crowds of expatriate residents and tourists, the Friday meal was an integral part of the Arabian experience. But the modern incarnation, in a land where food is plentiful and cultures vary, bears little resemblance to its traditional ancestor. Still, expatriates in the early days latched onto the Friday brunch as a way to socialise and entertain themselves when options for either were more limited than they are today.
"Up until the early 1990s, Friday was the only day off for most of the population," says Len Chapman, editor of Dubai As It Used To Be (www.dubaiasitusedtobe.com), and a Gulf resident from the 1960s until recently. "So Friday was the only day where families could be together all day. When Dubai moved to a two-day weekend, people had more time to do the things they wanted, so Friday lunch was not quite so important."
While it's true that there are many ways to spend your dirhams on a Friday these days, you don't have to look far to find a brunch that will tempt your taste buds - and your wallet. We've profiled three of the best-known buffets in three price ranges (prices per person, including beverages but not service charges). * Mike Gimignani
The setting On a moving track in the capital's first revolving restaurant, Al Fanar makes up for its small space with expansive and ever-changing views of the city. Just remember what your table looks like if you walk away to grab food - it won't be in the same place when you get back. The food The centre (non-rotating) buffet stand plays host to about 100 dishes, crowned by the hotel's signature roast prime rib with herb jus. Seafood is also a speciality, with plenty of fresh and cooked dishes to choose from. And your eyes will keep moving back to the dessert tables in the lobby. The atmosphere No doubt the cramped quarters add to the party mood, but it's surprisingly easy to find a quieter base of operations if you need one. Part of the centre stand is taken up by a music act that diners sit very close to, which you'll either come to love or hate. Open 12.30pm to 3pm.
The setting Not just one, but three restaurants serve brunch together. In addition to the usual "international" buffet hall, a German restaurant and fun, jungle-themed Bamboo Lagoon will keep you busy grazing as you walk between continents. And kids have their own play area, complete with a bouncy castle. The food Where to start? You could try the hummus and curries at the Market Place, or move right to the moo shu duck and sushi next door. Or those with more western tastes can fill their plates with sausage, grilled chicken and fresh pretzels at Höfbrauhaus. Needless to say, the desserts of three diverse areas fill a space to rival many other whole brunches. The atmosphere This is more of a family place, so if you can't stand the patter of small feet, you may want to look elsewhere. Or grab a seat in the Bamboo Lagoon, which is a visually exciting place to sit as well. Open 12pm to 4pm.
The setting Why wouldn't one of the world's most expensive hotels have an equally impressive buffet hall? Like the rest of Emirates Palace, everywhere you look or touch will be covered in marble, gold or crystal. The restaurant also has an outdoor terrace that affords an appropriately seven-star view of the sea. The food More than 200 dishes are ready for your selection, including four carving stations and a fresh pasta maker. But the crown jewel of the buffet is the ouzi, the quintessentially Arabian blend of lamb, rice, nuts, peas and a peninsula's worth of spices. The atmosphere It's the place to see and be seen, all with a constant piano-driven musical accompaniment, so don't expect brunch to be an especially sedate affair despite the hall's size and austerity. If you have kids or want peace while you eat, and it isn't 45 degrees Celsius outside, ask for the terrace. Open 12.30pm to 3.30pm.