From the casual to the classy, the romantic to the rustic, we are blessed with a wonderful array of open-air options. Winter is here and this is our pick of the best places to enjoy the season.
Al fresco dining
Barbeque Al Qasr
Emirates Palace Hotel, Ras Al Akhdar, Abu Dhabi, 02 690 7999
Set against a wonderfully dramatic backdrop, with the majestic Emirates Palace hotel behind and acres of Arabian Sea to the front, Barbeque Al Qasr comprises five or six plush gazebos dotted along the sand, with three or four tables in each, giving this venue secluded ambience. The delectable smell of char-grilled meat fills the air, a breeze kicks up from the sea and at twilight the view is nothing short of sensational. What is especially lovely about this place is that it manages to achieve just the right mix of romance and relaxation; the atmosphere is far from stuffy, yet it is special. The food is simple (mostly seafood and meat) and is of a high quality. It's best to select your chosen cut of meat or type of fish and then customise away by adding various sauces and side dishes.
Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, Garhoud, Dubai, 04 295 6000
Attractive and unpretentious, a table at QDs, under the twinkling lights and among the shisha pipes, is a lovely spot for relaxing in the open air. Be warned though, they don't take bookings here, so be prepared to wait (in the very pleasant bar area) if you want a coveted table by the waterside. The style of food (pizza and mezze staples) is far from fine dining but this only serves to increase the venue's appeal. Fussy, expensive food would force you to drag your attention away from the majestic view. And what a view it is. Deira might these days be regarded as the old part of town, but as you gaze out over the creek, taking in the illuminated skyline, the Floating Bridge and the meandering dhows, you'll wonder why you don't come here more often.
Pearls & Caviar
Shangri-La Hotel, Between the Bridges, Abu Dhabi, 02 509 8777
If it's an evening of chic sophistication you're after, then Pearls & Caviar has it in spades. On the upper level, Pearls serves up tapas-style bites in the open air, while Caviar (below) is a swish restaurant that primarily focuses on seafood - although I do recommend sampling the Wagyu beef, should you have the chance. While the décor inside is really rather classy, if you want to up the romantic ante at this special occasion destination, then an outside table is a must. As you wait for your food to arrive you can gaze out over the water, enjoy the breeze, and catch a glimpse of the Grand Mosque across the creek.
Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Burj Khalifa, Dubai 04 423 0903
The menu at Rivington Grill is certainly not flashy, but the chefs do serve up consistently good fare. In an ideal world, this is the type of food you'd serve at home if you had more time, more inclination and a dash more culinary skill, that is. The fish and chips have long been the perfect remedy for homesick Brits, and the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding salad, wild mushrooms on toast and homemade burger were all very good indeed when we last visited. Satisfying as this may be, it is the outside terrace with its stunning views of the Burj Lake that elevates a meal here into the realms of the really memorable. As the music strikes up, the Burj Khalifa glitters, and the fountain commences its dance, you can't help but feel just a little bit spellbound.
The Yas Hotel, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. Tel: 02 501 7086
Skylite is a slick, modern, cool kind of place. As you settle into a plush sofa on the roof deck and drink in your surroundings, you could (with a hint of imagination) be encased in a futuristic space bubble, hovering above Yas Marina. The race track, night sky and canopy of lights can be seen through gaps in the open walls, and a light wind can be felt intermittently, making this a great place to while away a few al fresco hours. While the atmosphere is undoubtedly rather hip and funky because of its open-air ambience, it isn't oppressively so. I think it's fair to say the food is unlikely to win any culinary rewards, but there's plenty of light, snack-type dishes available (Caesar salad, crab cakes, nachos, etc) that are perfect for picking away at, and if you're feeling in need of something more substantial, there's also five or six main-course options.
The Lime Tree Café
Jumeirah Beach Road, Dubai 04 349 8498
For many, The Lime Tree Café in Jumeirah has long been a favourite spot, and you only need to visit once to see why. The various delicacies of the day (fresh sandwiches, interesting salads and homemade cakes) are temptingly displayed in a glass cabinet and a chalk board lists the specials. The shaded porch is the perfect place to tuck into your food while soaking up the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. It is also worth venturing to the back of the café, where items such as homemade muesli, biscotti and relishes are attractively packaged and available to buy and take home.
Al Bateen Marina Resort, Bainuna St, Abu Dhabi, 02 665 0144
Tucked away behind the dwindling boatyards of Khor Al Bateen, Riviera isn't a restaurant you just stumble across, and even with directions (turn left off 34th at the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, then keep going until the marina car park) it may take a few attempts to find. Yet this is one of the most popular Italian restaurants in the capital and a real hidden gem. A terrace table here overlooks a private marina (soon to become a major waterfront development), and watching the boats and yachts gently bobbing under a canopy of stars and twinkling lights, you could be mistaken for thinking you're somewhere on the Amalfi coast. The superior, reasonably priced and very generous pizzas and pastas add to the authentic Mediterranean ambience. The grilled prawns and hammour carpaccio are highly recommended, while their Nutella pancakes are now almost the stuff of local legend.
Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai Tel: 04 366 6730
A meal here is well worth dressing up for. From the moment you shimmy down the candlelit pier that juts out into the ocean and glance back to see a palatial Mina A'Salam bathed in light, you can't help but feel that you're in for a special night. To avoid marring your evening with even a tinge of regret, make sure you request an outside table when booking. Then simply sit back and feast your eyes on what is a truly spectacular sight: the Burj Al Arab on one side, breaking waves on the other, and the Madinat in the distance. The menu offers a good selection of fresh seafood.
Souk Qaryat Al Beri, Bain Al Jessrain, Abu Dhabi. Tel: 02 558 1769
One of the many praise-worthy things about the Indian restaurant in Souk Qaryat Al Beri is that it doesn't rely on its enviable surroundings to ensure that customers will return. Both the food, which is North Indian with a refined edge, and the service are of a rather exemplary standard. Regardless of location, this already makes it something of a find. Couple this then with the magnificent views from the terrace, of the Grand Mosque and the clear, calm turquoise waters of the creek, and you'll see why this elegant eatery is so popular.
Basta Arts Café
Bastakia, Bur Dubai. Tel: 04 353 5071
As you make your way into the leafy courtyard at the Basta Art Café, the bustle of Bur Dubai simply seems to melt away; here, billowing white drapes provide respite from the sun and handcrafted jewellery and art work decorates the walls. The service is friendly and the food is freshly prepared; the generously portioned salads are particularly good and the juices (especially the lime and mint "Basta-special") are deliciously refreshing. This is a great place to visit before or after you explore the various art galleries in the historic Bastakiya, or just when you feel in need of a little calm and tranquility.