Your essential 2019 guide to outdoor dining in the UAE
Here's how to pack a lunch for the park, beach or your back garden, plus five fabulous restaurant recommendations for al fresco dining in Abu Dhabi and Dubai
You don’t have to be a meteorologist to realise that we’ve reached those golden weeks when the weather in the UAE is pretty much perfect. The humidity will be on the rise in a flash, though, so now really is the time to embrace outdoor living and that means meals, too. That said, not all al fresco food is created equal; while certain dishes shine in the sun, others are best left indoors. Read on for our guide to the best things to eat, whether you’re dining at the beach, park or just in your own garden.
Food for the beach
The enemy of beach eating is, of course, sand, which is not exactly in short supply here. While there’s a certain inevitability about finishing the day feeling like those grains have gotten everywhere, there are a few precautions you can take to ensure that they don’t ruin your meal. When you arrive, pick as sheltered a spot as possible to establish your camp (sand plus wind equals a dastardly combination), and consider going old-school and putting up a windbreak.
Always eat with your back to the breeze and pack plenty of wet wipes. The key to avoiding a sandy sandwich is to protect the filling from the elements; rolls, baps and all-encompassing wraps are better suited to this job than sliced bread; open sandwiches are best avoided entirely.
Better still is opting to skewer your food. Skewers are durable, easy to transport, won’t go soggy and can be eaten without utensils and with one hand, thus minimising the sand contamination risk. They’re also simple to prepare: take your favourite sandwich filling or salad, identify the most robust ingredients and take it from there — you’ll find a few ideas to get you started below.
For dessert, think bite-size: small pieces of fruit that can be eaten in one mouthful (as delicious as a ripe peach dripping with juice is, this is not the occasion for it), and teeny-tiny squares of squidgy chocolate brownie will always serve you well. Failing that, there’s always the promise of a scoop of soft serve from the ice-cream van.
Here are five skewers to try:
Chicken Caesar skewer (toss all the ingredients in Caesar dressing before assembling): shredded cooked chicken + lettuce + croutons + quartered hard-boiled eggs + wafers of Parmesan cheese
Thai beef salad skewer (a nice touch here is to use pieces of lemongrass as the skewers): thin strips of seared steak drizzled with soy sauce, fish sauce and lime juice + sliced, deseeded peppers + cucumber + mint leaves
Nicoise salad skewer: cooked fresh tuna + blanched green beans + boiled and halved baby potatoes + quartered boiled eggs + black olives
Classic cheese and onion skewer: shards of aged cheddar + pickled onions + cubes of crusty wholegrain bread
Mezze skewer: olives + griddled halloumi + slivers of flatbread + pickles
Food for the park
Provided you’ve got a decent picnic hamper, you can really make a day of it and decamp for hours to one of the many parks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. With that in mind, food that can straddle a couple of meals works particularly well: think dishes or ingredients that are equally at home eaten for brunch, lunch and late afternoon munch. Flaky croissants that can be slathered with jam early in the day, but are also delicious filled with cheese; cured meat and chutney a little later on are a good choice; as are overnight oats or granola pots that make a tasty breakfast, but are sweet and treat-like enough to double up as dessert. Homemade frittatas are excellent picnic fare: they taste just as good cold as straight out of the oven, travel well and can even be transported in the pan.
A salad will also make a worthy addition to your spread; just steer clear of those dominated by leafy greens, which have a tendency to go limp in the sun. Try a modern take on the classic potato salad made with wholegrain mustard, thinly sliced spring onions, tender baby potatoes and lemony creme fraiche in place of mayo (slivers of crispy turkey bacon wouldn’t go amiss here, either). Alternatively, mix couscous with herbs, pine nuts and dried apricots: opt for wedges of marinated beetroot, crumbled feta and chopped toasted walnuts; or try chilli and cumin-spiced roasted vegetables (peppers, red onions, cherry tomatoes and squash) dotted with paneer.
As well as all the usual bits and pieces (plates, cutlery, glasses, napkins et al), it’s well worth packing a decent knife and a small chopping board, which can later be used as a presentation platter.
Food for the garden
If you’ve got access to a garden or terrace — or any kind of outdoor space, really — then now is the time to get your grill on. Late afternoon barbecues and early evening braais are great, but dinner isn’t the only meal that can be prepared over hot coals. For a stellar start to the weekend and a sure-fire way to make your kids’ day, begin with a barbecue breakfast.
There’s something about warming bread over an outdoor grill that’s infinitely more exciting than popping it in the toaster. For maximum return, slather slices with butter, cook on one side then add cheese and press together to make the gooiest of grilled cheese sandwiches.
If you own a heavy cast-iron pan, there are numerous ways to put it to good use on a barbecue grate: early morning scrambled eggs; shakshuka groaning with feta; sweet, tangy cowboy beans; syrupy French toast; and breakfast pizza is just the start.
You’ve probably got your barbecue meat game sorted already, so now consider experimenting with charred vegetables. Try grilling aubergine halves brushed with olive oil and lemon juice until they are soft and collapsing before sousing with a pomegranate molasses dressing. Cook whole, foil-wrapped sweet potatoes in the coals, then split open and fill with labneh, harissa and chopped spring onions.
Alternatively, opt for on-trend grilled cauliflower steaks seasoned with smoked paprika or curry powder, and served with yoghurt. Or sear thick wedges of halloumi cheese until lightly golden; drizzle with a little honey and a few mint leaves, and present with wedges of watermelon.
For dessert, fresh fruit cooked on the barbecue is nothing short of a caramelised revelation – and we don’t just mean the classic banana and chocolate combo, although that’s delicious, too.
Cut stonefruits (peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots) in half, remove the stone and brush with melted butter and ground cinnamon. Put on the barbecue grate cut-side-down and leave as is for a couple of minutes, then serve with sweet whipped cream finished with lemon zest.
Five outdoor dining options to try in the UAE
Picnic at The Palace, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
Held on the first Saturday of every month in the West Wing garden, the event at Emirates Palace is, as you might expect, no run-of-the-mill picnic. It is, however, a family-friendly affair, where the hotel provides blankets and umbrellas, food and drink options aplenty (including live BBQ cooking stations), as well as games and children’s entertainment out on the lawn.
Il Faro Trattoria and Lounge, Azure Residences, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai
While not exactly a hidden gem, we can’t help but think more people should know about this picturesque spot on Palm Jumeirah. The shape of the building and the way it juts out into the ocean gives the place something of a lighthouse feel. The views of the Dubai skyline are sublime, the mood is mellow and the chefs take their pizza seriously. What’s not to like?
Sanderson’s, Al Seef Resort & Spa by Andalus, Abu Dhabi
Sergio Lopez’s eatery is a relative newcomer to the Abu Dhabi dining scene, but already a popular one — and rightly so. While the interior is rather lovely (light and airy with an indoor-outdoor feel that will surely come into its own in the summer), at the moment it’s the shady outdoor terrace that is the major draw. That and the thoughtfully put together and well-balanced menu and excellent coffee.
Noepe, The Promenade, Park Hyatt Dubai
Taking the post-renovation place of what was for many years The Terrace, is Noepe. The restaurant has a distinctly coastal, New England-style feel, both in terms of the stylish decor (all rattan, white walls and lightly brushed wood) and the menu, where Cape Cod-inspired seafood rules supreme — think calamari, crab cakes and lobster rolls. The outdoor seating area, with its marina views and Dubai creek backdrop, serve as a reminder that while new hotels and restaurants open all the time, the old favourites still have a lot to offer.
Umi Shio, Summersalt, Jumeirah Al Naseem, Dubai
From now until mid-May, Summersalt, the secluded beach club at the Jumeirah Al Naseem hotel boasts an additional dining option, thanks to a pop-up spot, Umi Shio. The menu fuses Japanese influences and South American flavours, and is filled with modern dishes and light bites that are perfect for grazing on while taking in the fresh sea air and sight of the Burj Al Arab on the horizon.
Updated: January 20, 2019 12:13 PM