x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Hidden culinary treasures

Dubai eateries tend to be all about flash but some of the city's most exquisite prandial experiences are to be found in hidden away holes in the wall.

Being a foodie, I've taken advantage of Dubai's restaurant scene by dining in some of the city's finest eating establishments. On occasion - as with Reflets and Nobu - even the name sends my taste buds into a tantalised frenzy. Though these high-end restaurants leave a delicious taste in my mouth, it's the unique little one-off eateries that truly please my palate.

My first venture to a spot off the beaten track was Ravi's in Satwa, a well-known Pakistani haunt frequented by those seeking a more diverse dining experience. With stark, bright lights, wipe-clean tablecloths and cutlery only on request, this joint lets the food do the talking. And it has a lot to say. Dal mopped up with nan bread was a delight, both to my senses and to my wallet. The whole meal cost Dh20.

My next trip was to Smiling BKK, a Thai tavern off Al Wasl Road. The interior is full of quirky, eclectic charm, with photos of diners decorating the walls lit by multicoloured lamps, and plasma screens pumping MTV tunes set the mood. The vast menu of dishes with hilarious names isn't exactly top-notch, but here it's all about the experience. Diners use plastic tambourines to get a waiter's attention, and a trip to the toilet requires a special request for a key and a basket of bathroom essentials. Kitsch but also undeniably cool.

Shu, a Lebanese restaurant on Beach Road, was another treat, more for its ambience than its food (which was also fantastic). Bookcases bulge with novels, shisha pipes bubble away and backgammon games are always under way. Then there are the wonderfully healthy juices. It's laid-back dining at its best. But I saved the best until last: an Indian fish restaurant near Umm Suqeim park that thrives on reputation alone. Because I fear a mass stampede, though, it shall remain nameless. This is one gem I want to keep to myself. Put simply, it's a hut on a patch of sand surrounded by diners on plastic stools. Fried fish marinated in spices with a side order of rice and cabbage are all dished up. You go in, you point at some fish, they cook it, you eat it. It's that simple and that tasty.

So even with all the big-name restaurants, the backstreets are definitely worth exploring. You never know where you may end up - or indeed, what you may end up eating - but more often than not you're guaranteed a unique and unforgettable experience.