x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Last chance al fresco

Where to find the best al fresco dining in the UAE before it gets too hot to eat outside.

With a stunning outlook on to the Arabian Gulf, the majlis-like platforms of the BBQ al Qasr on the private beach at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi are calculated to make every guest feel special.
With a stunning outlook on to the Arabian Gulf, the majlis-like platforms of the BBQ al Qasr on the private beach at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi are calculated to make every guest feel special.
The sauna season is on its way but there should be a few more weeks before it becomes too hot to dine outside in the UAE. From waterside restaurants to rooftop terraces to an art-draped courtyard in Bastikiya and a majlis overlooking the dunes of the Empty Quarter, we track down the 20 best al fresco options in the Emirates, where you can experience the last of the balmy weather before the fanoven phase of summer arrives.
Pearls & Caviar There is no better place from which to gaze on the Grand Mosque at sunset than the deck and rooftop lounge of this outpost of the Shangri-La hotel. Directly ahead is the narrow waterway that separates Abu Dhabi island from the mainland, to the left the cars whizz (or crawl) across Musaffah Bridge and to the right are the Souq Qaryat Al Beri and Fairmont Hotels. And there on the deck, catching the evening breeze and enjoying the laid-back hospitality of Pearls & Caviar, not even the most curmudgeonly could complain about life in the UAE's capital. Pearls & Caviar, Shangri-La: 02 509 8777
BBQ al Qasr With six raised platforms offering a majlis-like setting between the Emirates Palace and its 1.8km-long private beach, it is impossible to dine at BBQ al Qasr without feeling like some kind of VIP. The platforms are linked by narrow, wooden walkways and the sand between them is raked smooth regularly, which is a good way to describe the tenor of this place. On a separate platform are musicians who play in the evenings, a kitchen doles out barbecue fare while a line of shishas stand ready for action late into the night. BBQ al Qasr, Emirates Palace: 02 690 7999
Vascos If anywhere is going to squeeze an extra few days of outdoor dining, it's the terrace at Vascos. Set just back from the small private beach in the Hiltonia Beach Club at the western end of the Corniche, date palms offer respite from the sun and just in case the breeze is conspicuously absent, there are large standing fans to keep the air circulating. The large wooden deck is book-ended by a couple of fountains, with a long pool and immaculate grass, while the chefs have a reputation for producing excellent international cuisine. Vascos, Hiltonia Beach Club: 02 681 1900
Riviera Can there be anywhere with a less appealing approach than this restaurant located in the building site of Khor Bateen? In a few years' time, this will be one of the most pleasing waterside places in Abu Dhabi, but right now it feels as if you're more likely to stumble on a site-workers' canteen instead of one of the capital's best Italian restaurants. However faith and perseverance are rewarded when you discover the Riviera's long terrace overlooking the bobbing boats of Bateen Marina. The food is both good and plentiful - so much so that it might not be the ideal choice if you are watching your weight. Riviera, al Bateen: 02 665 0144
Prego's This Italian-themed restaurant within the Beach Rotana has been one of the mainstays of Abu Dhabi's dining scene for years and the fact that it remains popular despite the chaos of the Salam Street roadworks is testament to its calibre. Sitting outside on the deck for a late lunch or an evening dinner, looking out of the private beach to Sowwah Island, is one of the simple joys of life in the capital. Book ahead and as the sauna season approaches, try to snaffle one of the tables shaded by trees. The easterly aspect spares the deck the worst of the afternoon heat. Pregos, Beach Rotana: 02 697 9000
Filini The little enclave of hotels on Yas Island remains one of Abu Dhabi's best-kept secrets, giving you the feeling of being a long way from the capital despite being within half an hour's drive of the city centre, and, with the exception of Formula One week, far less frequented than they deserve to be. Filini at Radisson Blu is a perfect example, with a series of expansive settees located on a large deck overlooking the green of the not-yet-opened golf course and on to the mangroves. If you're lucky, you'll be able to dine while watching flamingos hunt for their own dinners in the tidal zone. Filini, Radisson Blu Yas Island: 02 656 2000
Yacht Club When moored boats are within range of a forcefully flicked olive stone, you know the InterContinental's Yacht Club lives up to its name. Two terraces of seating overlook the marina hidden away behind the hotel, with the couches on one level and seats and tables on another. The westerly aspect provides sunset views, with a series of shades keeping the worst of the afternoon sun off the patrons and referencing the nautical roots. When I was there, a quirk of geography meant a steady breeze kept the temperature in check although the wind was barely noticeable elsewhere in the capital. Yacht Club, InterContinental: 02 666 6888
Le Boulanger Chances are you've driven past this small cafe on the causeway linking the Corniche with Marina Mall on dozens of occasions without giving it a second thought. Parking is on the other side of the causeway and you have to cross the road to reach it but the disproportionate and unexpected reward for this effort is easily the best view of the Corniche in the whole of Abu Dhabi. Le Boulanger is one of a chain of cafes in the capital, offering Lebanese, Italian and Mexican food, but nothing can top the setting as the best place to kick back, order a shisha and set the world to rights. Le Boulanger: 02 631 8115
Qasr al Sarab As the shadows on the dunes of the Empty Quarter lengthen in the afternoon sun, it's time to head to the rooftop majlis at the recently opened Anantara hotel located at the eastern end of Liwa's crescent of oases. Just inside is Suhail, a restaurant named for the star that the Bedouin used to navigate through the desert, but nothing could draw you inside and away from this perfect place to watch the sun set over the dunes. It's close enough to the capital to watch the full progress of the sunset and be back home before 9pm. Qasr al Sarab: 02 886 2088
Aloft Who would have thought a hotel connected to an exhibition centre could become a destination in its own right? But Aloft's rooftop Relax @ 12 is anything but the bland corporate entity of most similar hotels. Walk out on to the rooftop - about 10m wide by maybe 100m long - and the view is breathtaking. To one side is the sinuously leaning Capital Gate tower and beyond are the palaces of those with serious wealth. A stepped rooftop allows the railings to be subtle enough not to get in the way of the view without compromising safety. Relax 02 654 5000
Zheng He's Zheng He is often referred to as a Chinese Columbus, even though he was slightly earlier in history than the Italian explorer. The Dubai restaurant is thus a fittingly cosmopolitan tribute. Where else in the world can you sit outside in the balmy night air, pop a spring roll into your mouth, gaze up at a building like the Burj al Arab and watch as gondolas float by? Zheng He's makes all this possible, dishing out some of the best Chinese food to be found in Dubai - twisted with contemporary ingredients such as Wagyu beef and foie gras. As such, it's not a cheap dinner out. But squid-ink dim sum? Scallops with white asparagus and black truffle? Bursting Peking duck pancakes? Yes please, to all of it. Zheng He's, Mina A' Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, 04 366 6730
Ewaan Lounge Ewaan is technically an all-day-dining restaurant, but forget any preconceptions about the usual stale buffet offerings in this category. Eating outside in its lounge is a sensory experience all round, in part because the Arabian decor is so charming. From the poolside terrace, you can sit under canopied tents, softly lit by overhead lanterns, and there are fans on hand should you feel it's too sticky. From here you can either order à la carte or join in with the buffet. The Arabic mezze selection is the best bet - all the usuals are there - so it's finger-eating while the soft strains of oud-music hang over you. A good venue for out-of-town visitors, too, because you can gaze up at the Burj Khalifa while enjoying a shisha. Ewaan Lounge, The Palace. 04 428 7888
Splendido Famed for the quality of its brunches, Splendido is the Ritz-Carlton's Italian joint and an old Dubai favourite which, it is generally agreed, manages to live up to its faintly boastful name. Children are very welcome but the outside terrace is an elegant, grown-up affair, surrounded by a lush garden and with accompanying sea-views. From there you can settle in for authentic Italian food produced by the Sardinian head-chef. Solid classics are all there - zuppa di funghi, octopus salad, lasagna, breaded veal, jumbo prawns with courgettes. Just leave space for the tiramisu. Splendido, Ritz-Carlton Dubai, 04 318 6715
Bussola Bussola comes in two parts. Upstairs, you find a breezy open-air terrace with ovens churning out proper pizza - the kind that is best eaten in your fingers, with cheese juices running down to your knuckles. Upstairs really is all about pizza, so those with a nervous carbohydrate disposition should stick to the ground floor. Here they offer modern Italian food. Antipasti, primi and secondi piatti, the lot. Italian meat cuts scattered with flakes of Parmesan, fresh bowls of al dente pasta, a wonderful seafood risotto and they do a cracking, truffled steak-tartare too. One word of warning: both floors are constantly fully booked, so reservations beforehand are essential. Bussola, Westin Hotel, 04 399 4141
Nineteen Newly revamped and relaunched with a new menu, Nineteen now calls itself a rotisserie. Bag a spot overlooking the Montgomerie's adjacent golf course and relax while listening to- nothing. Save for the odd thwack of a golf ball, the tranquillity is one of the best things about this place. Well, that and the modern European food. This comes in huge, man-sized portions. Choose one of the three cuts of steak available, pick a sauce and prepare yourself for the protein onslaught. If there's space, tuck into the giant side-dishes, too. Perhaps hand-cut chips with roasted aioli, duck-fat roasted potatoes or poached white asparagus with Manchego butter. Of course, it may not be the ideal place if you're worried about your cholesterol levels. Nineteen, The Address Montgomerie 04 390 5600
Flooka The best squid in Dubai? Quite possibly. Flooka tags itself as a restaurant serving seafood, Mediterranean-style. So nab an outside table at this Dubai Marine Resort haunt for sea-life so fresh it was probably plucked from the salty waters mere seconds earlier. Step up to the market-style glass counter to select your main course - prawns the size of a clenched fist, meaty pieces of hammour, mullet, tuna and the like. Pick a piece of fish and have it salt-baked, the house speciality, and mop up the juices with the excellent flatbread. Do all of this from the pine-decking, from where you can just hear the the waves rolling on to the resort's cove-like beach. Flooka, Dubai Marine Resort, Jumeirah Beach Road. 04 346 1111
Shimmers We live in a country blessed with golden sands, so why not have dinner on them? For lunch here expect plenty of families, but by night Shimmers is a wonderfully romantic spot - set just back from the water and amid waving palm trees. Think upmarket Robinson Crusoe. The food isn't fussy, but it is done well. The buckets of crispy calamari make perfect sharing material to start with, but really Shimmers specialises in perfectly-barbecued slabs of meat and fish, best accompanied by crispy fat chips and lashings of mayonnaise. Shisha pipes come out in the evening too. An easy place to while away the night. Shimmers, Mina A'Salam, Madinat Jumeirah, 04 366 6730
The Agency There are two of these - the original in Emirates Towers and another in the Madinat. For al fresco purposes, head to the Madinat. On a weekday evening there is hardly a better spot to be than on its outside terrace. Just race there immediately post-work so there's still space. You'll find cracking views of the Burj al Arab, and a fantastic snack menu. Don't expect a few paltry olives and pistachios. Here there are gems for the picking, including cheese fondue with brioche, mini-scallop burgers and paella. Knowledgeable, friendly staff too. The Agency, Madinat Jumeirah, 04 366 6730
Basta Art Café For the cultured who might have spent a morning in Bastikiya, this makes a charming and inexpensive lunch stop. There is something of The Secret Garden about it. Situated in a quiet courtyard, the tables and chairs are rustic, with trees hanging low overhead and artwork hanging on the walls. The food is basic but homely: cous cous, the usual sandwich offerings, baked potatoes and vast bowls of salad. There's a breakfast menu for early birds, big glasses of fresh juice and excellent, restorative coffee. Have a seat, refresh and wander on for more gentle pottering in the galleries and shops nearby. Basta Art Café, Bur Dubai. 04 353 5071
Al Hadheerah All right so it's a bit of a drive from Dubai, but for Bab al Shams fans it's worth the trip for one last, scenic dinner before the heat kicks in. It's one of the few places where you can find Emirati cooking - featuring lots of rice, kebabs and an entire roasted lamb. Yes, it is expensive, and you might feel as if you're being directly marketed to as a tourist (the evening's entertainment includes music, belly-dancing and a camel procession), but what a treat to be out of the city, on the dunes and savouring the last cool evenings before we all have to fight each other for tables indoors elsewhere. Al Hadheerah, Jumeirah Bab al Shams, 04 809 6100