The National takes a culinary tour of the Dubai Metro ahead of its official launch in September. Which stations are the most delectable?
Travelling to some of your favourite Dubai restaurants is about to get considerably cheaper. Last week it was announced that fares for the new Dubai Metro will be as little as Dh2 for a short journey of less than 3km, and Dh14 for a day pass granting unlimited use. While those statistics will certainly appeal to commuters and shoppers alike, the city's food lovers will be licking their lips in anticipation of the Metro's official launch on Sept 9.
The first route to open will be the Red Line, which stretches the length of the city, from Jebel Ali near the border with Abu Dhabi, to Rashidiya beyond Dubai airport, snaking through such gastronomic hot spots as Sheikh Zayed Road, Karama and Deira. At the moment, a one-way taxi journey spanning this route will set you back around Dh100, and even then you'll have to contend with traffic jams, roadworks and some hair-raising driving. But let's just suppose you're unfortunate enough to have to take this journey, back and forth, by cab every day. The Metro could save you up to a staggering Dh930 per week on transport costs. Practically overnight, your dining out budget will start to look a lot healthier.
In a week where it was revealed that property values near stations are on the rise, we followed the line from end to end - taking in a route that will eventually encompass 29 stations - to find out what food is on offer along the way. We discovered restaurants and cafes, coffee shops and delicatessens, curry houses and fresh seafood markets that we're hoping to rediscover once the Metro gets on track.
We begin our journey in the industrial outskirts of Dubai, where sand and chimneys will dominate passengers' views for the first few kilometres of track. The line begins at the interestingly named Jafza/Limitless Station, the gateway to the Jebel Ali Free Zone. While construction and industry appear to be limitless here, food options are rather thin on the ground. However, anybody with permission to gain entry into the free zone for business purposes will be delighted to find an abundance of workers' restaurants selling homely Pakistani and Indian food believed to be among the cheapest in the city. The industrial scene continues along a traffic-clogged Sheikh Zayed Road as we pass Jebel Ali Industrial Station and then Dubal Station, which will serve those working at the vast Dubai Aluminium plant.
Suddenly things perk up dramatically on the food front. We pull up alongside the sprawling Ibn Battuta Mall - apparently the world's largest themed shopping mall - which is split up into gaudily decorated courts from Andalusia and Tunisia, to India and China. Here we find possibly one of the best restaurants ever to have been unfortunate enough to open in a shopping centre - Finz. It's just the place to grab a comfy seat, forget the screaming kids and glaring shop window displays outside, and dig into the excellent Mediterranean food at this South African-owned oasis. Nearby, you'll find predictable Asian fare at Zyng, passable Iranian dishes at Hattam and all kinds of fast food at the mandatory food court, but if you want to treat yourself head to Soy, which offers surprisingly good Chinese food that belies its mall location.
It's clear that there's still plenty of building to de done around these two stations, but there are certainly a number of high-quality dining options across Sheikh Zayed Road, which will be accessible by pedestrian bridges that cross the busy carriageway. Jumeirah Lake Towers station is believed to have pushed nearby property prices up by 6.5 per cent already, and it looks like footfall will be up for Java U Cafe, where sandwiches, soups and salads can be procured alongside coffee, smoothies and sodas.
Marina station is within walking distance, as is Marina Walk, where a whole host of restaurants compete for your attention, including American-style burgers at Johnny Rockets, British-style curries at The Rupee Room, and the most authentic Italian-style pizzas in the city at 800Pizza. The nearby Marina Mall includes the predictable TGI Fridays and Burger King, but a bit farther down the road is the new branch of a Karama Indian restaurant, Simrans Appa Kadai, and the soon to be opened Siamin Thai restaurant concept from Paris at the Radisson Blu Residence.
Once, they were barren and bland, but the backstreets of Al Barsha are blossoming as far as its restaurant scene is concerned. A stroll away from the Metro station is Salaam Namaste, an Indian restaurant with a growing reputation for its fine phooljadi tikka (tandoori chicken wings). And within a nan bread's throw of that, there's Zaina offering Arabic and international dishes, and Prego shovelling out pizzas and Lebanese manakeesh. But everybody knows the best pizzas around are to be found in the wood-fired stone ovens of the original 800Pizza.
Mall of the Emirates has an air-conditioned walkway to lead Metro travellers to a glut of gastronomic experiences at the 935-seat international all-day diner, Sezzam. Alternatively, there are two Lebanese restaurants overlooking the frosty slopes at Ski Dubai: Salmontini, which, as the name suggests, specialises in all things salmon, and Karam Beirut, which offers a more traditional take on Levantine cuisine. Yet the sparkling jewel in this mall's crown is Almaz by Momo. With its glowing lanterns and soft Arabic music, this Moroccan restaurant hidden at the back of Harvey Nicks offers some of the best North African food in the city.
Anybody planning to walk to the iconic "seven-star" hotel from this station will have a rude awakening when they see its familiar sail-like structure in the far distance across Sheikh Zayed Road. If you have the funds to support a blowout at its famous-but-extortionate Al Mahara seafood restaurant, then you'll certainly be able to afford a taxi. For a rather more modest meal, head over to the Madinat Jumeirah and try a Spanish paella at Al Hambra, or a vegetarian treat at Magnolia. Browse the rocks at the Gold & Diamond Park, and then enjoy a fine steak at StoneGrill Dubai, or a nice plate of puttanesca spaghetti and an espresso at Caffe Di Casa.
Things get a little quieter between Al Quoz and Business Bay, which is still pretty much a construction site. But budget restaurant buffs will appreciate the presence of Highway Inn, where the all-you-can-eat Indian and Chinese buffet will set you back a mere Dh18. Further down the road, the Metropolitan Hotel boasts the recently refurbished Summer Place, which is the oldest Chinese restaurant in the city. The nearby Oasis Centre shopping mall is notable for its excellent deli, Gourmet Station, where anything from Valrhona chocolates to roasted vegetable sandwiches can be found.
Just as you might expect at the foot of the world's tallest building, there's an outrageous array of dining options in this area. The Dubai Mall offers almost any cuisine you care to think of - from Asian at Assia in Wok to Italian at Carluccio's, but the more refined options are across the man-made lake at Souk Al Bahar. Rivington Grill is a British expat's dream with its homely comfort food, Margaux offers French bistro food from an Alain Ducasse-trained chef, while Momotaro does its utmost to keep up with the contemporary Japanese big hitters such as Nobu and Zuma. The Address hotel does a fine brunch at Fazaris, and across the road there's sublime Italian at Marzano at Souk Al Manzil. There's a whole load more, so bring comfortable walking shoes and explore.
Where there's money, there's food. So it's not surprising to see this trio of stations coming up trumps for top-end dining options. At DIFC, there's the fine Japanese food and bustling izakaya atmosphere of Zuma, not to mention the haute cuisine and understated elegance of The Edge. Emirates Towers looks down on everybody with Vu, a contemporary European restaurant on the 50th floor, and Al Nafoorah, which serves rather more down-to-earth Lebanese food on the ground floor. Near the World Trade Centre, there's Options for fine Indian food, and across Sheikh Zayed Road there are two fine contemporary Japanese restaurants in the shape of Okku at the Monarch hotel and Kitsune at The Fairmont. But if the financial slowdown has battered your wallet, there's a host of cheaper restaurants in the area, especially around Financial Centre Station. Try Wanton House for luscious bowls of noodles, Johnny Rockets for giant and juicy burgers, Al Safadi for great Lebanese mezze and the fine Bentoya Kitchen for outstanding and authentic Japanese food.
As the Metro leaves the five-star hotel wonderland of Sheikh Zayed Road, we approach Karama Station, and a gold mine of great independent restaurants. Sometimes known as Dubai's "curry corridor", Trade Centre Road offers such fascinating Indian restaurants as Amaravathi, the vegetarian Sukh Sagar and the biryani specialists Dum Pukht. But your expedition into the delights of Karama shouldn't stop there - wander into the backstreets and seek out such gems as the original Simrans Appai Kadai for smart South Indian food, Little Hut for Mughlai and Chinese, and Chef Lanka for Sri Lankan hoppers and fiery curries. Soon you'll wander across to the BurJuman district, where a cluster of restaurants can be found above its underground station. The BurJuman shopping centre can refresh weary Metro travellers with the sandwiches and salads of Paul Cafe, or the sashimi and miso soup of Yo Sushi among many others. Across Trade Centre Road, there's excellent value to be found at the Regent Hotel's Far East Seafood Market, not to mention at the legendary Al Ibrahimi Palace, which has gained a reputation for its extensive Indian and Chinese buffet, and the institution that is Bombay Chowpatty, where some of the best Indian street food in Dubai can be found.
We cross Dubai Creek as the Metro track continues its subterranean course beneath us to Deira. The Union Square and Al Rigga stations are surprisingly close to one another, but in the jumble of streets around here it all kind of makes sense. There are malls and hotels playing host to some intriguing restaurants, such as the Korean, Thai and Japanese specialists Shogun at Al Ghurair City, and the fabulous south Indian retreat Dakshin at the Lotus Hotel. Vegetarians will enjoy Vrindavan restaurant for its thalis, and those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the Syrian pastries at Damascus Sweets & Ice Cream a little further up Rigga Road. Since these stations are the Metro travellers' gateways to the delights of Deira, intrepid exploration is encouraged, for which we're sure you'll be amply rewarded.
Dubai Metro trains will nudge their noses above ground again at Deira City Centre Station, where literally dozens of familiar restaurants can be found. The Noodle House is one of the city's most popular places for reasonably priced and well-executed south-east Asian food, while La Villa at the adjoining Sofitel hotel delivers some outstanding Mediterranean seafood and pasta dishes, despite its unfortunate mezzanine floor location. Over the road in Garhoud, you'll find Blue City serving low-frills Indian and Pakistani food, and Fuddruckers assembling towering American burgers and salads. It's perhaps wise to take a stroll down towards the Aviation Club, where you'll find mock-gothic decor and an excellent Friday brunch at The Cellar, and a united nations assembly of international restaurants from Portuguese (Da Gamma) to French (St Tropez) at Century Village.
Out of Garhoud, past the soon-to-be-completed stations at Dubai International Airport and the Emirates Airline head office, and on towards Rashidiya is the end of the track, the 29th station of 29 on the Red Line. Here there's a massive car park to serve commuters heading into town, and a handful of opportunities to grab a snack. The nearby Bin Sougat shopping centre is perhaps notable for its branch of that fine purveyor of Indian cuisine from Hyderabad and Lucknow: Gazebo. But whether you regard Rashidiya Station as the end of the line or the beginning, it's perhaps fitting that the last restaurant we come to is one of the few in the city that serves authentic Emirati food. Bin Eid Traditional Restaurant is part of a small chain that for around 35 years has been offering camel meat and harees to regular customers and the occasional hungry traveller passing by. From Sept 9, perhaps they can expect a lot more.