x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The UAE’s top restaurants for healthy-eating

An increasing number of UAE restaurants are offering healthy alternatives on their menus. Here are some places that are leading the way.

Neil David Foster, the executive chef at Ixir spa in Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. Lee Hoagland / The National
Neil David Foster, the executive chef at Ixir spa in Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. Lee Hoagland / The National

It’s easy to break your diet when eating out – sticking to our healthy-eating habits becomes challenging when there’s a lack of nutritious options on the menu.

In Dubai, this is becoming less of an issue, as an increasing number of local restaurants are offering healthy alternatives on their menus. There’s also a growing number of options serving exclusively health-conscious fare – whether that be calorie-controlled dishes such as those found in Kcal (www.kcalhealthyfastfood.com) or organic dishes at Comptoir 21 (www.comptoir102.com; 04 385 4555).

“Health consciousness is an ever-growing issue, not only in Dubai, but across the world,” says Neil David Foster, the executive chef at Ixir restaurant in Jumeirah Zabeel Saray (www.jumeirah.com; 04 453 0000). “There is an understanding now of what food and drink to consume, as well as the kind of lifestyle you should have, to keep healthy and have a longer, more fulfilled life.”

Fresh and balanced

Ixir’s menu was designed by Jumeirah’s wellness chef Gabi Kurz and implemented at the restaurant by Foster. Ingredients are chosen for their antioxidant benefits and nutritional value. The goal is for each dish to contain the right balance of protein, starch and vegetables. Examples of dishes include lemon grass-poached salmon with marinated fennel, and tomato olive salsa and green whole-wheat pasta salad.

“When sourcing produce, we make use of the seasonality of our local and surrounding countries and source what is fresh and therefore what will taste great and deliver the best nutritional value,” says Foster.

Counting calories

One approach some restaurants take is to display calorie content on the menu. Yogesh Rambhujan, the head chef at Balance Cafe (04 515 4051), says that this helps clear up misconceptions that people may have about certain foods.

“In a place such as Dubai, eating out is integral to the culture as well as for convenience,” says Rambhujan. “In the battle against obesity, the calorie count and nutritional value of a meal are vital to any weight-loss programme. By viewing the calorie count, you can decide whether to splurge or play it safe.”

A lighter touch

Balance Cafe, located in Oasis Centre, offers a fusion of Ayurvedic wisdom and macrobiotic cooking on its menu, which includes healthier, lighter preparations of Middle Eastern, European, Indian and Japanese cuisines. Gluten-free and dairy-free options are available, too.

“Ayurvedic cooking principles follow techniques that are influenced by both yogic art and macrobiotic science,” explains Rambhujan. “We create healthy dishes that are rich in protein and fruits and vegetables. We also offer classes where culinary enthusiasts can embark on a gastronomic journey to help them follow a delicious yet balanced diet.”

Maximum nutrition

Another restaurant that’s shaking up the UAE’s healthy eating scene is the cafe at Comptoir 102 – a concept store founded by Emmanuelle Sawko and Alexandra de Montaudouin. The cafe is located within the Comptoir 102 boutique in Jumeirah and offers an array of dishes that are organic and gluten-free.

Chris Clark, a nutritionist and macrobiotic expert, designed the menu so that each dish offers maximum nutrition and is made with techniques that boost digestion and nutrient assimilation.

The cafe grows some of its own produce. “Since we had limited space, we ordered three large organic boxes from Agriculture Box, which are filled with very rich and pure organic soil,” says Sawko.

“The herbs we use for the kitchen are just growing wild in there,” adds de Montaudouin. “We only grow herbs since we have to source a substantial amount of vegetables for the kitchen, but virtually anything grows in these boxes.”

Going organic

77 Veggie Boutique (www.77veggie.com; 04 422 4116) in Jumeirah Lakes Towers is keen to show people that healthy food needn’t be bland.

Roma Megchiani, its founder and director, decided to offer healthy fast food that doesn’t contain mass-produced or chemically enhanced vegetables and to use organic produce as much as possible. Megchiani says she experimented with 77 vegetables to come up with the menu, hence the name.

“I used to cook with more than 90 veggies, but after years of research and studying the market I realised that these 77 vegetables provide us with the right content of nutrients and taste,” says Megchiani. “We have displayed this list of vegetables in our outlet, too, to show customers their importance.”

At Megchiani’s restaurant, there are no freezers or fryers. Ingredients are cooked using convection cooking. She says the biggest difficulty they face is trying to find the right fruit and vegetables: “We source from five to six suppliers. From October until January we source our vegetables completely from UAE suppliers such as Ripe, but during the other months only 60 per cent comes from within the country.”

The feedback Megchiani has been receiving at her outlet, which opened in June, has been so positive that she hopes to expand into other countries eventually.

“You don’t find many authentically vegetarian restaurants in Dubai,” says a 77 Veggie customer, Anamika Shukla, a 25-year-old from India.

“I love healthy eating. I’m a hard-core foodie, but I’m vegetarian, so my cravings take me to different places that serve healthy veggie food,” she adds. “I love almost all the dishes here, but the broccoli smoothie is my favourite. It’s deliciously healthy and makes you full.”

artslife@thenational.ae