Hedonistic pleasure parades unapologetically in Dubai’s Design District, known as D3. From super-luxe fashions, ambient dining, glitz, and glamor, the quarter was designed fast, trendy from the start, and is a marker for the creative class in less than ten years. As an aspirant gastronome, I’m curious to see what lurks inside menus in this high-end design quarter.
D3 has hosted restaurants to show off their cosmopolitan food influences for the last four years. This year’s festival dishes up cultural diversity with 12 000 restauranteurs and café owners offering curated tastes and hinting at secret recipes. The festival this year coincides with Eid Al Fitr celebrations. Besides art and design festivals, there’s fine dining at D3 all year.
1. One Life Kitchen And Café (1Life)
With a feed your soul slogan, being at 1Life, for a salad, sandwich, coffee, and cake, is an experience. But there’s much more. The restaurant is intertwined with D3’s beginning and started as a café, restaurant, and coffee roaster in the early days. The slick interiors are those of Lebanese architect Fari Sarieddine whose atelier has been at D3 since the start too.
At 1Life, your soul is nurtured, and you leave feeling you’ve nourished yourself with, as they say, really good food. It’s a spot to sit down, gaze at hipsters and freelancers, and take in D3’s hallmark design layout and vibe. The menu has enticing combos, and you can’t go wrong with a soup and grilled focaccia or the Guacamole taco.
I like the Schrute farm burger, a delish beetroot patty with vegan cheese, avo, and onion! A close second choice is the falafel wrap packed with pickles, flavored with sumac, and, hold on…minted garlic aioli.
Treat yourself to a leisurely meal with 1Life’s Sri-Lankan seabass in a coconut and green pea curry. Try the ‘Poke Me Up Before You Mango’ bowl with salmon cubes in tamari sauce, mango, pickled ginger, and cubed beetroot. The ingredients are on sticky rice topped with black sesame and chili mayo dressing.
With a cup of freshly roasted coffee, there’s none better than the cheesecake with a dark crust and soft center and a quick chat with the maître de. 1Life’s story connects to arts and culture, the food influences are from across the world and this place is more than food. Diversity knows no bounds – there are films shown in this venue too.
- Ground Floor, Building 5
- Phone: 04 513 4727
- Website: onelifedxb.com
2. Akiba Dori
Akiba Dori’s neon-lit interior is a bit of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, the center of modern Japanese culture. This is anime culture! Akiba is the name of a deity who was enshrined after a devastating fire near Tokyo in 1869. Dori is the Japanese for a street. The restaurant emulates a street vibe and offers fusion Japanese street food and a Tokyo-Neapolitan pizzeria!
Business exec Samer S Hamadeh came up with a Tokyo-style Neapolitan pizzeria, for some, a misnomer. But it works when you see the eclectic mix, some loyal fans, and plenty of creatives that come for good food, ambient style, and a designed interior. It’s D3’s fashionistas’ den, and visitors also seek out the secret of the pizza with a Tokyo base.
The owner follows his passion for arcade life and lives his background in bars and clubs. And being ‘Tokyopolitan’ is the vibe here. Watch Luigi, a Neapolitan pizzaiola, in action. His t-shirt with ‘Luigi-san’ and a huge ‘10’ printed on the back of the shirt – which I have no clue – is eye-catching.
Luigi holds the secret for the ‘magic’ pizza, which some say is the fine flour from Japan, salt, and his wisdom. Others say it’s the high-end modern pizza oven. I choose the classic marinara pizza. The slices of French pink garlic, a homemade tomato base with origanum, and added on top fresh basil leaves can’t be beaten.
The pizza is a curiosity and has the best taste too. Some ask about the lighter dough and think it’s the 26 hours of proofing that does it. Or is it the 500degrees C bespoke Japanese wood oven that bakes a pizza in under 60seconds? Have a pizza here, feel Tokyopolitan, and taste the authentic Neapolitan tomato base.
Akiba Dori has plenty more on offer. Don’t miss out on the tuna and salmon sashimi on a bed of leaves served with a tangy apple and ginger dressing. There’s wagyu katsu sando for those carnivorous types – a combo is wagyu beef coated in panko crumbs and served on toasted bread.You can enjoy this from a seat looking out at D3’s skyline and the coming and going of multinationals on foot.
Just sit there and listen to the different languages spoken – Arabic, French, Italian, Urdu, Hindi, and English. See hipsters coiffed at Chaps & Co, an 8-fold barber station outfit with attitude, energy, and pizzazz.
- Ground Floor, Building 8, Unit 5
- Phone: +971 4 770 7949
- Website: http://www.akibadori.com/
Follow the flavor! A refrain reminiscent of food festivals in D3 spurs me on to see what happens at YUi, a Japanese-style food and a concept lifestyle store. Yui and store Frame are synonymous with the D3 style. And Yui has the best ramen – made on-site and served with a broth that’s simmered for at least ten hours.
The outrageously hip YUi has even got a list of waters to choose from – not just Evian, but ones bottled in the Antipodes and at Mount Fiji! Unlimited choices, someone says, that’s D3! And I learned about the total dissolved solids, sodium, magnesium, and calcium in the water on sale.
Amongst the fine-picked D3 restaurants lined up to enthrall one’s appetite, YUi’s steaming ramen (/ˈrɑːmən/) (拉麺, ラーメン) or a Japanese noodle dish, is delectable. The ramen, Japan’s Zen dish, brings one to YUi. In a flash, while savoring the dish, one finds out that YUi means ‘only one’ in Japanese. And you know what singles this eatery out.
There are no artificial ingredients in the noodles or the broth. The ramen is handmade and freshly done every day to ensure its hallmark chewiness and firmness. The signature broth is 100% halal chicken, fresh clams, and locally grown veg. It’s freshly made and simmers for 10 hours each day.
I chose the vegetable-based miso broth with tofu chashu, mizuna, eggplant, spring onion, carrot, mushroom, and menma (seasoned bamboo shoots). Indulge in the mystique of the Menma wish as you enjoy the ramen. As a good choice, there’s a chicken and seafood Paitan broth served with thin slices of ribeye steak, diced spring onion, and chili oil. Each plate is a mini artwork.
A must-have starter is the miso soup with donburi (steamed rice). YUi serves scrambled eggs with ramen too. A good pick is the miso with minced chicken, menma, pickled ginger, bean sprouts, nori, spring onion, and chili oil. I go for the Ebi Tempura Don – crunchy shrimp tempura on Japanese rice topped with a sweet date shoyu sauce. And a seaweed side salad! As the Japanese say: Dekiagari!
It’s cosmopolitan at YUi. Diners tuck into steaming ramen and onigiri, both o-musubi or nigirimeshi. The rice ball snack is made from cooked or steamed sushi rice with furikake seasonings (a secret ingredient). A treat served in a nori (seaweed) wrap. It’s hard to not hear a relay of ‘viola!’ interspersed with ‘hahu’! Even ‘Ecco’! Afterwards, don’t forget to pop into lifestyle shop Frame.
- Ground Floor, Building 7
- Phone: +971 4 243 4217
- Website: https://selectshopframe.com/pages/about-yui
4. The Lighthouse
Another restaurant & concept store combo in D3. Here, no surprise that every aspect is curated from the experience, the ambiance, and food and dining. You might even feel that dining is a pinnacle experience. You are part of the world of the arts and culture as you sit amongst a gathering of tastemakers. At The Lighthouse, the menu is in Arabic and in English.
A savory breakfast here is a must – the homemade Campaillou bread comes with avo, cranberries, and labneh. You add your choice of eggs. I go for the goat’s cheese pie with oregano, sumac, and honey. And I can’t wait to have the pancakes with Chantilly cream, maple syrup, and berries next time. Or, the caramelized apples, date syrup, and cinnamon on a crispy waffle!
The Lighthouse has a fine choice of homemade granola with Greek yogurt and honey options. My favorite is the acai bowl with tahini, banana, dates, blueberries, sesame seeds, and chia seeds. If you’re at The Lighthouse for lunch, choose the grilled octopus with spicy hummus or the artichoke and bean salad with salmon.
Once you’ve tasted the roasted cauliflower with broccoli and lemon tahini as a starter, you’ll want the whole baked bream with chimichurri! Again, it’s a tight toss-up between the bream and the orange-glazed chicken breast served with a parsnip puree and grilled asparagus.
For good measure, too, you can order a drink Immunity which is Greek yogurt, orange juice, pineapple, and kale. If you’re not already into those passion-fruit martinis with lime, lemon, and vanilla syrup! A curated taste sensation, for sure.
Dinner is a showstopper. Start with artichoke and kale salad with feta, spelt, sundried tomatoes, and almonds. There’s kale and Bresaola, beef, almond flakes, and shaved parmesan for a meatier choice. Or roasted beets with pistachio-coated goat’s cheese.
My choice on the meze is squid in smoked Provencal tomato sauce served with fresh Campaillou bread. There’s beef and tuna tartare and a grilled Aubergine with spiced lamb and nuts! And, I have to order the most delectable burrata served with pomegranate, grapes, and cherry tomatoes. Again, each dish is a signature one.
There’s the lobster with cherry tomatoes or gourmand sliced ribeye served with vine tomatoes and mustard if you’re sharing. But, again, for me, it’s the whole seabass wrapped and baked in vine leaves and encrusted in harissa. There are happy drink hours between 5pm – 7pm daily: ‘buy one, get one on us’!
- Building 6
- Phone: +971 4 422 6024
- Website: https://thelighthouse.ae/
5. Molecule Bistro Royal
The fusion-focus of Molecule attracts D3 trend-setters. There are conversations all day long to eavesdrop on and hear about what’s hip and happening from this it-crowd. Molecule Bistro Royal is a magnet that allows each patron to be an atom in its gastronomic molecule! And it’s the design restaurant of D3.
The creativity of D3 is reflected here, both eclectic and quirky in choice; Molecule’s leftfield food and cocktails attract what comes with fun parties. It’s an event and gathering spot where the makers of the creative D3 meet with food curators.
This is where you come to be served crostini with Portobello and brown mushrooms, oysters, cream, truffle oil, and cheese. You can order mussels in creamy white wine, with the taste of fresh lemon and parsley, and served with French fries!
There are vegan bowls galore and tapas. You also can order tortillas with chicken, avo, and spinach. However, the piece de resistance is a baked salmon burger with avo, sesame oil, and wasabi mayo … nesting on a black squid ink bun! There’s the wasabi tuna burger on red and white cabbage and on a squid ink bun, drizzled in wasabi mayo and sesame oil. This is why the trendy ones are here.
The tender Angus beef loin is good enough to share. Just order the butternut squash risotto as an accompaniment. The risotto – and there’s more than one to choose from – is done in veggie stock and lavishly topped with parmesan shavings.
The pasta is good, and the ravioli Verde stands out for me. The ravioli is made fresh and filled with ricotta, served with cherry tomatoes in a creamy parmesan sauce. Once you’ve dined, seen, and chatted, don’t miss out on what brings everyone there too – the passionfruit panna cotta with crumble fleur de sel. The saltiness of this dessert is the umami!
- Ground Floor, Building 6
- Phone: +971529492202 / +97148747290
6. Mohalla Restaurant
Mohalla proprietors say their restaurant is the closest you get to being in an Indian neighborhood. They’ve curated a taste of the street cuisine in cities and towns. You, too, can be mesmerized by an array of colors and the flavors of the spices. Mohalla has a rich menu with many influences and plenty of dal dishes.
As a treat, you can order Mumbai’s Croque Kejriwal, which is more than just a fancy way to have eggs on toast. The egg yolks are soft, cooked perfectly, topped with a layer of melted cheese, and served with green chutney. Your tandoori choices are vast, and the food has three generic labels: mild, spicy, and … sweet!
Mohalla is just what the proprietors aimed for, classic Indian cuisine with an urban touch, and this brings the patrons back. Order some of Mohalla’s modern-ethnic dishes. Try the avocado papdi chaat – fresh avo mashed, pomegranate kernels scattered on top, and a drizzle of tamarind-sweet chutney.
The head chef Adwait Anantwar is known for how he conjures up magic – in color and taste – with his dishes. Order the sea bass served with raw confit mango, cucumber, and lemon dressing. A must too are the meat rissole kebabs served on lemon-scented labneh and dressed in mint oil. The dish, Keema’r Doi Bara, is served with fried garlic topped with pine nuts.
And if that’s not enough, the tiger shrimps with tomato, coriander, and a ginger base is out of this world. The desserts are equally delish, and make sure you taste Anantwar’s dark chocolate and citrus kheer. But, definitely, have the cardamom cheesecake with poached dates!
- Building No 5
- Phone: +971 4 427 2855
- Website: https://mohallarestaurant.com/
7. SMAT Resto-Café
Yes, SMAT has a fan base, and that’s no secret. Up-market and stylish, you can dine in or take out. And on a special occasion, SMAT has a Turkish breakfast with slices of bread served with kemak honey butter, labneh balls and cold cuts, Shellal cheese, herb olives, and homemade shakshouka.
Other breakfast treats are the chia pudding bowl with white chia seeds, coconut milk, mango, pineapple, strawberry, and coconut flakes sprinkled on top. Don’t forget about the truffle mushroom scrambled eggs, a freshly baked croissant filled with eggs, mushroom, Gouda cheese, and a dousing of truffle oil.
A favorite is the vine leaves’ risotto, pearly rice kernels cooked with vine leaves, and it’s a secret, special herbs and spices and served with a tamarind sauce. You might even find yourself cueing for the SMAT Chicken Wings!
I invariably go for the mango achar spring rolls and its side zaatar mayo. The avocado and beetroot salad is a good side order. Served on baby spinach and topped with whole nuts and pumpkin seeds, the salad is dressed with pomegranate kernels and squares of feta cheese.
Choose the pan-seared seabass with crisp skin, saffron lemon butter sauce, and fresh spinach and baby potatoes. Or go for the classic ash soup, a thick rice noodle treat combined with fresh herbs, young leeks, spinach, parsley, and served with dill sautéed chickpeas.
Another favorite is the kale and beef steak – fresh kale and strips of cut sirloin that have been marinated in sea salt and olive oil. It is served with avocado, cherry tomatoes, sliced onions, and pecans.
- Building No. 10
- Phone: +971 4 580 2429
- Website: qr.b1menu.com
8. Mum’s Table
For traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, there’s Mum’s Table. Not only is the restaurant open at all hours, but the traditional Syrian recipes are also reminiscent of old-style slow-cooking methods. The food is dependable, and there are many options for halal food and vegetarians. There’s live music and plenty of outdoor seating.
Mum’s Table serves their own Mama Ghanoush, an eggplant, pomegranate, pepper, and olive oil dip. And there’s always Mum’s labneh, a creamy yogurt topped with olive oil. As with all Mums, there are secrets, too, like the Mouhammara from Aleppo. The secret blend of ingredients stays so…a secret.
While waiting, enjoy a Middle Eastern Hami melon drink and peruse the family tapas/meze with manakish tahini, soujouk Halabi, and manakish. The manakish (Lebanese dough) is freshly prepared and cooked. Don’t go without sitting down to a bowl of Bahaa Khateib either – just as the friendly Mums want you to enjoy it!
You are (like Mum’s do) spoilt for choice with Fatta Shamia and shakshouka served with cheese, meat, or mushroom alongside other fajita options. The restauranteurs show their grit. They’re hard-working, 24hours a day, and bring homemade artisanal tastes of the Middle East to D3.
- Building 7
- Phone: +971 4 244 1331
- Website: mumstable.ae