6 of Dubai’s first ever restaurants
If you’ve lived in Dubai for longer than a week you’ll know the city has got international dining nailed. Choose any dish on a whim: razor-thin sashimi, tahini-dipped falafels or mutton-rich dhansak and there’ll be a restaurant ready to satisfy the most cosmopolitan of cravings. There’s Greek, Pakistani, Thai, Iraqi, Brazilian and more steakhouses than you can shake a tempura battered onion ring.
Until October 2015, however, there wasn’t anywhere dedicated to Malaysian cuisine. Rasa Sayang (or “taste of love”) plugged that particular gap in July, opening its doors in Oud Metha to serve peanut chicken satays, beef rendang and the ever-popular Nasi Lemak to hungry crowds most nights. Represent.
We started wondering about Dubai’s other culinary “firsts”, those places that have survived trends and have refused to flounder under the fickle and finickity ways of the city we eat in. Here are our favourites.
First opened: 1969
Where: Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai
Considered the array of Indian options in Dubai, being recognised the oldest surviving Indian restaurant is quite a feat. Tucked snugly in a pocket of Bur Dubai, it’s still run by the original owner Kaku Maharaj who loves serving up Bombay Pa Bhaji, Katchori and north Indian Thali to a host of loyal customers. He is proud to say he’s catered for pretty much every Sindhi-Bhatia wedding in the local community since the late 60s. You’ll only need to spend around AED20 between two people to feel stuffed.
Happy customer: “I still eat here regularly and have done for years. The curries are just fantastic and it’s still the only place to go for gajar mirchi” – Bhumika Nasta.
Contact: 009714 3525817, 009714 3552615
BRITISH PUB STYLE
The George and Dragon
First opened: 1969 (refurbed in 1987)
Where: The Ambassador Hotel, Bur Dubai
This is British-style pub tucked away in the Ambassador Hotel, which according to the hotel’s managing partner, Mahesh Whabi, is Dubai’s oldest surviving hotel. “People will return from overseas and tell me they visited 15 years earlier and nothing has changed,” says manager Jonathon Kelso. “It’s the best value in town for good food. Our signature dish, the chicken tikka masala, is an institution in itself.”
Look out for a stuffed monkey behind the bar. It’s been there from day one and holds such sentimental value with some loyal customers they’ve tried to steal it several times!
Happy customer: “If I want to feel young again I visit the George and Dragon. It hasn’t changed in years: top food, top people, top place!” – Ollie Martyn
Contact: +9714 393 9444, www.astamb.com
First opened: 1984
Where: The Astoria Hotel, Bur Dubai
Chicken and steak fajitas, quesadillas, sides of black beans and rice are everything you’d expect from a Tex-Mex. The curries and tandooried meats, however? An added bonus. As is the Russian band, the open-mic soul nights and belly dancing shows. “I think Panchos is probably the best music venue Dubai will ever see,” says Mark Lloyd, DJ on Dubai Eye, who has been a resident in Dubai for 30 years. “The food is awesome and Pancho the doorman a true Dubai legend.”
Happy customer: “Quite a few of us had 16th birthday parties at Panchos. It was definitely one of those 'cool' places with the band playing and great food. What memories!” – Aparna Maroo-Jain.
Contact: +9714 353 4300, www.astamb.com
First opened: 1977 (refurbed 1997 and 2015)
Where: Jumeirah Beach Hotel (Chicago Beach Hotel until 1997).
A range of alpine favourites from chef Marcel Korpuka continue to draw the crowds to Der Keller, but the star remains the Wiener Schnitzel Mit Preiselbeeren und Bratkartoffeln (breaded veal escallop with lingonberry and sautéed potato). “Residents have been dining here for years because they feel comfortable and at home. Our wholesome food is like a home cooked meal and it’s still the perfect place to gather friends for a catch-up or celebration,” says restaurant manager Laura Jacobsen. The décor is suitably chalet chic and with the AC up you’ll feel like you’re dining in The Alps.
Happy customer: “As Dubai grows, it's lovely to know Der Keller has been here all along and I still have somewhere to go for great German food” – Kate Bell
Contact: +9714 366 5866, www.jumeirah.com
First opened: 1987
Where: Hyatt Regency hotel, Bur Dubai
Popular for nearly 30 years now, Miyako owes much to Head chef Takeshi Sato’s tight reins on Japanese tradition and many have hailed the Teppanyaki “the best in town”. The décor feels clean and modern with a Tatami room, Teppanyaki tables with communal seating and a sushi Bar.
Happy customer: “The sushi and teriyaki dishes are always my top choices and the low ceiling make for a really cosy set up” - food blogger Jasmine Pereira (peartreediaries.com)
Contact: 009714 317 2222, Dubai.regency.hyatt.com
Chicken Tikka Inn
First opened: 1972
Where: Nasr Square, Deira
Another outlet offering excellent Indian food, this place is famous for their “paratha (puri)”, a cross between a shallow-fried flatbread (paratha) and a puffy deep-fried bread (puri).
The first branch opened in Deira in 1972 and they’ve since expanded to nine outlets. Including JLT and Business Bay. Owner Shafqat Sendhu still takes a hands on approach and believes quality is the back bone of their staying power. “We serve quality food and we have never changed,” he says. “We have expanded thanks to our loyal customers, but everyone still knows what you get – really tasty BBQ chicken.”
Happy customer: “Chicken Tikka Inn has been a fixture in my family’s diet for many years now. The BBQ minced chicken kebabs wrapped in the paratha and dipped in yoghurt hit the spot every time,” – Shilpa Mandhan
Contact: +9714 325 4333, chickentikkainn.com
MORE GOLDEN OLDIES
These culinary delights, maybe not officially first, but are still filling bellies with good food for many years…
One of if not the oldest (we can’t be sure) Italian restaurants in town and was opened by Italian chef Federico Rafaelli in 1982 who still serves up some of the most authentic pizza and pasta dishes this side of Milano.
Opened in 1973 and is said to be the first restaurant offering a complete Pakistani menu – way before Ravi’s which only opened in 1978.
Opened in 1974 and the first Indo-Chinese restaurant in town. Authentic Chinese came to Dubai much later on.
Anyone who lived in Dubai in the 70s will know Raoof in Nasr Square, Deira – remembered for the shawarmas or “long rolls” filled with everything from hot dogs to brains and liver. The building was demolished around 1999 but owner Raoof bought another famous restaurant called Hatem and renamed it Hatem Al Tai.