Dubai has been described as the 'Vegas' of the East (minus the crazy drug-fuelled benders of course) and it's blindingly obvious why.
It's the biggest show-off of the seven Emirates, boasting the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa - with plans to outdo itself with a taller tower in 2020; along with having the world's glitziest hotels, outrageous theme parks, glamorous shopping malls equipped with indoor ski slopes and aquariums and gigantic golf courses. They've even built cities within cities in the form of man-made palm-shaped islands.
You name it, they've built it. And they're building more of it. Approximately 25% of the world's cranes are currently operating in Dubai!
This desert furnace of a city has average temperatures of around 36°C (96°F) in addition to high humidity, so it's quite simply horrific to stand outside any time of year.
Dubai is not a walking city at the best of times. It's very spread out, so you really need to plan out what you're going to do rather than 'get lost' and explore, unless you want to spend an absolute fortune on taxis/Uber.
This is why Dubai is nocturnal, coming alive after sunset when the palm trees lining the streets light up with thousands of fairy lights. It's very common for young children to be out and about past midnight.
As a Muslim nation, alcohol is served mostly in hotels. That said, it's definitely the most liberal of the seven Emirates, where most turn a blind eye to bare legs and shoulders.
Only residents with liquor permits can buy it from a few designated stores. The only way tourists can get hold of it is at duty-free on the way in. Hence why Dubai's social scene revolves around its hotels.
It's fitting for a city of indulgence that the all-you-can-eat is a staple in the social calendar. Friday and/or Saturday long lunches are iconic in the Dubai expat scene and a must-do for visitors.
Most hotels do 'bottomless brunch' deals (yes, that means unlimited drinks!!!) but make sure you book early because they're THE thing to do here.
Just as popular are ladies nights (usually Tuesdays) where drinks are either discounted, or free for a certain period of time.
In addition, catering to the community of over 13,000 Emirates trolly dollies in Dubai, not to mention thousands of other aircrew flying in and out of the gateway to the Middle East, many restaurants and bars also do crew nights and other special deals for aircrew.
Of course in our two weeks in Dubai, we sampled as many buffets as physically possible. It wasn't a cheap exercise, especially having to buy several pairs of looser pants afterwards... But it was so worth it.
Here are our favourites:
Al Bayt Afternoon Tea
Walking into the lobby of The Palace is positively dreamy. There are rose petals everywhere and the smiling staff almost fall over themselves to help you. You really feel like royalty here.
It's hard not to spot the table of high tea treats decorated up to the ceiling straight ahead of you. While Al Bayt offers the 'standard' three-tier stand high tea (choose from Traditional or Arabic High Tea) every day of the week, the super opulent buffet style is offered only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
A harpist plays while you choose from a deliciously varied selection of cute canapé sized hot and cold savouries including prawn cocktails, mini beef wellingtons and old fashioned faves like coronation chicken and egg & cress sandwiches.
Sweets include all types of cakes, pastries and tarts, almost too pretty to eat. Some decorated with real gold flakes in true Dubai style.
I LOVED all the floral infused treats, like lavender pana cotta, orange blossom cream and rose & pistachio cake.
You've got to let your inner kid out and attack the jars filled with cookies, chunks of chocolate and lollies. They were untouched until we arrived but once we opened one, a rampage of ladies got into it.
Don't be shy people! They wouldn't put them there if they didn't want you to dig in 😛
The drinks list is very impressive and the staff make a great effort to keep you topped up. You'll easily be able to make your way through at least four or five different drinks including various tea infusions and coffees, iced teas, coffees and chocolates.
It would be nice if a glass of champagne was offered but let's be honest, that's not what high tea's about. Make sure you try the Red of Arabia that can be served hot or cold.
At 160AED (approx. US$40) per person, this is an unbelievable deal - a fraction of the price of afternoon tea at the Burj (560AED / US$150) - no need to wait for a special occasion to enjoy this afternoon tea!
[Al Bayt: Afternoon tea at 2pm - 6pm | Smart Casual | Lobby Level, The Palace Downtown Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai | +971 4 888 3444 | firstname.lastname@example.org ]
Like many of Dubai's favourites, Ping Pong has been imported from London and is one of the city's hottest Chinese fusion restaurants.
A dim sum paradise, it serves dumplings galore - fried, steamed and baked, as well as noodles, rice, soups and salads, all with a modern twist.
Picky eaters are cared for with plenty of gluten free, vegetarian and nut-free options.
We couldn't make it on those days :(. Luckily when we did arrive on a Tuesday night, Ping Pong were offering another smaller version all-you-can-eat special:
Apparently they were testing some of these out out before adding to their standard menu.
Everything was incredibly delicious! Each dish is made fresh as you order it and served to the table piping hot.
The only downside is that because this restaurant is within a mall rather than a hotel, it doesn't serve alcohol 🙁
However the mocktails are so gorgeous, you really don't miss it 🙂
Looking around, the place was packed out and every table was covered with delicious looking dishes.
I'm a traditionalist - I much prefer authentic Chinese over fancy fusion, but this is one place that offers an interesting spin and I was happily surprised.
If the few dishes we tried (repeatedly) were so outstanding, I can only dream of what the Fridays and Sundays here are like! <3
[Ping Pong: Dubai Mall, LG floor, Dubai | +971 4 339 9088 | email@example.com ]
Like many of Dubai's five star hotel restaurants, Atlantis at the Palm's signature buffet restaurant Saffron, has an incredible spread of international cuisines in an elegant setting.
What sets this one apart is the exceptional quality of each and every dish. At all upscale buffet restaurants no matter where you go, there are bound to be at least a few dishes that aren't to your liking. Not the case at Saffron! At least it's extremely unlikely anyway.
Also the service is second to none. The wait staff here don't miss a beat. If you head towards the seafood station, there's a finger bowl with a slice of lemon and hand towel waiting for you at your seat. If you choose a drinks package, you can bet your glass will never see itself less than a quarter full.
It's a bit overwhelming seeing the sheer volume of food, all beautifully laid out. It's almost impossible to know where to begin... even harder to know when to stop!
The sashimi is the best we've ever tasted in the UAE! It was definitely up there with some of the best sashimi we've tried anywhere.
We were also very happily surprised at how beautifully fresh the oysters were. Small in size (I think all oysters are small compared to the ones in New Zealand) but so, so good.
It's incredible how Dubai imports all of this stuff, often alive.
Insider tip: Ask for the lobster at the seafood section. It's not placed out on display - they hide it so it doesn't fly out all at once. You don't get if you don't ask.
The real show stopper however is the huge desert station which features an over-sized chocolate fountain, a manned ice cream station and sweet delicacies from all over the word. My favourites were the Arabic sweets.
You definitely need to come here hungry. It's the perfect ending after a day at Aquaventure - Dubai's newest and in my opinion, BEST water park in Dubai at Atlantis The Palm.
Just remember to book dinner ahead because security at Atlantis The Palm is extremely tight and they won't let you enter, even the wing of the hotel that Saffron's in, unless you're a hotel guest or have a confirmed reservation number.
Saffron turns into a day party on Fridays when a DJ is brought in for its famous Friday Brunch (235AED/US$64 without any drinks, 295AED/US$80 with soft drinks, 535AED/US$145 with alcohol) .
It's always a full house and all the tables mix and mingle. 'Ahlan!' voted it Best Brunch in Dubai 2015.
[Saffron: Smart Casual | Atlantis, The Palm, Crescent Road, The Palm, Dubai | +971 4 426 2000 | firstname.lastname@example.org ]
This is a bit of a random insert but I just couldn't write about food in Dubai and not mention Operation Falafel.
It doesn’t fit at all with what I’ve written about above but it is simply the best “fast food” chain in Dubai.
Everything is super fresh, tasty and healthy.
Light-as-air pita breads are tossed into your bread basket, seconds after leaving the ever-burning oven and the falafels are to-die-for, so fluffy yet perfectly crispy on the outside.
The egg dish is THE breakfast of champions. Three sunny-side-up or well done if you’d prefer eggs, along with a vege platter and freshly just-baked cloud-like pita bread.
If you’re staying at a hotel, save your money and opt out of the breakfast there and head to Operation Falafel instead.
Even though they’ve just started doing delivery service, they’ve nailed it because it’s just as good delivered as it is eating in / take-away; and for a ridiculously small delivery charge.
Most items on the menu are between 18 – 28AED (US$4 – US$8). If you’re looking for authentic and super affordable Arabic street food, look no further.
Have you been to Dubai? Have you been to these restaurants? How did you find them? Where do you think are awesome places to eat in Dubai or the UAE?