The Small Concept Hangouts challenging Dubai’s maximalist reputation

For more than a quarter of a century, the name Dubai has conjured up images of big money, fast cars and elegant towers rising from the sand symbolizing the emirate’s international ambitions. Meanwhile, almost every major fashion, restaurant and hospitality player wanted to take part. Consequently, the City of Gold has become a global hub for travel and thought leadership, both of which are currently represented in pavilions in pandemic-delayed Dubai. Expo 2020, on view until the end of March, which explores the future of life on Earth. Later this year, the Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences, Atlantis’ newest sibling, The Palm, will open, seeking to establish a more sustainable model for ultra-luxury resorts. There’s also fresh thinking in the artsy enclave of Al Quoz, where a groundbreaking new mosque and an arthouse cinema showing regional works celebrate the UAE in different ways. And in the food scene, which is moving away from maximalism towards smaller scale concepts from Emirati restaurateurs. There’s even a little beach getaway that joins a hotel scene known for its stratosphere-piercing heights. All this to say that there is more to Dubai than you think, which is a great reason to visit now.

Half oyster shells at Dibba Bay Oysters

Dibba Bay Oyster Box

Med-style Ula restaurant at the Palm

ULA

Catering, diversified

Intimate, no-frills hangouts with local flair join innovative upscale newcomers to bring new texture to the city’s dining scene.

For years titans like Bottura, Boulud, Robuchon and Ramsay have defined the culinary scene here. Although big-name outposts continue to open (including bling-out Japanese fusion Sushi Samba two months ago), a more local approach is also emerging. On the peaceful shores of Umm Suqeim’s fishing port 2 lies the small Dibba Bay Oysters, where savvy locals share platters of Fujairah oysters while watching dancing fishing boats and blood orange sunsets. In the district of the Greens is Kinoya: Born out of chef Neha Mishra’s sold-out supper club, it’s now a low-key Japanese izakaya and ramen venue where sipping is encouraged. Local restaurateur Mahmood Al Khamis has gone big on something small with his trendy warehouse-style pizzeria moon slice, which opened early last year.

Even with all these casual newcomers, there are still plenty of openings where you’ll feel underdressed without a jacket. At the chichi Restaurant Village of the Four Seasons Resort Dubai in Jumeirah Beach, the local group La Cantine has opened its doors Mimi Kakushi, a sultry dining room lined with stained glass inspired by 1920s Osaka, where affluent diners sample Wagyu and foie gras gyozas and sip sake cocktails. At the Palm Jumeirah, newcomers include Ulla, The Palm’s new Mediterranean-inspired hangout, adorned with beachy bohemian touches like rattan lights. On the Palm West Beach development, must-visits include a trendy Balinese-themed restaurant Koko Bay and Riviera-inspired lucky fish, where diners savor lazy lunches of lobster and rosé overlooking the marina skyline.

The chandelier of the Privilège bar on the roof of the SLS

SLS Dubai

golden dreams

In its sheer ambition, bling and megaphone glamour, Dubai’s hotel scene may even surpass that of Vegas. This latest harvest is upping the ante.

SLS Dubai Hotel & Residences

The max-volume brand pulled out all the stops for its Middle East debut last April. Everything is over the top, including the Privilege rooftop pool bar, which sits 75 stories high, and the Sky Family King suites that span 990 square feet, with Burj Khalifa views. The quirky duck sculptures at the Infinity Pool and 12 Chairs Caviar Bar are equally comprehensive, though the impressive stained glass windows in some common areas are the rarest qualities in Dubai: understated. From $340; sbe.com

Raffles La Palme

Checking into the Singaporean luxury brand’s second Dubai outpost is like stepping into Versailles – a riot of gilded paneling, crystal chandeliers, lounge chairs and manicured lawns. Modernity goes through the chic beach club operated by Bulldozer Group, a late-night jazz bar, and an elegant Japanese-Italian restaurant. From $1,200; www.rafflesthepalmdubai.com

Anantara World Islands Resort Dubai

Technically speaking, this tropical getaway, the first hotel in the ambitious World Islands project in the Arabian Gulf, is a 15-minute speedboat ride from central Dubai. Come for the thatched-roof villas, white sand, bright flowers, open-air bathrooms, and loads of jute and rattan without having to skip a flight. From $650; anantara.com

Address Beach Resort

The number one reason to visit the home team’s first resort behind the Address Hotel in Downtown Dubai is the sand. But be sure to take the 77th-floor elevator to the world’s tallest infinity pool, which offers views of the Arabian Sea and makes the flashing neon lights of Dubai superfluous. From $1,300; addresshotels.com

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