It’s Friday in Dubai: the first day of the weekend (the break runs Friday-Saturday in the UAE) and the clock has struck midday.
The distant call to prayer forms a somewhat ironic soundtrack to the (mainly) expat revelers making for the week’s main event: brunch.
The best Dubai brunches are all-inclusive, multi-hour banquets frequented mostly by glammed-up expats and held at hotels citywide one day a week, every week.
The big come-down
“People work so hard in Dubai they come to rely upon brunch as an extended come-down after a heavy week,” says Sally (who only wanted to give her first name), an expat for six years.
“Dubai is transient, there’s a welcome party, a leaving party, a birthday party virtually every week,” says British-born James Leetham. “Brunches are an easy way to get lots of people who don’t necessarily know each other in one place.”
Al Qasr, where the brunch drinks look like dessert (or the other way around).In the United Arab Emirates — where only non-Muslims can drink alcohol, women are expected to dress modestly and it’s illegal for anyone to be drunk on the street — brunches retain a slightly risqué image.
Come 11:30 a.m., all over Dubai, it’s not uncommon to see gaggles of foreign girls in thigh-skimming dresses tottering out of apartment towers to flag down cabs to brunch.
“Everyone always puts in more effort when going for brunch,” Sally says.
“It’s a great opportunity to eat like a pig and have a drink or three while pretending to be classy.”
It’s not uncommon to spend $100 plus on brunch — the limitless drinks quota ups the entry price.
The food spread put on at many of Dubai’s best brunches stands up on its own. But when drinking, brunchers are always aware of the tight regulations around alcohol in Dubai and the UAE.
Dubai has a reputation as a cosmopolitan city with Western influences, where visitors can drink at bars and restaurants and unmarried couples can share hotel rooms. But the country still adheres to Islamic laws and traditions.
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“Your Louboutins look cheap”
Some brunch-goers handle the atmosphere better than others.
“At Yalumba a fight broke out between two girls after one told the other her Louboutins looked cheap,” recalls Belinda Harrington.
“Everyone headed out to the terrace to see what the ruckus was all about, but first I remember stepping over a tattooed man who was sitting on the floor crying.”
While Dubai brunches often carry with them a less than appetizing reputation for mild debauchery, they also serve an important social function for lonely expats.
What follows is a selection of the best Dubai brunches, presented in no particular order.
Saffron has an excellent selection of desserts.
A DJ blares out disco beats here while groups in party mode hit the food line (Time Out Dubai estimates 220 dishes) that’s as abundant as the product at the manned drinks stations.
The watermelons filled with punch give a taste of the mood.
This is the classiest of Dubai’s brunches.
You won’t catch any expat depravity at Traiteur, rather linen-clad Europeans swanning about the upscale food counters (eggs Benedict, snails, lobster ) with flutes of Veuve Cliquot.
Outside, yachts bob on the harbor.
The sit-down and a la carte menu at this slick Latin outfit make it one of the less raucous — but no less glamorous — brunch options.
Fare spans quality ceviches and churassco-style meats, while drinks are limited to quality South American wine and cocktails.
Toro Toro, Grosvenor House, Tower 2, Dubai Marina; 12:30.-4 p.m.; +971 4 399 8888; 400 dirham ($109)
Al Qasr: Just part of the multi-restaurant offerings.
For sheer La Dolce Vita scale and excess, Al Qasr can’t be beaten as a brunch setting.
Life-sized gold horses line the hotel’s driveway.
The colossal brunch spreads itself over three restaurants.
There’s also a chocolate room and a huge, sea-facing terrace where cocktails are an extra to the free-flowing bubbly.
Held in a British pub, the menu here appeals to homesick Brits: Yorkshire puddings, roast beef, sausages.
The rowdy atmosphere and cheap-as-chips prices mean it’s mainly a brunch for the young crowd or people with an undying appetite for tomfoolery.
As James Leetham recalls: “At Double Decker, someone threw my flip flops over the wall, I tickled a fat man and stole a watering can.”
Double Decker, Al Murooj Rotana, Downtown Dubai; noon.-3 p.m.; +971 4 321 1111; 170 dirham ($46)
The frenzy at Yalumba isn’t always around the food.
The action at Yalumba doesn’t always take place around the impressive food counters.
A clue can be found on the back of Yalumba waiters’ uniforms, where the number of bottles he or she’s uncorked so far is recorded.
Balloons, party hats and noisemakers line the tables, the less snooty variety of Brit makes up the crowd and a DJ gets under way at 3 p.m.
Mina A’ Salam
Billed as “family friendly” (so, an indoor kids’ zone packed with games, sugary snacks and manned by nannies), this waterside haunt attracts a mixed crowd.
With fish and chips on the menu and a room dedicated entirely to pork (yes, really), the food is geared to expats.
Drink perks include Slush Puppy-style machines spawning icy cocktails.
This good-time venue sells its brunch in one word: Drunch.
Inside it’s like a noisy nightclub.
At 4 p.m. the post-brunch crowd spills over in more ways than one on to the dance floor.
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