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Food | Reviews

Family friendly brunches in Dubai

From a sophisticated jazz café with flapper dancers through to relaxed beachside diners, we’ve found the best brunches for all the family

Friday
23 May 2014 | 12:01 am

Café Belge Brunch
The Ritz Carlton, DIFC
Reviewed by Karen Pasquali Jones

Forget a kids’ club – the best ingredients for a fabulous family friendly brunch are far more sophisticated. Of course, brilliant food goes without saying so now restaurants are having to up the ante – and the Ritz Carlton DIFC is onto a winner with it’s 1920s style Café Belge brunch.

Walking into the Café Belge is like stepping back to the golden era. Reminiscent of The Wolsley in London, where all the A-list celebrities, policiticans and VIPs flock to in London, it is the epitome of vintage glamour, all art nouveau mono marble with gold accessories.

Café Belge Brunch

I wanted to rush out and buy a flapper dress and feather bower before sitting down. Too late I was in a maxi and our starter was heading towards the table – seafood on ice to share.

I’m a vegetarian and hadn’t phoned ahead to warn them but the chef soon rustled up a gorgeous quails egg and potato salad while my family tucked into fresh crab, beef tartar, prawns, mussels, snails – the kids refused to try them – with oysters and Belgian mayonnaise.

It was a hot day and we’d decided to sit outside while the courtyard terrace complete with waterwall (a water feature cascading down an outside wall) was packed. I wondered if I’d made the wrong choice for a moment – until the music started.

 Will I Am’s modern jazz ‘bbb-bang Bbbang, my baby shot me down again’ –  erupted and two women dressed in flapper-esque costumes with feather headdresses came out, with jazz hands and even jazzier feet. They were soon joined by a dancer in a trilby and tap shoes who span them round, joined them dancing on the bar, and even tried to get my little girl involved.

She was too busy dancing round our table to join them but her face lit up every time the dancers came out. There was just time in between to dive into steak, moule, mini burgers, fries, chicken vol au vent and meat balls while I was happy with my risotto and mushroom vol au vent.

The vibe matched the glorious food. We loved the contemporary jazz from DJ Lieutenant, the dancing – from the professionals and my six-year-old – and the genuine buzz. Everyone was chatting, smiling and tucking into gloriously unique platters. Up next was the children’s highlight – the desserts. There was sugar pie with ice cream, milk chocolate mouse and hand made chocolate. Belgian ones, of course! 

This is my new favourite brunch and is a glamorous treat for all ages. I will be going back very soon – and taking my feather head dress and dancing shoes!

Timings: 12.30pm-4.30pm, Saturdays
Price: From Dh265 to Dh365
To book call: 04 372 2323 or email cafebelgedifc@ritzcarlton.com


Cravin' Brunch
Novotel Hotel
Reviewed by Judy Co Gan

Let’s face it, there’s a brunch for every skyscraper in Dubai these days. So when the time comes to indulge it’s often easier to stick to the tried and tested favourites. New ones can be risky, especially with fussy eating little ones or a hard-to-please husband in tow.
 
“What if it’s too loud, too fancy, or a total rip-off?” A perfect venue can be spoilt by a rowdy crowd determined to devour all the cake pops.

Forgoing the hectic hubbub of the Friday fun-fuelled set, I opted for a lower-key Saturday brunch. I don’t have children or a husband to consider, but my friends and I were looking forward to a relaxed afternoon scoffing great food. And with Cravin’ Cajun, Dubai’s brand new Cajun restaurant, singing “Saturday is the new Friday” we decided to give its end of the weekend Cravin’ Brunch a try.

Focusing on Authentic Louisiana Cajun cuisine, these guys don’t coast along serving predictable dishes. There’s no sushi, fluero macaroons or clumsy fusions. Just New Orleans grub straight up, no messing!

We didn’t know what to expect, but as they say in the southern states, “Life is like a box of chocolates...”

The restaurant is situated on the ground floor of the Novotel Hotel Al Barsha, Dubai, roughly six steps through reception to its heavy wooden door. No lifts or stairs, but also no views. Walking in, the interiors are clean and stylish, all smooth pine tables, low-hung lights and intricate iron panels with more of an oriental feel than a ‘hot mess in mamas kitchen’ vibe.

Cravin' Brunch at Novotel Hotel

We sipped a refreshing fruity mocktail, and breathing in the sweet aromas coming from the bubbling pots and sizzling pans of the live cooking stations, we quickly realised we were on a gravy train of tasty fodder.

The one-pot style of Cajun cooking at Cravin’ brunch (apparently Creole cuisine originates from the city of New Orleans, Cajun from the countryside Louisiana, USA) is a family-friendly affair.

Think southern fried chicken, fresh fluffy waffles, crab cakes and bubbling jambalaya. Dipping directly into Louisiana’s French origins, picture oysters, cured meats and lots of cheese (including a swelling wheel of melted filo-encased Brie) all cooked up by Louisiana-raised, head chef Jeffrey.

To start off I plumped for a seafood salad of fresh shrimps, smoked salmon and crisp leaves, before piling the ‘jazz men’ rice on to my plate and licking my lips as I eyed up vats of jambalaya, Cajun fried shrimp and chicken gumbo soup. A skilful shift of rice here and some careful balancing there, and I was back at the table with all three dishes. And that was just the warm up!

We chewed and slurped happily as the house jazz band performed classic tunes from famous artists Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis – music soft enough not to disrupt the families and couples around us.

After a helping of grilled chicken cooked in buttermilk, I nibbled on an escargot en croute (brave), and dripped a second portion of melted Brie on to my plate.
Officially stuffed, I breathed a satisfied sigh just as my friend reappeared, plate piled high with mini cheese cakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries and a pistachio-green macaroon or two.

“There’s a whole room of desserts,” she whispered, leaning in as if to conceal her secret, “and a mountain of macaroons.”

“I love macaroons!” I said, jumping to my feet. You see, I’m all for new experiences, but some brunch staples are firm favourites for a reason. And sometimes it’s nice to know what you’re going to get.

Timings: 12.30pm to 4pm every Saturday
Price from: Dh195 to Dh295. Children under six go free, children under 12 go half price
To book: 04 304 9000


Cucina all Italian brunch
Marriott
By Verina Durand

With its rustic decor and delicious aroma of fresh wood- fired oven pizzas, Cucina really is the ideal place for families or fans of Italian food. And let’s be honest, who isn’t a fan?

Cucina all Italian brunch at the Marriott

“Come on, get you skates on!” I said to my friend Melissa’s three children as we piled out of the taxi in front of the Courtyard by Marriott Dubai Green Community hotel.

“Verina, I’m so hungry!” they cried, full of excitement.

“All the more reason to walk faster,” I laughed, taking hold of the nearest little hand. I have to admit it was only just 12.30pm – brunch time! But I couldn’t wait to start a lovely afternoon with my best friend and her children, who were visiting me from the UK. As brunch newbies, I just knew Melissa and her brood would enjoy it.

They all love their food (no fussy eaters in our group) and the Italian-based brunch I’d booked had some favourites on offer for all of us.

Jaiden, 11, loves pizza, Juystace, seven, is a typical boy and loves any form of meat, while Ceyenna, nine, is a fan of anything fresh from the sea. The bigger the prawn the better! And so there we were hurrying through the doors, ready to get stuck in to some amazing food.

From the moment we walked in to the restaurant, we felt very welcome.

The head chef greeted us and escorted us to each station, showing us all the varieties of cuisine to choose from. The antipasti looked sensational.

“The lasagne looks amazing,” Melissa said, as all our mouths began to water. And don’t get me started on all the fantastic desserts. The children’s eyes almost popped out of their heads when they spotted all the scrummy cakes presented beautifully.
 
Jaiden immediately asked if she could have her pudding before her main course. And with a smile, her mum agreed, because that’s what holidays are about.

As I tucked into my tomato and basil soup, the children’s attention was suddenly diverted from their heaped plates to the face painting station, giving Melissa and I a little peace and quiet. When the trio returned they were in disguise as two beautiful butterflies and a fierce tiger. As they sat back down a glamorous woman emerged on to the stage, singing soulful music amidst the beautiful Mediterranean-style interiors.

I decided to go for some seafood risotto (when in Rome!) with some warm foccacia bread to mop up every last trace. Sensational.

By the time the singer belted out the Michael Bolton classic How am I suppose to live without you? I felt so relaxed I began to softly sing along as the children bobbed their heads in time. I was happily full and enjoying my dreamy world when Juystace jumped on me with a huge “Roar!”

He gave me such a fright I squealed, something Melissa and the girls found absolutely hilarious!

After calming down, I just managed to squeeze in some home-made ice cream, which rounded off the meal nicely, while Melissa opted for a trio of cakes. When the kids shouted, “Verina can we go for a swim in your pool now?” I thought, I’d love to. But I might sink!

Timings: 12.30pm to 4pm
Price: Dh165 to Dh275 per person, half price for children aged 6 – 12 years, free
for children under 6 years
To book call: 04 885 2222


Beachcombers brunch
Jumeirah Beach Hotel
Reviewed by Karen Pasquali Jones

My son’s face was a picture of comical gloom. “I hate brunch,” he declared, sighing.

He was wearing giant purple glasses made of balloons, so it was hard to take him seriously. But at almost 12 years old, he hates to do anything he thinks is childish, while our six-year-old daughter wanted her food with a side order of face painting and fun.

Factor in that I’m a fussy vegetarian while my husband is a chef, and it feels impossible to please everyone. The one thing we have in common when it comes to brunch? We love eating, entertainment and a good view.

Luckily Beachcombers’ brunch, at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, ticks all boxes. So after walking through the lobby, we caught a buggy down to the beachside restaurant overlooking the Arabian Gulf.

Mina A’salam, Madinat Jumeirah

A clown was waiting by the reception desk. My daughter rushed up to meet him, excited, as my son rolled his eyes. But then a juggler started throwing four balls around his head and he suddenly cheered up. “That’s cool,” he said, following the juggler to where he was performing tricks, while we headed to our table overlooking the golden sands.

The restaurant is laid-back sophistication – small but perfectly formed. In the corner, there’s a play area with a face painter – so daughter was happy – and a band playing by the bar.

But none of these attractions could compete to the aromas of the food. There were signature dishes from Thailand, China, India, America and Britain so we could eat our way around the world. My son went for burgers, fries and chicken, while Anais opted for a full roast dinner.

As they happily tucked into mains, my husband and I made fresh salads at the starter counter. My DIY Caesar salad was delicious thanks to the extra-crunchy croutons and Parmesan shavings I sprinkled on top.

Before I could finish my salad, a singer started a stampede by belting out Disney’s Frozen theme song. My daughter swayed along with all the other children, while even my tweenage son slunk over to watch from behind a wooden pillar.

While the mini concert went on, I piled up my plate with vegetable spring rolls, dim sum, and vegetable fried rice, while Alexio devoured fish curry, and a roast beef dinner. “I’m hungry!’” he said when I stared at his plate, and he would have gone back for more if I hadn’t asked the wonderful chef for a cheese platter to share.

It wasn’t on the menu but she rushed off to the kitchen and came back with a plate groaning with Brie, Stilton, Edam, Cheddar and goat’s cheese. I polished off the lot, while the juggler began performing a frenetic and mind-boggling amount of tricks to Gangnam Style.

The kids watched in awe as he did everything at high speed, while dancing. He got a huge cheer at the end, and the kids returned, grinning, ready for dessert. There was a sweet station including cheesecake – my son’s favourite – and a chocolate fountain – my little girl’s raison d’etre.

The afternoon sped by and we left full and happy. “I think I like brunch,”
my son grinned. “And I might want to be a juggler when I grow up.”

Timings: 1pm - 4pm
Price: from Dh299 to Dh555 per person and Dh149 for children aged 4-12 years,
free for children under four
To book call: 04 406 8999 or email JBHboxoffice@jumeirah


The Grand Friday Brunch
Mina A’salam, Madinat Jumeirah
By Karen Pasquali Jones

What do you do when everyone in the family likes different food but you want to go to brunch? Go to one that has three different restaurants of course.

Throw in a riverside location in the Madinat Jumeirah where you can watch abras going silently past and get a close up view of the Burj Arab and it’s even better.

Mina A'Salam

This is not a brunch for the faint hearted though. First of all, there are three amazing restaurants involved the Arabic Al Muna, modern Chinese Zeng He’s and the recently opened Mexican, Tortuga. Each one has the usual salad bars, live cooking stations, desserts and there are pop-up stations along the river walk way. That’s a lot of food.

Secondly, it is by the river. The views are majestic, but I wouldn’t have taken my two children there when they were younger and could wriggle through the barrier and fall in the water. Luckily you don’t need to tether your children to the nearest table leg – there’s a kids’ club with face painting and arts and crafts.

Mid afternoon there’s also the chance to feed the turtles – something my children couldn’t wait to do. “I’ll eat later,” my son said, racing ahead while my daughter and I scrambled to keep up. It was worth the rush to see the turtles bobbing around waiting for food.

Sadly for them it wasn’t the tasty morsels from Tortuga where we based ourselves. Here we feasted on tiny salads with salsa that packed a kick, nachos, freshly made guacamole, and tortillas filled to order.

I couldn’t get enough of the refried beans and rice while my husband dined on seafood and my children discovered the pop-up fish and chips shop which served cod in batter with fries in a little chip basket and fake mini newspapers. Then it was off to the most dangerous place of all – the Mexican dessert station. A spread of the finest sweets were laid out but we all headed for the same dish – churros, Mexican deep-fried doughnuts. “The turtles would love these,” my daughter said, but there was no risk of them getting a sweet treat. We demolished the lot!

Stuffed, I decided to go for a walk and headed over to Zheng He’s to listen to the live band who were playing up a storm. They performed classics from Police, Phil Collins, and Cold Play, keeping the diners – and turtles - entertained.

Finally, at the end of afternoon, we took a final peek at the Burj Arab and left smiling. This is one of the best brunches in town and has won numerous awards. It got my kids approval. That’s worth any gong.

Timings: Every Friday 12.30pm-4pm
Price: Dh325-Dh390 for adults. Dh200 for children aged 4-12, free for children aged under four
To book: call 04 366 6730

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