Not sure what we mean by ‘Downtown Dubai’? Well how about if we tell you that it houses some of the city’s most iconic landmarks – most notably the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall (ring a bell now?), neighbours Business Bay, DIFC, Sheikh Zayed Road and is a stones throw from Jumeirah, Satwa and Safa Park too? A super cool mix of architecture (we love the Old Town traditional Arabic style standing alongside contemporary buildings), the downtown area is literally the heart of our desert city. With metro stations, the tallest building in the world, apartment buildings, hotels and fabulous places to eat and shop – this area has everything you could possibly need and more – this is Dubai after all.
Matt and Jola met in Dubai ten years ago. They both work in magazine publishing as editors and between them have created dozens of new titles and one gorgeous baby boy. His name is Henry and he’s one. His magazine experience to date includes tearing up a lot of pages. He also likes cats, namely the family pet Detective Mittens. The feeling is not reciprocated. Oh and they live in downtown Dubai and have very kindly helped us with our guide!
Please can you tell us what you love best about your neighborhood in a few lines?
I love living in Old Town, which is right in the centre of Dubai and its dynamic, constantly evolving Downtown district. The low-rise blocks, with their abundant green landscaping, feel very secluded and peaceful, and yet you are right in the middle of an area teeming with amazing shops and restaurants. No car required!
Is there anything you don’t like about it?
Because property prices are at a premium in city centres, you don’t get a lot of space for your dirhams. Which means fewer shopping sprees to West Elm – we simply wouldn’t have the space for any more stuff!
Where do you like to eat out in your area and why?
I love Nezessauzi at Al Manzil Hotel, because it’s so family-friendly… and it’s a pub! Even better, it’s a non-smoking pub with tasty dishes for adults and a kids menu that has an activity sheet complete with crayons. The staff are always charming – you’d think the toddler was a long-lost relative and not a pint-sized liability, the way they welcome us. Henry loves running around the bar while his mum props it up.
What would you say are the top 3 family friendly places to eat out and what makes them so good?
Bystro on Sheikh Zayed Road fulfils the holy grail of eating out with kids: it’s fast, it’s tasty, and it has a little play area for kids, plus they don’t seem to mind them running around all over the restaurant.
However, even parents occasionally need to go somewhere that’s relatively free of bright plastics, and for a sophisticated meal out I love Rivington Grill in Souk Al Bahar. Linen tablecloths can be compatible with high chairs, and the laid-back vibe means you don’t feel too mortified when little ones screech. Plus, the fact the staff bring a warm loaf of freshly baked bread pretty much as soon as you sit down means little ones have something to occupy them as they gnaw, while mum and dad can peruse the wine list in peace.
The Sassy Mama team love weekend breakfasts at the Pavilion – there’s a small kiddie area and an indoor vertical garden wall that offers a welcome splash of green when outdoors is hot and sticky. Plus the menu is jam packed with yummy food.
Are there any good date night options?
I’m blown away by the dishes at Cut by Wolfgang Puck at The Address Downtown. In my opinion he has raised the bar of fine dining in Dubai.
For a slightly less formal vibe, Catch at the Fairmont on Sheikh Zayed Road cannot be beaten. The service comes with an authentic Las Vegas flair which will make you feel like you’re in a genuine US eatery, which is nice as the service in Dubai can be a little… cookie-cutter on occasion. Prepare to be charmed.
The Sassy crew are huge fans of the Vida Hotel downtown – an awesome dining destination. For date night we love La Serre’s take on contemporary French cuisine in a beautifully elegant setting (check out Sassy Mama Sofia’s review), while Toko is one of our fave go-to spots for a sushi date (sitting under a canopy of parasols on the outdoor deck is heavenly).
Favourite family-friendly places for breakfast, lunch and dinner and why?
Clinton Street Bakery is tucked away at Burj Views in Downtown and does the city’s best grilled chicken sandwich. It’s a monster of a dish and tends to double up as breakfast and lunch in our household – especially if you order a Wilde Maine Blueberry shake – a decadent, thick, sweet glass of heaven – to go with it. Which of course, being so calorie-conscious I never would.
We tend to be more breakfast and lunch oriented when dining with our one-year-old as his bedtime precludes fine dining after 7.30pm. We recently discovered a gorgeous new Pantry Cafe tucked away in Business Bay, which gives you a free Baby Puree, bottomless coffee and a ‘globetrotting’ breakfast menu which means you can start your day in the style of different nationalities – a pancake stack for Canadians, a donut waffle for New Yorkers, or shakshuka for an authentic Middle Eastern brekkie. Delicious!
Dubai Mall and Souk Al Bahar are choc full of amazing cafes and restaurants – many of which are very kid friendly. Sassy Ed Kaya is obsessed with Eataly, an Italian marketplace that not only offers the most amazing range of authentic and homemade produce but has a seriously good menu that instantly transports you to the Med. The ‘Menu Per I Bambini’ is a refreshing change from the usual kiddie options found around town – at Eataly they believe that kids should also enjoy the very best. Check out her family dining review and head there for delicious pizza, pasta and even homemade mozzarella (not to mention unbelievable ice cream).
Early morning coffee spot?
If I’m starting my day early, I love to indulge in a quiet little coffee at the Courtyard at Al Manzil. It’s such a serene spot, with potted trees and an enclosed courtyard that feels secluded and peaceful.
Best place to go for sweet treats?
The Magnolia Bakery at Bloomingdale’s Dubai Mall is my guilty pleasure. I do my mall trawl, and when my pedometer tells me I’ve hit my target, it’s time to hit the cupcakes. I know that coloured meringues are having a ‘moment’ but to me, a cupcake never goes out of style. Plus the bakery is right inside Bloomie’s – what’s not to like about browsing and coveting beautiful homeware while wiping carrot cupcake remnants inelegantly off your face?
Are there any cute boutiques or local stores we should know about?
I love the elegant minimalism of Deborah Henning, a local designer whose monochrome brand makes even the most style-challenged look elegant, chic and fashionable. For a complete antidote to black and white, the bright colours of Finnish import Marimekko at Boxpark are great fun. They’ve also got an in store cafe which combines two of my favourite things – shopping and eating.
Designer threads for the kids? Definitely – and especially if they’re as gorgeous, beautifully made and well priced as those available at the Armani Junior boutique in The Dubai Mall, Bloomingdales and Galeries Lafayette. An eclectic collection for teeny tots to teens, this is fashion that still lets kids be kids (hooray). Cheerful, comfortable and colourful, the range of products for boys and girls includes t-shirts, sweatshirts, skirts, jeans and chinos plus outerwear and dresses designed with the perfect combination of nostalgia and modern fashion.
Tailored in soft, natural fabrics, you can guarantee that the little ones will be happy as there’s zero risk of scratchy styles that don’t allow for plenty of play. The collection is made complete with a fab selection of accessories including shoes, mini bags, belts and hats. We just wish they all came in our size.
Want your kids to stand out in the crowd (for the right reasons?). A visit here is just the ticket mamas – wallets at the ready.
What grocery stores do you have and do you use?
I love the fact that Choithrams now carries Tesco’s products – it’s a little taste of home from home. Choithrams also stock my newest discovery: Barenaked Protein Noodles. They are the invention of a contestant on UK show Dragon’s Den and have zero fat and almost no carbs. They taste like you’re eating a big pile of carbs, but it’s all just protein made from special Konjac flour. It is my new miracle food.
Dubai Mall has a huge Waitrose that stocks many branded products from its UK counterpart and a huge range of John Lewis cookware – plus has a pork section if that’s your thing. If you’re looking for amazing French cheese and other deli items plus ingredients and delicious food from around the world then Galeries Lafayette Gourmet in Dubai Mall is the place to go – and for the very best Italian products Eataly is unbeatable.
What good shopping areas are in close proximity?
Downtown’s Dubai Mall needs no introduction, and after living in the neighbourhood for five years I think I have just about mastered its cavernous interior. I always stop off at West Elm to covet their gorgeous mid-century range which is slowly being bought up for my living room.
Do you have any parks/outdoor playgrounds in your hood and can you tell us about them?
In and around Downtown there are several precious green areas: there’s the park by Burj Khalifa, which is a nice spot for a picnic. In Old Town there are a few little playgrounds for the little ones, and Southridge also has a grassy area that doubles up a social meeting point for all the area’s nannies and their boisterous charges.
Sassy Mama Tip:
When temperatures outside forbid weekends alfresco and you live in a city with the world’s biggest mall on your doorstep – use it as your indoor playground! While waiting for Dubai’s glorious winter sunshine to return and endless outdoor activities to resume, we seek refuge from the heat in Dubai Mall – and no we don’t mean that we drag the kids around shops (we all know how that one ends) – we explore, play, learn and have a heap of fun – it might not be a grassy park but this indoor playground is perfect for romping around and expelling some energy.
Visit the Dubai dinosaur, a genuine female Diplodocus skeleton standing proud in the Grand Atrium (sometimes she moves around the mall so check at information for her latest location), eyeball sharks in the The Dubai Aquarium and play for free at all of the amazing toy stores in the Mall – from Hamelys to Pottery Barn they all have areas for the kiddos to enjoy.
Are there any soft play areas or kids clubs/classes you can recommend or that you know of?
I don’t I’m afraid as have never been to one … not yet.
While Jola still has the joys of soft play and play ares to discover, the Sassy team can recommend Caboodle in Dubai Mall – perfect for littles (the bigs will be bored -it’s pretty small). There’s a dress up area, arts & crafts plus impromptu sing-a-longs headed by the friendly staff and a little cafe for coffee/treats and mini hair salon for cute cuts. And they offer a drop-off service if you want to shop in peace for a bit!
We also love Le Petit Palais in Galeries Lafayette, complete with a very sweet set up resembling a little French village with a bakery, an art studio, a shop, a little house and a small road to ride on with indoor cars and bikes. And although small, the soft play area manages to tick all the boxes for what is needed without taking up a ton of space. Slide, climbing frames, ball pit and little padded areas for general head banging activities. They also offer all sorts of baby and toddler classes here so check it out chere mamans (and read our review here).
What do the kids in your neighborhood love to do during free time – is there a good kiddie community?
There are loads of kids in the area and most of them seem to pop over to our apartment during the day for playdates while I’m at work. It’s nice, actually, as we’ve started doing that parent thing of making new friends through our children. As Old Town itself is pedestrianised and a bit like a little fortress, it’s really safe for kids to run around in, and with the various green nooks, crannies and pool areas, a lovely place for them to grow up.
Which school do you send your children to?
What schools and nursery schools do you have in your area/neighborhood?
Is there anywhere for mama to get pampered?
I love the little Sensasia Spa tucked away in Al Manzil Souk. It always smells divine when you walk past it and the treatments are scummy. My favourite is a top-to-toe massage, which I love to do when I can convince the other half to babysit, sorry, ‘parent’ our son for an hour.
And for gorgeous nails (plus lots more), the Sassy team love Sisters Beauty Lounge in Dubai Mall. Sisters has become a favourite go-to for many a mama in need of pampering or beauty maintenance. From express lashes (ideal for looking great even after a few sleep deprived nights) to highlights, mani-pedis to massage – you name it, they do it. Treatment rooms are seriously comfy, think crisp white sheets, soothing music and dim lighting – time to catch a few zzzz’s while in the hands of some of Dubai’s best therapists.
A huge thanks to Jola, Matt and Henry for sharing their guide to Downtown Dubai!
Featured image via Pinterest