The culinary stars of the restaurant world converged in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi for the second edition of the Middle East & North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants awards, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna. Restaurants from across 14 Middle East and North African cities were announced as the 50 best places to eat in the region at an event held in Conrad Abu Dhabi, Etihad Towers. Hosted in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, the event culminated in the announcement of the region's No.1 restaurant, Orfali Bros Bistro, whose team took to the stage to receive the award.
Orfali Bros Bistro, an unlicensed gastronomic bistro and test kitchen located in Dubai's buzzing contemporary Wasl 51 neighbourhood, was founded in 2021 by three brothers from Syria: Mohammad, Wassim and Omar Orfali. The menu features dishes with a core Middle Eastern theme paying homage to the brothers' Aleppian roots while capturing Dubai's multiculturalism and avant-garde spirit. Their OB croquettes, shish barak à la gyoza and corn bomb all serve to push the boundaries of culinary creativity, ensuring a thrilling dining experience, which charismatic head chef Mohammad Orfali leads. Brothers Wassim and Omar are both top-level pastry chefs and work from an elevated pastry kitchen which overlooks the main dining room. One of the most distinctive restaurants in the UAE, Orfali Bros Bistro has now earned the highly coveted ranking as the best restaurant in the MENA region.
The fine dining Indian restaurant Trèsind Studio in The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, headed by chef Himanshu Saini, claims the (No.2) spot. Fusions, followed by Tala in Manama (No.3), also named The Best Restaurant in Bahrain, takes home the Highest Climber Award 2023, while Dubai's Ossiano (No.4) is awarded the Highest New Entry prize, sponsored by Aspire Lifestyles.
The United Arab Emirates is the country that tops the list with an impressive 18 restaurants featured, including three from the host city Abu Dhabi, while Israel follows with six establishments, one of which is in the top 10: George & John (No.6), winner of The Best Restaurant in Israel. Following close behind are Egypt and Jordan, with five restaurants each, with Fakhreldin (No.8) named The Best Restaurant in Jordan, while Zooba (Zamalek) (No.9) is named The Best Restaurant in Egypt.
Riyadh's Myazu (No.18) is the winner of The Best Restaurant in Saudi Arabia title. Morocco is also well-represented, with four restaurants featured in the ranking, including La Grande Table Marocaine (No.27), making it The Best Restaurant in Morocco. Lebanon also has a player in the top 20, with Baron (No.16) in Beirut named The Best Restaurant in Lebanon.
Tunis restaurant La Closerie (No.34) claims the title of The Best Restaurant in Tunisia, while the anime-inspired Japanese eatery White Robata in Kuwait City comes in at (No.42), making it The Best Restaurant in Kuwait.
Chef Moustafa Elrefaey, executive chef and co-founder of falafel specialist Zooba, is honoured with the Estrella Damm N.A. Chefs' Choice Award. Designed to give recognition to a chef who has positively impacted the regional culinary community, the award is peer-voted by chefs of the restaurants on the MENA's 50 Best Restaurants list. Elrefaey's passion for unearthing Egypt's culinary history and using it to bring back ancient recipes has earned him various accolades, culminating in this prestigious award.
The Sustainable Restaurant Award, sponsored by Arla Pro, honours the establishment in the list with the highest sustainability rating, as audited by the Sustainable Restaurant Association. This award is presented to OCD Restaurant (No.14) in Tel Aviv, a methodical kitchen birthed from Chef Raz Rahav's impeccable attention to detail and complex artistic plating. He and his team place significant importance on sourcing their produce locally to bring out the artisanal flavours of the region and altering their menus according to the country's seasons, all to ensure zero food waste.
As a recognition of excellence in restaurant service and dining experiences, the Art of Hospitality Award is presented to Beirut's Em Sherif (No.20). The restaurant is honoured for its personalised style where the guest's experience is tailored to their individual preference, all while embodying the spirit of Lebanese generosity.
Artisan pastry chef Karim Bourgi, founder of Boutique De Gourmandises, takes home the MENA's Best Pastry Chef Award, sponsored by Valrhona. Born in Senegal to Lebanese parents, Bourgi graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Paris in 2000 before rising to manage the opening of La Maison Du Chocolat Paris in Dubai and Kuwait, along with opening the Hermes Paris Cafe in Dubai Mall. He now oversees and consults on a range of patisseries, restaurants and cafés spanning the Middle East and Africa.
Other pre-announced award winners who accepted their trophies on stage include:
- Salam Dakkak, chef-owner of Bait Maryam in Dubai, winner of the Middle East & North Africa's Best Female Chef Award, sponsored by Nespresso Professional;
- Anissa Helou, acclaimed food author and chef, winner of the Foodics Icon Award for her relentless efforts in documenting historical culinary traditions;
- Vegetable-forward kitchen Opa, which picks up the One To Watch Award, presented to its founder and head chef, Shirel Berger.
The Middle East & North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants event programme, including the awards ceremony and unveiling of the list, provides a unique opportunity for chefs, gourmets and food and travel media from all over the region to gather and celebrate food and hospitality whilst also promoting the culinary strength and diversity of the region to a global audience.
The Voting Process
The list is compiled by the Middle East & North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants Academy, an influential group of 250 key leaders in the restaurant industry across the region, each selected for their expert opinion of the Middle East and North Africa's restaurant scenes. The Academy is divided into six regions: the Gulf; Saudi Arabia; Levant-plus; Israel, North Africa (East) and North Africa (West). Each region has its panel of members, including a chairperson, the Academy Chair, to head it up. The panel is made up of food writers and critics, chefs, restaurateurs and highly regarded gourmets. For the 2023 list, each MENA Academy member voted for seven restaurants, with at least two located outside the country where they are based. None of the event's sponsors has any influence over the voting process. Please click here to see more details on the Middle East & North Africa's 50 Best Restaurants voting process.
HERE IS THE FULL LIST OF THE MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA'S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS