Revolving restaurant, suiting up for meals: What it was like to eat out in the 80s in Dubai

One of the most iconic restaurants was the Al Dawaar revolving restaurant in Hyatt Regency, which opened on May 5, 1980



Image used for illustrative purpose. KT File
Image used for illustrative purpose. KT File
by

Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Wed 31 Aug 2022, 4:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 1 Sep 2022, 11:34 AM

[Editor's Note: This is the third instalment in a seven-part series. You can read the first two instalments here and here.]

As expats came flocking into the UAE, restaurants started opening up all across the country catering to various nationalities and tastes. Contrary to the small-style eateries of the early 1970s that also doubled up as community centres, these new restaurants had dining halls which catered to families.

One of the most iconic restaurants then was the Al Dawaar revolving restaurant in Hyatt Regency, which opened on May 5, 1980.

“When we first submitted the plan for the Hyatt Regency hotel and the revolving restaurant, I remember Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum (then Ruler of Dubai) being very excited about it,” said Mohammad Hameed Thekkil, an employee of the company that built it. “It was something unique and stood out.”

Here is a photo of the Hyatt Regency taken on its opening day and what it looks like today.

However, once the actual construction began, the company began to reconsider the restaurant because of its cost. “It was really expensive to build a revolving restaurant at the time,” said the Indian expat.

“But we knew how keen His Highness was, so we pushed through. He was the one who inaugurated it and we had a grand reception for the opening night. It was one of the most lavish events Dubai had ever seen in those days. I arranged everything for it, but I wasn’t able to attend it because I was getting married a week after — so, on the night of the opening, I rushed back to India.”

In the 70s and 80s, diners were required to wear a suit to be allowed entry into restaurants that were inside a hotel. In 1974, the first five-star hotel in Dubai, the Intercontinental Hotel, opened up. Hameed was also a part of the building of that hotel and has a photo of the opening with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

He fondly remembers his brush with dress codes during the time. “A friend and I decided to try out one of the restaurants in the hotel and arrived wearing regular clothes, but we were turned away,” he chuckled. “Luckily, another friend of ours lived close by and had a lot of spare suits. They were oversized and we were floating in them, but we were allowed into the hotel and had a lovely meal at the Panaroma restaurant inside the Intercontinental.”

In 1984, the Iranian restaurant Shabestan opened up in Intercontinental as well. At the time, it was the first Iranian restaurant ever inside a hotel. “When we were opening, we were actually worried whether people could come,” remembers Ebrahim Nourouzi Cherati, the executive chef of the restaurant.

“The eating out culture was quite limited in the city. However, once we were operational, there would be a queue outside the restaurant. It was quite unheard of at the time. One of my fondest memories is of a client from Doha who sent a private jet to collect food from Shabestan and take it back to him in Qatar. That is how popular the restaurant became.”

It wasn’t just high-end eateries that were flourishing in the city. Small-scale restaurants also starting popping up and gaining popularity.

One of the earliest and most popular Indian restaurants, Sindh Punjab, has been serving in Dubai for over 45 years. The eatery, known for its yummy butter chicken and naan, became iconic in the city and the top spot for Indian celebrities and dignitaries when they visited.

Owner Pappi Singh, a cricket enthusiast, talked about how he has been celebrating the Asia Cup. “Every time the Asia Cup happens and there is an India-Pakistan match, I have always put TVs in the restaurant and distributed sweets after the match,” he said.

“I started in 1984 and I did it last week too. It is one of the most electrifying feelings. I distribute sweets no matter which side wins. Cricket players like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar have even come to dine here on my invitation.” The restaurant, which began in 1977, still stands in its original location in Bur Dubai.

Another popular eatery in the 80s was Najaf restaurant located right next to Naif police station. “I vaguely remember having my 3rd or 4th birthday party at the restaurant,” remembers Taanya Ilyas, who was born and raised in the UAE.

“Najaf was the place to be at back then. My parents loved to entertain, especially those who lived as bachelors. So, almost every weekend, we would be taking people out to eat at Najaf. Their chilli chicken, porotta and fried rice were very popular.”

Najaf is still operational in Dubai, but it has moved from its original location in Naif to a spot close to Deira Clock Tower roundabout.

Photo: Ian White on the Facebook group Dubai - The good old days!
Photo: Ian White on the Facebook group Dubai - The good old days!

Fast food culture also found its way to Dubai around the 80s when the first Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened in Satwa. Nathanial Dan fondly remembers the times. “My dad would sometimes take us out to collect takeaway meals such as Kentucky Fried chicken,” he said.

“Satwa was considered an upmarket area in the mid 80s. It was the same with Hardee’s in Al Ghurair. As a family we would go shopping and later order a takeout. Growing up, shawarma was also something we ate a lot.”

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