In a city of nearly 10,000 restaurants, there are not many that I actually get back to a second or third time. But Bu Qtair is one of those that I visit again and again.
Friends and family I take there always want to go back. For the novelty and the value but also because the food just tastes great.
It existed in its previous life as a portacabin on a dirt lot for nearly 30 years, with cheap plastic tables and not even a toilet on the premises.
Around the end of 2015, they broke with tradition and moved into new digs across the road, this time in a permanent structure with parking, a part sea view, toilet and all!
In case you’re unfamiliar with Bu Qtair, this Dubai institution is a no-frills Keralan restaurant that specialises in just two items: fried prawns and fried fish.
This particular visit was long overdue – my first since they moved to the standalone restaurant. Would they accept credit cards? Have table service? Offer more menu items? Nope. Aside from a larger building and nicer tables and chairs, they’ve remained true to their original formula. (If it ain’t broke, why fix it?)
You still have the choice of just fish and prawns, both pre-marinated in the same spice mixture. You choose your fish (usually sheri, pomfret or hammour) by size and prawns by weight, add your sides (Kerala paratha, rice or both) and opt for whether to have their proprietary coconutty fish gravy (yes please!).
There’s something to be said about the simplicity of it all. And for once, I love not having to deliberate over a menu to make a decision – in fact, they don’t even have a menu!
You still stand in line (usually a very long one if you arrive after 7pm) to select your fish at the counter and pay (cash only). There’s no listed pricing so you just trust that the guy is giving you the correct market rate for the day. (You order the sides at your table and pay for this separately.) Then you wait (sometimes up to 45 minutes) for them to call your name so you can sit at a table to eat your food (with your hands or with plastic cutlery, off melamine plates).
First-timers usually get caught out. After ordering, they’ll often try to bagsy an empty table, only to be shooed away by staff and pointed in the direction of the waiting area. Unless it’s totally empty, they won’t even let you have a table until your fish is ready!
The whole approach is rather unconventional but it works. If you like fish, you must try. Nary a soul I’ve met yet who doesn’t enjoy it.
Our meal for 4 with far too much food – one large sheri, 600 grams of prawns, 2 bowls of gravy, 8 parathas, 1 rice, a bottle of water and two sodas – set us back about AED 250.
Verdict: If you arrive with an open mind, are ready to get your hands dirty (the South Indian way) and expect your fish a smidgen overcooked, then satisfaction guaranteed! 👍👍
Note to self: Over-order rather than under-order – you won’t want to stand in line again if the fish and prawns are not enough!
Near Burj Al Arab, Street 4D, Next to Fishermans Accommodation
Tel: 055 705 2130
Chow for now!