Many Dubai foodies in the known will have heard of Hakerboi. For two years, the elusive chef wowed those lucky enough to get a ticket with his sell-out supper clubs, usually housed at a mysterious Dubai villa after dark. While the man behind the name, and underneath the signature bucket hat, remained a mystery, a certainty was that the food was exceptional, innovative and, perhaps, a cut above Dubai’s mainstay pan-Asian restaurant offering. So, these same foodies across the emirate were filled with excitement when the mysterious chef announced his very first permanent outpost, and even more excitement that it was under the Eatx brand – a restaurants group behind some of the country’s most loved concepts (think The Guild, Tom&Serg and Common Grounds).
Hawkerboi 2.0 is a triumph for Dubai’s casual dining scene (a city often obsessed with gilded grandeur and the biggest and most expensive). Housed in JLT’s The Park, above Aussie-style cafe and retail shop Splendour Fields, the dimly-lit, all-red dining space throws visitors to the hawker stalls of Singapore and Bangkok. There’s a central bar pumping out killer cocktails (worthy of the bars in London, NYC and Hong Kong), a cosy dining room with booths and wooden chairs and two outdoor spaces with views over JLT’s greenery and towers. Add this to a reasonably priced menu of dishes trotting East Asia and innovative cocktails like the Thai Spritz (Aperol spiked with fragrant Thai basil), and you’ve got one of the best restaurants in Dubai.
Hawkerboi commands the entire second floor of JLT’s cool new dining destination The Park – housed above Splendour Fields and the soon-to-be-opened Franky in Florence. The atmosphere hits as soon as you leave the lift. The space is heady and cool – lit by moody red lighting creating a sultry environment. Couples can cosy onto casual wooden tables, groups squish into comfortable, sink-in booths and groups onto larger tables – with the restaurant being super accommodating. Playful photography hangs on the wall, along with neon Hawkerboi signage, all adding to the elevated hawker market aesthetic. Grab a seat at the slick bar to soak up the atmosphere and make your way through the cocktail menu or, come the cooler months, grab a seat on the two separate outdoor terrace areas with views over JLT’s parks and sky-high towers. An open kitchen where an army of chefs – all wearing Hawkerboi’s signature bucket hat – is part of the show. Look closely enough, and you may just spot the man himself.
Hawkerboi’s reputation was built on its food and its food alone, so the super cool dining space, neon signage and cocktail menu are all, as far as he’s concerned, just the icing on the cake. The food is the star of the show, and the menu is so packed with flavours, spices and fresh produce – making this a destination for real food lovers without relying on vibe or drinks. The menu is expansive, split into nine (easily navigable) sections encompassing starters, salads, dim sum, BBQ, roast meats, curries, noodles and more, with an easy spice guide for those who love the burn. Salads are a refreshing way to start, with heroes being the smashed cucumber salad with Thai basil – zingy, crunchy and moreish – and the tea leaf salad – a tantalising unique and flavourful combination with roasted peanuts, zesty lime and crunchy fava. Dim sum is light and juicy, skewers of sweet satay are available in prawn, chicken or pink Angus beef, and small plates offer everything from beef noodle soup and Laab Gai (Laab Gai, chicken, lemongrass, chilli, roasted rice) to shitake mushroom and tofu spring rolls and Hawkerboi’s crunchy, salty and garlicky cereal chicken wings. Start your meal with a mix of the above – best enjoyed sharing style.
Mains, too, should be shared, and it’s best to sample a few from each section on the menu. The Penang curry comes with juicy roast duck and, unusually yet surprisingly delightful, plump, sweet lychees, while the fragrant yellow curry of eggplant and long bean is a flavourful option for vegans. Noodle and rice dishes include the much-loved Pad Thai – a worthy rival to the best Thai restaurants in Duabai – and the glutinous and sticky Prawn drunken noodles, chilli, lemongrass, green beans, while the potato threads with chilli oil and szechuan pepper make the classic supporting carb a main character. Fresh, flakey and butter-soft seabass comes fried with chilli and kaffir lime leaf or steamed with soy and ginger, and roast meats are served on platters for the table. An unmissable dish is the charcoal short rib, tenderly falling off the bone and spiked with tamarind, served with crispy yet fluffy rolled paratha for scooping with your hands. Like this reviewer, diners who need vegetables in their life will delight in the special ‘greens menu’ – making simple greens the most delicious vegetables you’ve ever had. Order the Sauteed kang kong – akin to spinach – with yellow bean and dried shrimp, and the light, steamed broccoli with braised shitake mushroom, soy & ginger.
No matter how full you are, and you will be, room must be saved for the Hawkerboi mango sticky rice, fried paratha – one of just three deserts and a scrumptious mix of sweet, coconutty rice, juicy mango and decadent puffs of fried paratha. There are dozen of sensational dishes, so you can revisit multiple times without doubling up – though you’ll likely find yourself daydreaming about favourites. Order dozens of dishes and share everything. Unlike many of Dubai’s top, genuinely foodie destinations, Hakerboi is licensed and has a menu to please wine and cocktail snobs, plus the bar team is happy to mix up a bespoke mocktail. Bottles are available from AED240, and cocktails go for a reasonable AED60.
Slick, seductive, vibey and electric, Hawkerboi’s atmosphere sucks you in and easily keeps you there for hours. There’s the same in-the-know, intimate vibe the supper clubs were known for, but with great music, lighting, an atmospheric open kitchen and the air thick with happy chatter. Staff is impeccable – friendly, speedy and quick to make any necessary alterations or talk diners through dishes, and the bar team whip up consistently fantastic cocktails. The restaurant is also open for lunch – offering the same warm and inviting vibe, with the chance to enjoy the sunshine from the terrace.
The enigmatic Hawkerboi has managed to bring the soulful, community-driven bustle of Asia’s hawker stalls to Dubai, serving the same flavourful, creative and beloved recipes, with the odd modern twist along the way. The atmosphere is thick and inviting, and each dish is lovingly packed with flavour and passion excuses from the kitchen. Hawkerboi is a fantastic addition to the city’s dining scene, allowing Dubains to enjoy the magic of the sold-out supper clubs whenever they feel like it.