At San Wan Hand Pulled Noodles, a glass wall separates the open kitchen from diners, and chefs can be seen pulling dough into long strips using their hands.
Every twist, stretch and fold looks performative.
This humble shack nestled in a basement in Dubai's Jumeirah Lakes Towers, is not a Michelin-recommended restaurant, nor is it part of the Mena's 50 Best Restaurants list – both of these award-conferring culinary bodies made their UAE debut last year.
It is, however, one of the hidden gems in the area and exactly the kind of establishment World of Mouth aims to highlight on its platform.
The restaurant guide, founded by Helsinki-based food writer Kenneth Nars, has a simple agenda – collate trusted recommendations from chefs, restaurateurs, critics and foodies on the best dining spots around the world.
San Wan, which opened early this year, serves affordable dishes from northern China. Here, seven pieces of chicken wantons are Dh26, and traditional biang biang noodles cost Dh41.
World of Mouth's list is not based on a strict guideline, as in the Michelin Guide. Instead, hand-picked culinary experts are encouraged to dish out their personal recommendations “without the noise of ratings or advertising”.
“World of Mouth is made by people who care – that's why I've never been disappointed with the recommendations in the guide,” says Santiago Lastra, one of the platform's experts and the chef-patron of Michelin-starred restaurant Kol in London.
Other experts in the mix include Danish chef Rene Redzepi of Noma – previously voted World's Best Restaurant for four consecutive years between 2010 and 2014 – in Copenhagen, Italian-Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur in France and Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema.
Food influencer Hani Al Malki, who is also known as the Bedouin Foodie, is also part of the World of Mouth community, as is Philip Rosenthal of Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil.
These experts cannot recommend their own venues and no restaurant can pay its way on to the platform, which is refreshingly ad-free.
Currently, World of Mouth has more than 10,000 recommendations in 2,000 cities, with about 75,000 users on the free mobile application.
The arrival of the Michelin Guide in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has stirred the simmering pot of the UAE's food scene, which is only projected to become more competitive in the coming years.
There's also the World's 50 Best, now in its second year, putting restaurants in this part of the world on the map for gastro-tourists.
There are now 122 restaurants across the Mena region mentioned on the World of Mouth platform.
While the list has its share of award-winning restaurants, such as Tresind Studio, which recently clinched two Michelin stars, plus 3 Fils, Boca, Orfali Bros and Moonrise, true to the platform's aim, these big names sit alongside casual dining venues. Think Big T BBQ Kitchen in Al Quoz; Streetery Food Hall in JLT, which features a set of kiosks serving street food from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia; and Niri in Abu Dhabi recommended by envelope-pushing Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi.
Other restaurants from the UAE capital include Brauhaus, Almayass, Otoro and Villa Toscana.
Each recommendation includes a short review from an expert, as well as a link to its website, address, contact details and operating hours.
One recommendation by Bedouin Foodie Al Malki is Rivas Restaurant. “It is hidden inside a small neighbourhood mall near Burj Al Arab. The food is exquisite. The grills are done to perfection. Everything they have there tastes like home cooking,” he writes, calling it the best Persian restaurant in Dubai.
These heartfelt and personalised reviews are the main selling point of World of Mouth, whose rather relaxed curation of venues allows it to include cities where the Michelin Guide and other culinary award organisations are not yet present.
The platform also has 10 restaurants in Lebanon, across Beirut, Ain Jdideh, Deir Mar Youssef, Antelias and Baouchriyeh in Mount Lebanon, including seafood venue Feluka and local favourite Tawlet.
There are two restaurants from Egypt – El Sid Restaurant in Cairo and famous breakfast spot Mohamed Ahmed Restaurant in Alexandria, which has been serving diners since 1957.
A lot of the guide's contributing foodies and experts go intentionally deep into each city's offerings. For example, the guide mentions a fish market restaurant in the island of South Sitra in Bahrain, where guests shop freshly caught seafood and ask the chef for a personalised meal.
Morocco has 22 restaurants, with most in Marrakech. Mohamed El Baroudi, who is the academy chair for North and West Africa for the World's 50 Best group, has a few recommended spots in the city, including Sahbi Sahbi, which he lauds for its traditional Moroccan family dishes. Notably, the restaurant is not part of Mena's 50 Best Restaurants list.2023-05-30T04:14:39Z dg43tfdfdgfd