Sarah Hedley Hymers gets a taste for the emirate's signature dining experience.

If you've been handed an actual map to navigate brunch, chances are you're in Dubai. Brunch is huge in the emirate, both physically and conceptually, and nowhere more so than in Dubai's notoriously extravagant hotels. It's become much more than a breakfast-lunch mash-up; it's a true institution. It can take place day or night, but from the moment a restaurant opens its doors, diners have a limited period — around three to four hours — to consume unlimited drinks and baroque arrangements of food toppling from crowded banquets or proffered on set menus.

The greatest luxury of all is not having to consider the cost of another glass of champagne or how to split the bill. With all-inclusive packages, one set payment covers all. Carefree crowds arrive in clouds of perfume — and Friday brunch is the biggest celebration of all, toasting the start of the UAE weekend with flutes of bubbly chinking in the air from midday. Peak season is Dubai's autumn - so now's the time to join in, and here's where you'll find the best in town.

THE BIG BRUNCH

The Hide, Al Hambra and Arboretum, Jumeirah Al Qasr

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"The Friday Brunch" at Al Qasr spans three of the hotel's restaurants and requires 48 hours of preparation, 130 chefs and 533kg of meat and seafood. It's so big, guests are given a map on arrival to navigate the many buffet stations in The Hide steakhouse and international eateries Al Hambra and Arboretum. Reach your daily calorie quota with a filling mix of Wagyu burgers, paella and Arabian staples such as umm ali, a sweet dessert.
Friday, 12.30pm-4pm; from AED480 ($207); jumeirah.com

THE FASHIONABLE BRUNCH

Giardino, Palazzo Versace Dubai

Giardino, the restaurant of Palazzo Versace Dubai, has Versace jungle motif wallpaper - as seen on Jennifer Lopez's green gown at the 2000 Grammy Awards. Photo / Supplied
Giardino, the restaurant of Palazzo Versace Dubai, has Versace jungle motif wallpaper - as seen on Jennifer Lopez's green gown at the 2000 Grammy Awards. Photo / Supplied

Service is as outstanding as the setting at leafy Giardino, resplendent in marble and Versace jungle motif wallpaper (as seen on Jennifer Lopez's green gown at the 2000 Grammy Awards). Even the crockery is Versace. Meaty Alaskan snow crab, plump oysters, flame-grilled steaks and made-to-order pasta are among the dishes on offer, curated by Michelin-starred Mansour Memarian. Afterwards, position yourself on a sun lounger — complimentary pool access at the palazzo is included in the price.
Friday, 1pm-4pm; from AED390 ($168); palazzoversace.ae

THE GOURMET BRUNCH

Akira Back, W Dubai — The Palm

"Back at Brunch" is Michelin star-winning Akira Back's refined Japanese affair. Futuristic decor is complemented by skyline views and modernist sashimi. Hirame carpaccio and tuna tataki are chased by Back's signature tuna pizzas and AB tacos; translucent tuna, spicy mayonnaise, micro shiso and white truffle oil on a crisp pastry disc, and tacos loaded with juicy minced Wagyu and tomato ponzu sauce. Pick a single main course (the black cod is a crowd-pleaser) and steady yourself for salted macadamia caramel popcorn and coconut sorbet butter mochi from the dessert platter.
Friday, 12.30pm-4pm; from AED445 ($192); marriott.com

THE HISTORICAL BRUNCH

Lido Restaurant, QE2

Lido's international brunch, on the quarter deck of the famous liner, aims to recapture the ship's glory years with close to 200 dishes reflecting some of its routes. Specialities range from roasts to subcontinental curries, with a load of seafood in-between. Artisan cheeses and desserts from around the world provide the finale. The Queens Room ballroom is repurposed as a play area, while grown-ups are entertained by artists performing singalongs. Docked at Port Rashid, it's easy to imagine those heydays at sea.
Friday, 1pm-4pm; from AED225 ($97) including soft drinks; qe2.com

THE HIPSTER BRUNCH

Lah Lah Restaurant, Zabeel House, The Greens

With slogans on walls, industrial styling and a pool terrace, Pan-Asian Lah Lah quickly became a popular post-work hipster haunt. Now, it's also buzzing on Friday. "FLO (For Love Of)" brunch presents flavours of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali and Singapore. Indonesian satay, Beijing duck and Thai mango sticky rice are among the Asian staples and street food, served with old-school R&B from the likes of Dr Dre and Mary J Blige. An after-party then offers discounted drinks from 5pm to 8pm.
Friday, 2pm-5pm; from AED290 ($125); zabeelhouse.com/thegreens

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THE OVER-WATER BRUNCH

Pierchic, Jumeirah Al Qasr

Take a buggy from the hotel to the pier and then a canopied rickshaw the length of the pier to the restaurant. Once inside its glass walls, diners are wrapped in Arabian Sea views, interrupted only by the stirring silhouette of Burj Al Arab. "Friday Chic Brunch" begins with locally made burrata, halal cold cuts and a seafood platter. The set menu continues with two mains to share — fish and meat — and climaxes with a dessert platter featuring Pierchic's ambrosial signature chocolate slice.
Friday, 12.30pm-4pm; from AED395 ($170); jumeirah.com

THE NOSTALGIC BRUNCH

Weslodge Saloon, JW Marriott Marquis

Brightening up Business Bay weekends is this 68th-storey American restaurant, loved for its fried chicken and "WTF (Weslodge Takes Friday)" brunch. Amid animal skulls and Victoriana oil paintings, gin and tomato juice "red snapper" cocktails are whizzed up as signature dishes are whisked to tables. The scorched Wagyu with truffle and yuzu is almost as good as the crispy chicken with fluffy buttermilk waffles. Dubai radio star Aylissa and DJ Jim Rhuda host the party, with playlists from the 60s to the 90s.
Friday, 1pm-4pm; from AED295 ($127); weslodge.ae

Brunch at The Burj Al Arab gives a glimpse inside this 7 star Dubal hotel. Photo / Getty Images
Brunch at The Burj Al Arab gives a glimpse inside this 7 star Dubal hotel. Photo / Getty Images

THE BLOW-OUT BRUNCH

Al Muntaha, Burj Al Arab

Tick a top Dubai tourist attraction off your to-do list with a visit to Al Muntaha. Feast on views of Burj Al Arab's famous technicolour atrium before heading to the top for "Le Grand Petit Dejeuner Brunch". Savour posh pastries and an a la carte selection of decadent egg dishes. Eggs florentine with black perigord truffle and eggs benedict with Brittany blue lobster and hollandaise are followed by a choice of four mains: fish, fowl, vegetarian and prime John Stone beef — the last adding a hefty AED170 ($42) supplementary fee, making it Dubai's most expensive brunch.
Friday, 10am-3.30pm; AED695 ($172); jumeirah.com