If­tar re­views

In a month of to­geth­er­ness, the best places to end your fast are af­ford­able for the whole fam­ily. We round up the tasti­est if­tars in town for un­der Dh150

Friday - - News -

The tasti­est places in town to end your fast.

Ra­mada Plaza JBR

Tucked be­hind TheWalk at Jumeirah Beach Res­i­dences, en­ter­ing the un­der­ground lobby of the new Ra­mada Plaza JBR had some­thing of a pri­vate mem­bers’ club feel about it, as if I’d dis­cov­ered a se­cret pas­sage­way only a se­lect few are privy too. This sense of stum­bling upon a hid­den gem con­tin­ued in Shores restau­rant one floor above, where I was greeted by the if­tar spread. What at first sight ap­peared a mod­est af­fair proved to be an Aladdin’s cave of tasty food.

The decor is low key, but the fare packs a punch, burst­ing with crunchy sal­ads, in­ter­est­ing cheeses, smoked fish and the most out­stand­ing freshly pre­pared stuffed vine leaves I’ve tried in Dubai. As well as the ex­pected Ara­bic spe­cial­i­ties like hum­mus, moutabel, shawar­mas and shish ke­babs, there are also in­ter­na­tional dishes in­clud­ing French onion soup, fresh Ital­ian pasta cooked to or­der, and a vat of thickly rich and in­dul­gent Dauphi­noise pota­toes.

Hav­ing a weak­ness for all things carby and creamy, I guiltily kept go­ing back for more of the pota­toes, and was re­as­sured of the au­then­tic­ity of the dish by a French cou­ple sit­ting nearby, who tucked into steam­ing plates of noth­ing but the stuff.

The whole lamb cooked on rice was ten­der and per­fectly sea­soned, the sa­mak harra fish dish was herby and full of flavour, while the cheese sam­bousek and veg­etable spring rolls were crispy, light and de­li­cious.

Al­though all the dishes on of­fer were ones I’ve tried many times be­fore, Ra­mada has its own tasty spin on each and I was im­pressed time and time again by the lay­ers of flavour in ev­ery mouth­ful, the qual­ity of even the most sim­ple salad and the scope of the chef’s palette.

Af­ter round­ing ev­ery­thing off with a bite of sticky date cake, I left with a sugar high and the feel­ing that some­times less is more – this if­tar is low on show but high on taste, and that’s what it should all be about. De­tails: Shores restau­rant, Ra­mada Plaza JBR, Ba­har 7. Dh145 per per­son in­clud­ing juices. Call 04 439 8888 or email events@ra­madaplaza­jbr.com.

Taj Palace, Deira

A drop of lux­ury in the heart of Deira, the Taj Palace def­i­nitely lived up to my ex­pec­ta­tions for an au­then­tic Ara­bic if­tar. Im­me­di­ately im­pressed by the Mid­dle Eastern in­te­rior, I was greeted by a glimpse of an open-plan kitchen and at­ten­tive, friendly staff.

Once set­tled with re­fresh­ments, the set-menu ban­quet be­gan with a stun­ning mezze of hum­mus, moutabel and tab­bouleh, along­side a mixed lentil dish, hal­loumi salad and smoked salmon tartare, all de­liv­ered to the ta­ble. Scooped up with fresh, warm Ara­bic breads, the dishes were rich in flavour and gen­er­ous in size.

The mezze in it­self was in­dul­gence enough for din­ner, but make sure you pace your­self for the de­li­cious plat­ter of grilled meats that fol­low. A clay pot of steam­ing rice ac­com­pa­nied the stun­ning grill se­lec­tion, along with a side dish of seafood cakes.

Prid­ing them­selves on au­then­tic­ity, the staff at the Taj ex­plain that the Ara­bic rice is cooked tra­di­tion­ally, as it would have been by Ara­bic fam­i­lies back in the day. The rus­tic ap­pear­ance of the dishes con­veys the am­bi­ence of a homely en­vi­ron­ment and, com­bined with the friendly man­ner of the staff, you soon feel as if you’re in­dulging in an au­then­tic lo­cal if­tar with friends.

To fin­ish off this feast, cof­fee and dessert were served, which were an ab­so­lute must to fit in, so be sure to save some space. The home­made pis­ta­chio sam­bousek served with star-anise syrup was par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable, but along­side this came a del­i­cate rose ma­ha­l­abiya and al­mond bas­bousa, which were ir­re­sistable.

The per­fect com­bi­na­tion of rus­tic am­bi­ence and culi­nary in­spi­ra­tion mean I’m go­ing to be mak­ing a speedy re­turn to the Taj Palace this Ra­madan.

De­tails: Taj Palace, Deira. Dh129 per per­son in­clud­ing soft drinks. Call 04 211 3078 or log on to www.tajho­tels.com.

Hol­i­day Inn, Al Bar­sha

Af­ter three months of morn­ing sick­ness and fussy first trimester taste buds, I headed to The Gem Gar­den at the Hol­i­day Inn Al Bar­sha with an open mind and an overly ex­cited ap­petite.

Upon ar­rival in the restau­rant, I was im­pressed by its zen-like at­mos­phere – the ceil­ings were swathed in light green fab­ric, which gave ev­ery­thing an airy feel.

We were given tra­di­tional Ara­bic cof­fee and dates and then ush­ered to our seats be­side the sump­tu­ous buffet, which of­fered an over­whelm­ing choice of more than 70 dishes in In­dian, Thai, Ara­bic and Con­ti­nen­tal cuisines.

But it was the Ara­bic theme that won out over­all – the air was scented with heady bukhoor in­cense, and Arab songs played softly in the back­ground, along with the re­lax­ing notes of a live flute player.

I wished I could have sam­pled a bit of ev­ery­thing, but my friend and I had to start some­where. We be­gan with lentil soup, which was per­fectly creamy in tex­ture, be­fore mov­ing on to the hot mezze. We agreed we had found the most de­li­cious fried shrimp dumpling – it was a suc­cu­lent, bliss­ful treat. The babaganoush was an ab­so­lute de­light and so was the fresh and tangy fa­so­lia salad.

For our main course, we en­joyed the Ara­bic mixed grill with its juicy, tasty and ten­der meat, along with baked aubergine, which was hearty and savoury. By this time we were stuffed, but were per­suaded to taste the karouf mahshi – lamb ouzi with rice – which was truly de­li­cious.

We rounded things off with mar­ble cheescake, which in­stantly won my heart. The at­ten­tive ser­vice and great food here are sure not to dis­ap­point. De­tails: The Gem Gar­den restau­rant, Hol­i­day Inn Dubai – Al Bar­sha. Dh120 per per­son. Part­ner­ing with United Na­tions for the World Food Pro­gram, the restau­rant has pledged to feed four hun­gry chil­dren for ev­ery if­tar. Call 04 323 4333 or email restau­rants@ hial­bar­sha.com

Za­roob My ex­pe­ri­ence at Za­roob’s if­tar was not just a feast for my taste buds, it was also a feast for my eyes.

The restau­rant’s in­te­rior is an eclec­tic and vivid mix of mod­ern and old, Western and Ara­bic. Every­where I looked there were ar­ti­facts such as old Coca-Cola bot­tles and wa­ter­ing cans stored on wooden shelves. Colour­ful cor­ru­gated iron, funky lamps and neon signs were dot­ted about. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the feel of the place. It’s also con­ve­niently lo­cated on Shaikh Zayed Road with park­ing easy to find so you don’t have to traipse around in the sum­mer heat and hu­mid­ity.

Za­roob of­fers a buffet-style if­tar and I was able to choose from a va­ri­ety of tra­di­tional Ara­bic dishes, in­clud­ing tangy and deli­cously fresh tab­bouleh, hum­mus with the con­sis­tency of whipped cream and

other classics such as grilled hal­loumi (de­li­ciously but­tery with a crispy coat­ing), ten­der and juicy chicken shawarma and tasty kofta.

It was all dis­played on the ground floor of the restau­rant, which is small but full of at­mos­phere, al­though there is fur­ther, com­fort­able seat­ing up­stairs as well.

I was kept re­freshed by de­li­cious fresh fruit mock­tails served in chunky jam jar-style glasses, and fin­ished off at the buffet counter for dessert to sat­isfy my sweet tooth – the fa­teer with cream and honey was gor­geous but very fill­ing.

The in­ter­est­ing in­te­rior and quirky at­mos­phere make this a fun and hip if­tar for the younger gen­er­a­tion, and it’s a rea­son­able price for a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence and de­li­cious, fresh-tast­ing food.

De­tails: Za­roob, Shaikh Zayed Road. If­tar Dh59 per per­son. Call 04 327 6060.

Ana­to­lia Turk­ish Grill

I con­fess. I used to lump if­tars into the cat­e­gory of buf­fets that are usu­ally big on quan­tity but less so on qual­ity. How wrong I was. A visit to Ana­to­lia Turk­ish Grill at Mirdif City Cen­tre dis­pelled this no­tion – big time.

The restau­rant of­fered if­tar the way I think it should be – served at the ta­ble, to eat at your own pace. The menu changes daily and in­cluded starters and five cour­ses of your choice.

My Turk­ish if­tar ex­pe­ri­ence be­gan the minute I walked in. The decor was mod­ern and ca­sual, with mixed fur­ni­ture to suit the mood. There are diner-style ar­eas with plush seats, long ta­bles for groups, and bistro-type cof­fee ta­bles and chairs for al­fresco din­ing.

A starter of hum­mus, pitta bread, cheese, dates, olives, green salad and slices of Turk­ish salami were wait­ing at the ta­ble where my com­pan­ion and I were seated. I loved the soslu patli­can – chunks of fried aubergine in tomato sauce, cooked to just the right tex­ture. The Ana­to­lia-style lentil soup was an ex­tra-creamy de­light and I had to re­mind my­self to leave room for the cour­ses to come.

Next came oven-baked good­ies of findik lah­ma­cun – mini minced­meat pies in a thin crust topped with ground meat. I drooled over the findik peynirli pide – soft cheese pies topped with melted cheese.

The grills fol­lowed. Our serv­ings in­cluded lamb chops, tavuks and ke­babs on a bed of onions and shred­ded cab­bage. I liked the way the Turks grill their meat – juicy and ten­der enough to slice through with­out the grease. And the crushed pis­ta­chio-in­fused lamb kebab was just awe­some.

A plate of biftek was served next – ten­der Turk­ish-style slices of beef served with bul­gur rice. I also en­joyed the isk­ender ke­bap – beef and lamb meat slices cooked in tomato sauce and yo­gurt.

The desserts fol­lowed. The kunefe with cream was too sug­ary even for my taste but the tel ka­dayif – shred­ded filo pas­try with pis­ta­chio fill­ing – scored with my sweet tooth. The oven-baked rice pud­ding on a cold clay pot proved a sur­pris­ing end­ing to what was al­ready my Ra­madan Turk­ish de­light.

De­tails: Dh98 for adults and Dh46 for chil­dren for a six-course if­tar. To book call 04 425 91344, email dubai­op­er­a­tions@ana­to­liaturk­ish­grill.com or visit www.ana­to­liaturk­ish­grill.com.

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