WKND - - Fine Dining - 24 june 2016

alk­ing into the Lay­ali Za­man ma­jlis at the Le Meri­dien Dubai, it’s dif­fi­cult not to won­der at the sheer size of the place. Of course, with its ca­pac­ity to seat 400 guests, it helps that the ho­tel chose to use its Fal­con Ball­room for the trans­for­ma­tion — still, it takes a few moments to get your bear­ings and fig­ure out the buf­fet sta­tions and seat­ing op­tions.

The ‘ big’ draw of the place is not the size of the venue though — it’s the size of their menu that fea­tures a plen­ti­ful ar­ray of Mid­dle Eastern and in­ter­na­tional spe­cial­i­ties. About half a dozen coun­ters take up the far end of the room — and it’s all you can eat for Dh149 per head.

The mezzes — both cold and hot — are a great start, and you could be in dan­ger of fill­ing your­self up with savoury t r eats l i ke Fried Kibbeh, Spinach Fatayer, Cheese Sam­bousek, as well as other clas­sic cul­prits like Hum­mus, Tab­bouleh, Beet­root Moutabel and Fat­touch.

An en­tire sta­tion is ded­i­cated to sal­ads — with 10 dif­fer­ent kinds to choose from. The bread sta­tion of­fers as­sorted bread rolls and baguettes, the soup sta­tion a se­lec­tion of three kinds of soup, and the cheese sta­tion is a treat for the eyes, with a va­ri­ety of English and Ara­bic cheeses to in­dulge in ( al­beit, a tad guiltily).

You’d think they’d given you all you could fancy by way of ap­pe­tis­ers, but the ma­jlis even has an In­dian street food sta­tion, with Gol Gap­pas, Chaat and Sev Puri! Let the record state that we didn’t even try to re­sist. In fact, my dining part­ner thinks he made the server’s day when he chal­lenged him to make his gol gappa as spicy as pos­sib­ble, and the young man lit up and be­gan putting the re­quest to­gether with much en­thu­si­asm. The more ad­ven­tur­ous din­ers can look out for the beef tongue be­ing of­fered too — but you’d have to tell us how it was; un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther of us was feel­ing very brave that night!

As you can see, you’d need to prac­ti­cally bri­dle your­self to keep from fill­ing up on the starters alone. But it was time to ex­plore the mains — the coun­ters for which stretched along two walls. The whole Ouzi ( braised lamb on a bed of spiced rice) takes pride of place at the head of the counter, fol­lowed by an ar­ray of meat and fish dishes, such as the Mixed Grill, Ham­mour Hara, Chicken Mak­louba, Cashew Chicken and Lamb Ta­jine. We were a tad dis­ap­pointed to note that there weren’t many op­tions for veg­e­tar­i­ans, save for the Po­tato Gratin and Pasta with Mari­nara Sauce.

The servers are po­lite, ma­te­ri­al­is­ing al­most mag­i­cally and clear­ing your ta­ble as soon as you’re done. The am­bi­ence is very re­lax­ing, and it’s easy to lose track of time — sip­ping on drinks like jal­lab ( a type of fruit syrup) and rooh afza ( con­cen­trated squash) with milk — while also get­ting lost in con­ver­sa­tion.

Round­ing off the of­fer­ings is the desserts counter — you can’t miss it, given the large camel statue placed on it that is al­most the first thing to catch your eye as you en­ter the room. The as­sort­ment on the ta­ble lends it­self to a sweet haven, as you’re spoilt for choice with Mixed Bak­lawa ( filo pas­try filled with chopped nuts and su­gar syrup), Ma­ha­l­abia ( milk pud­ding), Ku­nafa ( cheese pas­try), Umm Ali ( bread pud­ding) and Mamool ( tra­di­tional cook­ies with var­i­ous fill­ings). And those are only the Mid­dle Eastern desserts. Cheese­cakes, caramel, car­rot cakes and ice creams also beckon — and we’ll take our hats off to you if you man­age to sam­ple them all.

In the end, if there’s any­thing you’ll come away with after a feast so sump­tu­ous, it’s that these guys sure know how to lay out a spread.

Shish Taouk Cold Mezze The desserts counter Fried Kibbeh Date Cake Chicken Mach­bous

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