Given Afghanistan’s proximity to Dubai it’s surprising there aren’t more Afghani restaurants floating around. To date we’ve only uncovered two, in Deira and Al Quoz. When I was alerted to a third in International City, named simply Afghan Cuisine, I was intrigued. For those who don’t know, International City is divided into neighbourhoods named after countries. I wondered why the owners of Afghan Cuisine decided to open their restaurant in ‘Russia’ – a choice that seemed, at the very least, unfortunate.

There are times when eating foreign cuisine can be intimidating. I remember a meal I had in a Kenyan restaurant in Deira where, as the only non-African in the room, I was met with an army of pointed stares. As my date found the ladies’ toilet, I tried to slide inconspicuously into a booth. Of course this didn’t work, and the owner promptly approached with menus and eager questions. I thought he would be shocked to find an American in his restaurant, but as it happened I was the one in for a surprise: he opened his mouth to reveal a California drawl.

The owner was eager to please and steered us towards an order of mantu – steamed dumplings stuffed with minced beef and onions and topped with yoghurt and dried mint. These dumplings felt like the kind of comfort food that could only come out of grandma’s kitchen. They were anything but bland, with wisps of mint and coriander giving substance to every bite. We moved onto banjan borani: slices of aubergine cooked in an oily tomato sauce and topped with yoghurt. It tasted excellent, especially when mopped up with doughy mounds of fresh baked bread, but while the flavour was there it hit the stomach like an anvil.

For mains we tried the kofta qorma, a tangy, tomato-based stew that is not to be confused with the cream-based Indian korma. The kofta were juicy, barely cohering meatballs of minced beef, and the marinade, toasty and piquant, gave the same reviving warmth as a winter fireplace. The chopan kebab, made with pieces of lamb on the bone served on top of a pile of rice, was let down slightly by the meat. It was by no means bad, but to excel it should have slid off the bone.

We wanted to order dessert but the owner was out of stock. To his credit this is due to the fact that he makes a fresh batch daily, and the batch he’d made earlier that day had sold out. Though disappointed, we were also slightly relieved as we were already unbearably full. We had feared that, despite its name, Afghan Cuisine would be indistinguishable from the myriad Arabic restaurants in this town. But it wasn’t. It was one of the most unique dining experiences we’d had in a long time and while it might be all the way out in Russia, it is worth the pilgrimage.

The bill (for two)
1x Large bottle water Dhs4
1x Mantu Dhs10
1x Banjan borani Dhs10
1x Bread Dhs2
1x Chopan kebab Dhs20
1x Kofta qorma Dhs15
Total (excluding service) Dhs61