Perhaps that was why the waiter looked at me with slightly offensive disappointment when I confirmed that yes, I was taking this table all by myself. I would like to say the service improved as the evening progressed, but although there appeared to be plenty of staff buzzing around the venue, there never appeared to be anyone available when you needed them. The language barrier may not have helped, but most of the waiters also seemed to have difficulty communicating much about the menu, or explaining or recommending any dishes. Throughout the buzz of the evening, however, the café was primarily filled with locals and diners from across the Middle East. Perhaps used to serving diners who don’t need to ask such questions, the waiters were surprised to be quizzed on which of the three aubergine dishes on the menu they would recommend.
After much coaxing, the definitive answer was the fattet bathejen (aubergine with toasted bread, fresh yoghurt, garlic and pine nuts). It was in fact not a hot dish, but a room-temperature trough in which a little bread and a minimal quantity of aubergine lay drowning in yoghurt.
I had mixed feelings on the lauded vine leaves, since the leaves themselves had an unfamiliarly thick chewiness to them, and the level of lemon sourness was biting, although the rice stuffing was nice enough. The tabbouleh was good, and even better when eaten with the beautifully buttery thyme-packed bread rolls that appeared at the table as a matter of course. Also good was the jebneh baladieh tolmeh, a Lebanese equivalent of a tomato and mozzarella salad, only with a fresh, salty and curdy home-made style of cheese that was particularly tasty.
Aside from this, the main attraction of Leila is undoubtedly the decor.
The interior is charmingly pretty: a leitmotif of roses, a vintage softness, and a cosy, homely feel runs through everything, from the rose-patterned crockery (which looks as though it was lifted straight from your grandmother’s cupboard) to the colourful, tile-clad walls. The food is decent and affordable and, while the service could do with a refresh, it’s the ambience at Leila that makes this venue worth a visit.
The bill (for one)
1x jebneh baladieh tolmeh Dhs25
1x warak enab Dhs28
1x tabbouleh Dhs26
1x fattet batenjen Dhs27
1x soft drink Dhs21
1x large water Dhs14
1x Lebanese coffee Dhs15
Total (excluding service) Dhs156