Head to the dunes for classy Arabic food 19 Reviews
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Dubai may have one of the world’s most diverse and fast-emerging restaurant scenes, but where’s the Emirati food? We asked local food experts and followed up leads in our quest to find it. Like desert mirages, most of these rumours vanished on investigation. One recommendation took us to the beautiful Bastakiah Nights restaurant, which didn’t have a single Emirati dish on the menu, but instead served disappointing Lebanese and Iranian dishes of the sort you can find in budget cafés find from San Francisco to Sydney. We had to up our game.
Bab Al Shams is where our quest to find the real cooking of Arabia eventually led. We’d heard that the Al Hadheerah restaurant at this three year-old resort, from Dubai’s home-grown luxury hotel chain Jumeirah, takes real pride in its regional cooking. This proved to be an understatement (the only thing understated about Al Hadheerah). In Dubai it seems ‘more’ means ‘better’: more food, more entertainment, more lavish decoration – just much, much more than a simple meal.
Built to resemble a fortified Arabian desert village, the rustic-looking buildings have been designed to look centuries-old with their pre worn paths, meandering routes, and numerous nooks and crannies. The sandy courtyard is covered in Arabian carpets that look as if they might fly, and illuminated by Islamic stained-glass lanterns.
Choose a rooftop seat, a recessed carpeted pit or a table in front of the stage. The first assault on the senses is the lavish outdoor buffet with a dozen food counters serving scores of carefully created Arabic dishes, including – at last! – proper Emirati food.
Rice is a staple of traditional Emirati fare. The Emirates’ position as a trading port ensured ample supplies, so it’s fitting that there are properly spiced rice dishes here, not unlike the famous polows (aka pulaos, or pilafs) of neighbouring Iran. No expense was spared with these; one type was laden with red barberries and pine nuts, another with chunks of lamb, similar to a proper biriani from a Moghul court.
Whole lamb is another signature dish of the region, and here it’s cooked in the traditional way. A pit is filled with lit charcoal and a large, covered metal vessel is lowered in to slow-cook for six hours. Tender, flavour-packed hunks are torn off by hand. Another whole lamb dish was layered over rice strongly infused with saffron; no expense was spared.
There’s also a counter laden with local fish (grilled to order), skewers of whole chickens, hot breads fresh from the ovens, plenty of pulse-based dishes and salads, all enticingly fresh and scented or flavoured with the correct spice mixtures, such as za’atar (mainly comprising the local oregano).
There was still more – much more. Some of the local sweets look like a variant on doughnuts, but just taste these deep-fried confections: delicate and light, not too sweet. Plus nut baklavas made from ground almonds, delicately scented with rosewater or orangeflower blossom. This was just dinner. A band was already playing Arabic music on stage; a belly dancer joined them at 8.30pm and by the time the camel rides, Arabian horse displays and a tunic-twirling Sinbad appeared, we were wondering if we were hallucinating.
Of course, this is like a Disney version of Arabian Nights and you’re paying top dollar for it; but it’s done very slickly and isn’t too cheesy (though having your photo taken with a cymbal-clacking maniac and then being issued with a ticket to buy the photo can leave you feeling as if you’ve been mugged). We had a great time, but we’d also found the Emirati cooking we’d been seeking – disappointingly for us not in an affordable Bur Dubai caff or in someone’s home, but in a luxury resort in the desert.
Buffet for two people Dhs790
[All-you-can-eat buffet costs Dhs395 Thu-Fri, Dhs375 Sun-Wed, Dhs275 for children over five years]
Bottle of mineral water Dhs16
Total (excluding service) Dhs806
- Previous reviews
- 26 March,2011- reviewed by Time Out Dubai staff
- 06 April,2010- reviewed by Time Out Dubai staff
- 23 November,2009- reviewed by Daisy Carrington
- 30 March,2009- reviewed by Time Out Dubai staff
- 26 March,2008- reviewed by Jeremy Lawrence
- 27 June,2007- reviewed by Time Out Dubai Staff
- 12 March,2007- reviewed by Time Out Dubai Staff
- 26 April,2006- reviewed by Time Out Dubai
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