Wafi's new Arabic bar-restaurant wows with a dazzling space 3 Reviews
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Qbara, the new contemporary Arabic dining and drinking spot in Wafi, sets the tone strongly from the outset, with an entrance that looks more like an exclusive nightclub, complete with carpet and (friendly) bouncer. A hostess leads diners into an elevator up one floor, past a small bar area and suddenly the venue unfolds. And it is not just another Arabic restaurant in a mall.
From the upper level, guests can look down on the restaurant in all its glory. It is an immense, multi-faceted space, with a large dining area downstairs and a huge bar area overlooking windows into the kitchen, while upstairs diners can perch alongside a vertigo inducing glass balustrade (the barrier which stops you falling off the balcony), nestled between cosy looking, semi-private dining areas cut into walls dressed in woven fabric, and a secluded VIP area, with its own little indoor balcony. A huge wall of carved and decorated wooden panels appears to move thanks to a light show, creating a mesmerising 3D effect. While not overly adorned, the space is stunning and the ambience intimate and sultry.
The mixed-drink menu is divided into sections inspired by Dubai’s many facets, such as ‘the city’, ‘the souk’, ‘the desert’, with a fairly vintage Italian classic given a facelift with the addition of a zaatar-infused beverage. Even the cool towels presented to patrons are scented with orange blossom. The food menu follows a similar tone with small plates and large ‘Qbara dishes’ all characterised by a fusion of wider Middle Eastern food culture with outside influences, be that foreign or modern. Examples of this artistry include a soft shell crab saj wrap, and kibbe stuffed with lobster. Although the list of dishes is not too long, the wealth of intriguing choices proved overwhelming and we decided to opt for the Qbara experience tasting menu at Dhs450 each – a price that seems reasonable for around 13 small plates, with two desserts thrown in.
First to arrive at the table was a board of fresh-tasting breads that meet somewhere between European and Arabic and a bowl of crudities, beautifully presented on shaved ice like oysters, or sashimi. In the middle sat a bowl full of thick and creamy labneh, with a rich truffle aroma. It was so good, we couldn’t bear to part with it when the plates were cleared.
More food arrived, and the waiter charmingly willed us not to eat too much bread, since there was plenty more to come. My friend joked that we needed an extra table to be brought over, and it looked (even though it would have been logistically impossible in the space) as if the waiter was sincerely pained to have to tell us he couldn’t do so. In fact, service was generally excellent, with a charming and chatty manner and a highly professional edge.
Among the mountain of little plates that appeared, the vast majority of dishes were exceedingly well prepared with creativity and an imaginative use of Arabic recipes and ingredients. The lobster kibbe had my shellfish-phobic friend curious enough to give them a shot, and they were well made, stuffed with a generous amount of sweet and perfectly cooked chunks of lobster, accompanied by a thick, sweet and creamy avocado labneh. Also interesting was a salad of chunks of different heirloom tomatoes, combined with sweet watermelon and salty shanklish cheese, the simplicity of which was wonderful.
On we ploughed through a salad with cute little quenelles of falafel, through succulent lamb cutlets, with a hit of earthy heat, teamed with cooling minted labneh. Dessert arrived in the form of a dressed-up date brownie with walnuts and another treat, which was a tower of honey panacotta, topped with a fine disc of nut brittle and yards of Iranian candyfloss pashmak. The latter was a delight of texture and flavour and a beautiful end to an intriguing and joyous meal.
Qbara is so utterly, cohesively and creatively true to the spirit of Dubai, it comes as a surprise that no one has thought of this concept before. Combining the fine dining excellence in presentation, cooking and service of Dubai’s best haunts, Qbara brings to it Arabic flair but in modernised measures. Add to that Qbara’s clear attraction as a bar and nightspot, this is a ground breaking venture.
The bill (for two)
1x Qbara experience menu Dhs900
2x large water Dhs60
Total (excluding service) Dhs960
Time Out Dubai,
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