Why is DIFC at night like a woolly mammoth? Because it’s monstrous and dead. The vast financial centre shone brightly from a distance, but its desertion became apparent as we shuffled across its sprawling empty floors. We were looking for Al Mandaloun, its newly opened Lebanese restaurant, but every desolate corridor and isolated escalator drew another blank. One befuddled security guard shook his head in every direction his vertebrae would physically allow before stating categorically that it didn’t exist. Another more cognizant charge consulted a clipboard before pointing us towards the restaurant and bellowing directions until he became a tiny-but-noisy speck, still gesticulating in the distance. We eventually found it, every bit as vacant as the rest of DIFC.
Al Mandaloun’s menu was infinitely more crowded, so we decided to shock the chef into action by actually ordering some mezze. He was equal to the task, and soon enough a busy bowl of fattoush arrived, topped with crisp shavings of toasted bread on a tumbling mound of fresh lettuce, tomato and cucumber in a zesty lemon dressing. Swiftly behind it came a plate of stuffed vine leaves, which were bursting at the seams with soft rice, tomato and parsley infused with lemon; and a shankleesh salad of crumbly goat’s cheese with chopped fresh vegetables. We busily ripped our flimsy flatbreads and set about the salads with dollops of creamy mohammara, a spicy paste of crushed walnut and sesame seeds.
If the restaurant had been half as crowded as our table was by the time the rest of the mezze arrived, Al Mandaloun would have been doing a roaring trade. A plate of juicy, succulent makanek sausages basked in a lemon butter sauce, while a plate of thickly textured kibbeh nayeh presented a sculpted mound of fresh raw lamb pulverised with crushed bulgar wheat. The two meat dishes were excellent, and capably whet our appetites for the mixed grill. A spiced sheet of flatbread was ripped open to reveal nuggets of tender chicken shish taouk, lamb brochette, kofta kebab and arayess lamb nestling under curls of aromatic steam.
There was now more space on our table and less space in us, yet we bravely searched out a couple of desserts. My kashta bil asal was a firm puddle of fresh clotted cream sprinkled with crushed pistachio nuts and drizzled in thick, gooey honey. Meanwhile, my dining partner was courageously deconstructing a sweet and flowery muhalabia pudding of milk and cornflower with rose and blossom water. Not only does Al Mandaloun’s menu offer a flush of Lebanese favourites from mezze to dessert, but it also has a traditional breakfast list – from foul medammas to labneh – for a hungry morning crowd. Perhaps that’s when DIFC comes to life?
The bill (for two)
Mineral water Dhs8
Stuffed vine leaves Dhs15
Shankleesh salad Dhs15
Kebbeh nayeh Dhs26
Mixed grill Dhs42
Kashta bil asal Dhs22
Total (not including service) Dhs197