Gulnaz Restaurant and Cafe
Time Out Says
The place, I’ll be honest with you, looks a little bit sinister. The exterior is innocuous enough, but inside the high ceiling, winding staircase and detailed murals depicting scenes from ancient Arabic and Russian life lend the place a cavernous, surreal air that’s compounded by the murmur of obscure industrial house music in the background. It’s Eyes Wide Shut meets oligarch hidey-hole. Inexplicably, I found it all rather fun and, as unapproachable as the staff looked (Russian men clad in black), we received a warm welcome and were virtually carried to our seats.
It was hard not be charmed with our Uzbek waiter who, despite his shaky English, went to great lengths to guide us through the menu – describing each dish in as much detail as he could, repeatedly assuring us that each one was ‘very tasty’ in his thick accent. Taking into account that my knowledge of Russian and Uzbek cuisine is limited to borscht and, erm, chicken Kiev (my date was surprised to discover that chicken Kievs were from Russia, despite the giveaway name), I was happy to follow our helpful friend’s recommendations.
To start, he suggested the samsa – an Uzbek pastry stuffed with lamb – and the chebureki, which was described on the menu as ‘delicious deep-fried pastry stuffed with meat’. Despite the dishes sounding virtually identical, our waiter insisted they were very different – ‘very tasty’ – so we ordered these with a side of Russian beetroot salad.
Happily, the samsa and chebureki were very different in flavour and texture. They were quite heavy and stodgy for starters (as you’d perhaps expect of food from this region), though both were good – the kind of dishes you might expect to be served at a Russian family dinner table. By contrast, the beetroot salad was a surprisingly dainty dish, which offered a refreshing light alternative to the heavier samsa and chebureki.
Our friendly waiter was back again to help us through the list of confusingly named mains. I started to suspect he had a thing for dumplings: he was trying to persuade us to go for the manti, yet another dumpling stuffed with meat. Despite assurances it was ‘very tasty’, we opted for the plov ‘bayram’ and, to humour my date’s surprise that chicken Kievs were from Russia, a chicken Kiev. As with our starters, both dishes were fairly heavy – perhaps a little greasy – but made for decent comfort food. The plov in particular was interesting – the rice was nicely spiced and the carrots and lamb made for good, hearty eating.
So, what to make of Gulnaz? It’s certainly an odd restaurant, though by no means bad. Perhaps my biggest reservation is that I didn’t find it very accessible – while it’s not a destination restaurant that warrants a trip from the other side of town, it’s not casual enough for a quick bite. However, anyone who happens to have a taste for Arabic-Russian-Uzbek fare would do well to drop in. The food is decent (‘very tasty’, if you believe the staff), and I doubt you’ll find another restaurant quite like it.
The bill (for two)
1x Samsa Dhs7
1x Chebureki Dhs7
1x Russian beetroot salad Dhs14
1x Plov Dhs30
1x Chicken Kiev Dhs30
Total (excluding service) Dhs88
By Oliver Robinson | 25 Jan 2011
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