Al Tabaq

The polar opposite to the modern subcontinental marvels of Ushna and Indigo, this tiny, ramshackle filling station specialises in delivering dirt cheap Indian and Pakistani food straight into the hands of some of the city's poorest citizens. As such, those with a woman in their party (us, in this case) should expect to be gruffly gestured towards the rickety stairs that lead up to the restaurant's family section — a dim and shabby room cooled by age-old air conditioning units that whirr away noisily, turning blue the faces of those who pick the wrong spot to sit. Housekeeping issues aside, though, there's actually a lot to like about Al Tabaq. Thought its food is essentially fuel to keep low-income expats pounding away on their construction sites or grappling with the steering wheel of their taxi, there's plenty of flavour to the dishes, with a complimentary starter of spicy chickpea soup transcending its plastic supermarket crockery with a taste worthy of the city's finest china. That said, the chicken mandi curry that followed was disappointing. Though it looked impressive in its mighty earthenware pot, the meat was a mangled array of flesh and bone, as if someone had repeatedly stamped on a roast chicken until it fell apart before pouring some sauce on the results. The mixed grill was decidedly better, with well-cooked morsels of hammour and lamb lending themselves superbly to a stack of freshly baked tandoori bread. While it's certainly not a place for romance, then (unless your beau happens to be extremely open-minded), few can argue that Al Tabaq does what it sets out to very well indeed. The only mystery is how, at those barely believable prices listed below, it ever manages to cut a profit. The bill (for two) Chicken handi Dhs15 Mixed grill Dhs20 Mutton biryani Dhs12 Total (excluding service) Dhs47