Al Halabi

It’s fitting that the cosmopolitan couture in the new Fashion Dome is complemented by the diverse culinary offerings of the restaurants on the ground floor. With PF Chang’s serving its own interpretation of Asian fare, Tribes cooking up South-African steaks, Fauchon’s sweet French treats and Indian cuisine from Asha’s, Al Halabi takes on the role as region’s culinary ambassador. Too many of Dubai’s Arabic-styled restaurants seem intent on serving mezze platters and houmous alongside an unwelcome dollop of 1001 Nights – just because a restaurant offers Arabic food doesn’t mean it needs to litter its walls with cheap, tacky decor. Conversely, Al Halabi’s extensive interior is sleek and shiny (in keeping with the Fashion Dome’s glitzy environs), without being too over the top. The table plan, meanwhile, is designed to cater for walk-in customers as well as those hankering for a more formal dining experience – seating spills out onto the main atrium, offering a venue for a mid-shop coffee stop. We were hoping to take our meal here and spy on shoppers, but as dinner guests we were politely ushered to the tables further into the restaurant. This wasn’t too much of an issue – the restaurant’s open façade still allows for good people-watching – but I felt this more formal setting wasn’t in keeping with what was essentially a mall dining experience. These minor misgivings were remedied in part by our friendly, attentive waitress, who cheerily recommended the houmous. Anything else? ‘Everything!’ she cried. As reassuring as it was to know that every last dish on the menu was good, we pressed her for more specific guidance and were duly recommended the mixed grill and fatet batenjan (yoghurt, fried bread and aubergine), which we ordered along with a vegetable platter, houmous and fattoush. No sooner had she left us, a waiter sporting a robe of regal metallics presented us with a basket of bread swaddled in a thick white cloth and a bowl brimming with golden houmous dotted with pine nuts and meat. Our waitress wasn’t lying – the houmous wasn’t at all bad and we’d have probably filled up on it if the fattoush, fatet batenjan and raw vegetables hadn’t arrived at our table in equally speedy fashion. The vegetable platter featured slender cuts of raw carrot and cucumber, pickles and olives, and a solitary aubergine. The carrots and cucumber were pleasantly crunchy and fresh, while the highlight was the aubergine, stuffed with fiery red chilli paste – a nice embellishment to an otherwise nondescript starter. Likewise, the fattoush salad was competently prepared with crisp salad and crunchy fried pitta. It would have been a damning indictment of the restaurant if either of these simple dishes fell short, but luckily they were both competently prepared. Still, neither caught our imagination or invigorated the taste buds. The fatet, however, provided a welcome wake-up call, though the chef’s liberal use of garlic proved too much: it drowned out any flavour the yoghurt, bread, and aubergine may have offered. The mixed grill – the cornerstone of our meal – was perhaps the most disappointing of all the dishes. Each of the meats was ever-so-slightly overcooked, just enough to detract from their rich flavour. Al Halabi isn’t a bad restaurant by any stretch of the imagination, yet its decor promises more than its menu can deliver. The service is attentive and prices aren’t bad, but ultimately the food doesn’t set Al Halabi apart from the plethora of other generic Arabic restaurants in Dubai. The bill (for two) 1x Fattoush Dhs24 1x Fatet batenjan Dhs27 1x Houmous Dhs32 1x Mixed grill Dhs67 Total (excluding service) Dhs150

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