Ali Baba

I clearly haven’t been in Dubai long enough (or perhaps I haven’t been to the right places yet), but when it comes to Middle Eastern food, only my bad experiences leave a lasting impression. I can remember every last soggy shawarma and manky manakish, but I can’t tell you off the top of my head where my favourite Middle Eastern restaurant is – there are so many good ones, they all seem to blur into one. To put it another way, I’ve yet to find a restaurant that serves Middle Eastern cuisine that blows me away. Would Ali Baba be this place? The fact that the great hulking building on Jumeirah Open Beach has slipped under our radar for so long suggests otherwise. We haven’t heard any of our readers rave about it, nor picked up anything on the tweetosphere. The venue just sits there, big, bright and gaudy, so it was almost inevitable that I’d stumble in eventually. Inside, Ali Baba is as surreal as it looks from the outside. The expansive interior is almost like a dinner hall, with rows upon rows of tables leading up to a small bar at the far end. Tinsel hangs from the ceiling, while a few flatscreen TVs line the walls, showing everything from the Action Channel to Lebanese soap operas. There’s a fragile-looking stage on the right as you enter, which suggests that Ali Baba occasionally features live music. Yet on my visit it was eerily silent, save for the murmur of the few guests who occupied the window seats. As if entering the restaurant wasn’t proof enough that we had come to exchange dirhams for goods and services, my date and I had to find a table before the startled-looking staff were satisfied that we were here to eat, rather than cause mischief. Once they had plucked up the courage to take our order, the pace of the evening picked up and our food arrived not long after. Soon we were tucking into a generous spread of warm flatbread, fattoush, houmous with meat, grilled halloumi, zaatar and the Ali Baba mixed grill. There were some memorable moments – the fattoush salad was a little limp, but was brought to life by an invigorating dressing, while the grilled halloumi was full of flavour and avoided the rubbery texture that all too often befalls such a dish. Other than this, however, there was very little to be said of the food, which was decent enough, but no different to what I’ve eaten before. I imagine the atmosphere would have been better had we visited at the weekend, but from what I saw and experienced, there was nothing about Ali Baba that would induce me to go again, nor to prevent the memory of my visit melding with countless other mediocre Middle Eastern dining experiences I’ve had in the city. The bill (for two) 1x Fattoush Dhs18 1x Houmous with meat Dhs24 1x Halloumi Dhs18 1x Ali Baba mixed grill Dhs65 1x Zaatar Dhs20 1x Water Dhs10 1x Sprite Dhs10 Total (including service and municipality charges) Dhs165

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