Ayam Zaman

There were many things that were a little, well… different, about Ayam Zaman, the new Lebanese joint at the Royal Ascot Hotel. When I first visited the venue I assumed it was a restaurant that also happened to have live entertainment. But when I arrived at 8.30pm – I thought a perfectly reasonable dinner hour – I was turned away because the place wasn’t opening until 9.30pm. So I returned and, as my date and I suffered through a Lebanese singer testing the vocals, I realised this place was more of a club that happened to serve food. Be warned: Ayam Zaman does not bother much with menus. There is a set menu, and it’s the same price if you come with one person or 10 people. It’s Dhs200, and it’s mezze… lots and lots of mezze. As the entertainment started in earnest – a talented saxophonist played Lebanese lounge music at ear-piercing volumes – the waiter filled the table with fluffy, freshly baked pitas, thick, stringy and succulently smoked baba ganoush, stuffed vine leaves, moutabel, a zesty, if overdressed fattoush, and a few other varieties of pureed aubergine. These fresh dips were enough to fully satisfy me and my date, which is why I knew we were in trouble when the waiter returned, this time carrying a tray full of hot mezze. ‘More?’ my date moaned, incredulous. Had I known, I would have invited a few more people to lend a hand in consuming this huge feast. These hot dishes were a more varied than their chilled counterparts. Assorted savoury pastries, such as spinach and lamb manakeesh, were doughy and dry, though the several varieties of lamb sausages (plain, with lemon, with stewed tomatoes) were pleasantly rich and spicy. Punctuating our meal were various acts – belly dancing troupes, singers, violinists – many of which were good, if cheesy. Unfortunately, the volume was such that it was difficult to appreciate the talent. After it was clear that we could eat no more, were never going to be able to have a conversation (even shouting yielded no results in the maddening swell of music), and even an order of grape shisha failed in settling our overstuffed stomachs, we decided it was time to go. We bade our farewells well ahead of the remaining diners (mainly middle-aged business men and their twenty-something nieces). Ayam Zaman somewhat represents a Lebanese version of Russian club Bolshoi at the Moscow Hotel. The food isn’t bad and I could see how it could make for a fun, raucous, well-stocked evening out, providing you come with a large group, big appetite, and perhaps some earplugs (trust us, you’ll still hear the band just fine). The bill (for two) 1x Bottle water Dhs22 1x Set menu Dhs200 2x White wine Dhs76 1x Shisha Dhs60 Total (including service) Dhs358

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