Having already heard great things about both Zahira and Chef Greg Malouf (unfortunately, I missed Cle when it was open), upon my return to Dubai after our trip to Australia, I was excited to try one of the latest entries to the city’s dining scene. Seeming to overcome the challenge of opening during Ramadan (no easy task for any venue), the restaurant was quiet for our first hour, but gained other patrons as the night continued (we were visiting the first night of Eid, which I suspect had something to do with the limited numbers).
To begin, I loved the intimate, somewhat magical quality of the interior design (honestly, for those who remember the Monarch and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse which used to be in this location many years ago, it is nowhere to be found). The focus of the walls is a mix of pages from Arabian Nights (discovered in a cookbook by the chef), fanciful mirrors, sophisticated lighting and comfortable, but chic seating. As it seems to be a trend in my dining experiences recently, I didn’t particularly care for the music (which didn’t seem a good fit for the restaurant), but perhaps I’m just getting old. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Furthermore, with its proximity to bustling upstairs neighbor Play (both located in the H Hotel), I wondered at the decision to place these two restaurants so close together. (In the end, Hubs and I decided the demographic of the intended respective diners was different enough not to cause too much stress or overlap — you might feel differently).
After a warm greeting, we decided to opt for a cocktail inside the lounge area (set apart to the left of the dining room, complete with cushy velvet seating). While I have many favorite fit outs in the city, the bar here is exceptionally in my style (and gives both LBD and Weslodge strict competition). Having a look at the cocktail menu, I bypass the Oud drink (eeek!!) or one of the more creative quaffs (no perfume, thank you very much) and opt for a milder mixture, the Beqaa Sour (AED85) with avocado and gin (very refreshing). Hubs skips his standard Old Fashioned for a G&T (and we were impressed by the Thomas Henry Tonic Water).
Once finished with our drinks, we walked through the dining room to our table. After some conversation with our waitress, a small dish of flaky Arabic bread and traditional vegetables (made better by a small amount of moreish dressing) was delivered to the table. With a preselected menu, we were quickly served highlights from both the appetizers and main dishes, starting with the Hazelnut Falafel (AED65). This was (very) shortly followed by Salmon Kibbeh with accompaniments (AED65). Although served with soft bread and other fresh accouterments, I didn’t care for the texture or taste of the kibbeh (although the bread was divine). The falafel, served with a crunchy red slaw was a and creamy dressing, was a dish I would definitely order again (and very filling for two people).
For our mains, we received the iconic Duck Bisteeya (AED85) and the Red Snapper Fillet (AED115). I can tell you that even as the Duck arrives, you will know it before it gets to the table because of the delicious aroma of cinnamon. With a presentation unequal in the UAE, the Bisteeya is literally almost too beautiful to cut into (hence why we had the waitress do it in our stead). The duck, pastry, and cabbage come together for a wonderfully textural bite, with just the right amount of sweet and savory. The fish (we were served salmon the night of the review) was perfectly cooked and comes atop one of the better risottos in the city. Not to be overlooked, the crispy onion and cilantro atop the dish add the right amounts of texture and freshness. As with the falafel, I would happily order both of these mains again (and recommend sharing with a friend, as the plates are quite hearty).
Improvements for me come with the wine pairing. As part of the review, we were served both a glass of red and white, both of which (even for my relatively uneducated palate) were not at all to my taste. Hubs might have used the phrase ‘airport wine,’ and I definitely wouldn’t correct his observation. However, if I went back, I would be able to choose my own beverages and would select something more to my taste.
Unlike many restaurants in Dubai, prices at Zahira are entirely reasonable (to the point that I had to take a second look at the menu). The front of house manager explained that this ties into the family/sharing mentality intended at the restaurant. Bravo! I hope more venues follow this trend.
Because if I see another AED200+ Black Miso Cod I’m going to kill myself.
Would I go back? Yes. Hubs and I decided that Zahira would be a wonderful place to take an out of town guest or family member who wanted to experience Middle Eastern food. The venue offers elevated and creative versions of dishes that would be memorable for any occasion.
Have you been yet to Zahira?
A to Za’atar was a guest of Zahira. Opinions are my own, just ask my husband.