To me at least, it felt like the latest Reem Al Bawadi popped up almost overnight. One day there was a hive of activity and construction going on in that area of the Marina, the next a streak of blue strobe lighting announced the restaurant’s arrival.
Even though it’s spread out over three levels and boasts a gaudily decorated open-air terrace lined with greenery, this place still teems with people most evenings. Due to the sheer number of customers, on the night we visited the service did suffer a little. We waited rather a long time to order our food and yet, because the staff managed to deliver our drinks and a basket overflowing with pockets of warm bread quickly, we didn’t become irritated. Instead, we took in the atmosphere – all hustle and bustle, with plenty of families and happy chatter – and admired the waterfront views and twinkling, multicoloured lights.
The menu at Reem Al Bawadi, which advertises itself as providing an “exquisite taste of Arabia”, certainly boasts an array dishes: there’s hot and cold mezze, saj, a section dedicated to raw Lebanese delicacies, seafood, kebabs, grills and more. Alongside this, there’s also a vaguely incongruous selection of club sandwiches, pizza, pasta and European-style dishes such as lamb shanks with mashed potato and gravy.
We stuck to the brief, though, and ordered a couple of mezze items to start. Hummus with sujuk was excellent – the chickpea dip was creamy and thick with tahini flavour and pieces of lamb sujuk (sausage) had a deep red hue and were rich with garlic and paprika. Meanwhile, the pure white shankleesh was soft and crumbly, with a pungent but nonetheless pleasant tang to it.
Although it featured plenty of fresh-looking ingredients, the Reem Al Bawadi signature salad was unremarkable. Both the feta cheese and the watery chopped tomatoes were pretty tasteless and the honey-mustard dressing advertised on the menu was missing entirely.
Portions are generous. My main course, a sizeable round of pitta bread stuffed with minced lamb (arayees), was accompanied by a mountain of fries that were properly seasoned, but just a little too soggy for my liking. Chopped herbs, onions and red pepper added interest to the chargrilled meat patty which, although not completely dry, wasn’t exactly juicy, either. I do think a dish such as this could really benefit from a sauce or dip, something to add a little moisture to the meat and bread mix.
The chicken mixed grill platter was an even larger affair and brought with it both highs and lows. Three or four bite-sized pieces of tender shish tawook were subtly but well flavoured and despite their small size, the knobbly chicken wings were worth nibbling on. Halves of tomato and red pepper were also good, smoky on the outside, soft and sweet in the centre.
A couple of pieces of minced chicken kebab were bland, though, and triangles of arayees were unforgivably dry; covering them in garlic sauce rendered them palatable, but that’s not really the point.
For dessert, a shared portion of choco halaweh was an interesting mix of sweet and savoury, with the fresh strawberries and Nutella spread contrasting with the chewy, slightly salty, bread base. It was by no means a light dessert, but we each managed a couple of slices, which says something.
Reem Al Bawadi is by no means the cheapest, or even the best restaurant of its kind in Dubai, but as an overall package – food, ambience, location – it does have a certain charm about it. For that reason, I predict that diners will continue to flock.
A meal for two at Reem Al Bawadi, Dubai Marina Walk, costs Dh210, including service charge. For reservations, call 04 452 2525. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito