It is a wonder that some restaurants claim to be restaurants at all. Tagine Al Fassi (Tagine from Fez) would be one of them. No one would fault you for assuming that this Hor Al Anz eatery (055 779 8582) is a mere extended kitchen, a cleft carved into the chin of a building that isn't conspicuous enough to make you look twice.
Who would have known that within the blue-tiled aisle that calls itself a restaurant lie voluptuous knobs of lamb that have painstakingly sweated their oils into an unctuous pool, beckoning your fingers for a dip? Who would have known that plump prunes married with finely chopped onions can lend the sensuous and husky depth of a raspy melodic voice, one that makes your chest catch with deep sighs of satisfaction? Who would have known the compelling value of a deliberate crunch, effortlessly delivered with whole almonds and toasted sesame seeds? Who would have known that endless conversations unfold over crusty bread dipped in a homely lamb tagine — complex not by virtue of gourmet elements but, paradoxically, by extracting maturity and depth from the simplest of ingredients? I can smugly say that I had known. It was I who had decisively honed in on Tagine Al Fassi's lamb tagine after all.
My gastronomic arrogance aside, this tagine has left me yearning to expose my untrained buds to the legendary tagine in Fez and compare it with this one in Hor Al Anz. It makes me desperate to peek into Tagine Al Fassi's kitchen, watch the tagine simmering, observe where restaurant shortcuts have replaced slow-cooked authenticity, scribble down the spices being sprinkled into the dish. It will take many, many months before I can build the level of trust needed for Al Fassi to open their kitchen doors to me. But by stepping into the un-restaurant and pulling up one of its six chairs, I have already started that journey.
Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), which takes people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai