The UAE is awash with international restaurants. Should they so desire, and if appetite allowed, there is every possibility that an intrepid eater could circumnavigate the globe via their taste buds, sampling Japanese cuisine one day, Pakistani the next and British fodder the day after that.
Somewhat surprisingly, the country is lacking restaurants serving authentic Emirati food. The options, to my knowledge, have so far been limited to Emirati N More in Barsha and Mezlai at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Now Al-Fanar in Dubai Festival City has joined what will hopefully be a growing mix.
Rather than just serving traditional Emirati cuisine, however, Al-Fanar has gone one step further and recreated a small Bedouin village as it would have appeared in the 1960s. Outside in the Al Badia, you can choose to sit at a table or kick off your shoes and settle into a majlis by the canal. A number of life-size models are dotted around (a donkey pulling a cart, a camel and his herder, a woman preparing cheese by hand), which add to the ambience and seem to be very popular with young children.
Should you wish to dine inside, then push open the heavy vaulted doors leading to the main restaurant and walk through the hallway to find cool stone walls decorated with artefacts and a large dining area featuring communal wooden tables, intricate architecture and a mood evocative of years past.
The menu at Al-Fanar is both extensive and interesting. Many will be familiar with the names of some of the more well-known dishes, such as baleet (thin noodles sweetened with cardamom, saffron and eggs) or machboos (meat simmered with rice and spices), and it is a treat to have the chance to try them.
When we visited on Friday at lunchtime, the restaurant was busy. Our waiter warned us, after we'd ordered, that the food would take at least 20 minutes to arrive. In fact, it took that long for the drinks (a bottle of water and a pineapple juice) to reach the table. While the staff were doing their best, I think that in these circumstances it is important to get something down on the table as quickly as possible, even if it is just a bottle of water or basket of bread, to prevent customers from feeling neglected.
I had a bowl of shorabat adas (lentil soup) to start, which although nourishing and warm, didn't quite have the spicy depth of flavour of a stellar version. My friend enjoyed his samboosas, which were hot, crisp and filled with mixed vegetables.
For my main course, I chose thareed because I've always wanted to try it. This is a hearty meat stew (in this case, lamb), made with vegetables and potatoes and served spooned over pieces of Arabic bread, which soften as they soak up the moisture.
My friend meanwhile opted to try the tekat dajaj Emarati (grilled marinated chicken) and pronounced it to be very good. The yogurt-based marinade had tenderised the meat and imparted it with an interesting, spiced flavour.
Portions are generous here, so when it came to dessert we decided to share a plate of khanfaroush. These Emirati-style doughnuts (similar in appearance to drop scones), were sweet without being overwhelmingly sickly, with cardamom and saffron providing background flavour.
For something a little bit different, a meal at Al-Fanar offers a great insight into Emirati cooking in a charming setting.
A meal for two at Al-Fanar, Canal Walk, Dubai Festival City costs Dh183, not including service. For reservations call 04 232 9966. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito