A veritable institution in Abu Dhabi, this popular takeaway spot doesn't always live up to its reputation.
Ask most people about the national tree of Lebanon, and they'll tell you it's the cedar. The pyramidal green icon is proudly emblazoned on the Lebanese flag for everybody to see. But although the country is rich with flora, from poppies to begonias, Lebanon does not officially have a national flower. So when various recommendations for this Lebanese Flower - a veritable institution in Abu Dhabi - came flooding in, we wondered whether it would have its day in the sun. The Defence Road restaurant is situated next to the bakery of the same name, an establishment that produces cheese manakeesh that many devotees would gladly sell their grandmothers for. So we took our seats in the homely yet frankly jaded dining room to see what all the fuss was about.
It was easier said than done, as the entrance appeared to be in the middle of some kind of takeaway cyclone. We were directed through the crossfire of waiters and delivery men toing and froing with bags of food to go, and sat among the family groups to choose our food. The menus were far from impressive, with a limited selection of mezze and not much to show from the grill either, so we enquired as to the "sa-hin al yo-mi" or dishes of the day. It was fortunate that my dining partner was Lebanese, because the request engendered a shrug from the waiter who then asked why a westerner (your humble reviewer) would be interested in authentic home-style Lebanese food in any case.
Elbowing aside the expectation that I'd go straight for a shish tawouk, I persevered and ordered two traditional Lebanese dishes, which turned out to be really rather good. First came the mdardara, a lemon and herb seasoned dish of rice and lentils. My friend attested to the authenticity of the dish, extolling its homely virtues, while I began to investigate the kharoof mahshi, or rice with sheep. This dish, traditionally a favourite meal during Eid celebrations, takes hours to prepare and cook, which allows the flavours of the meat to permeate the rice. It was excellent. I ordered a fattoush and a bowl of hummus to go alongside the dishes of the day, and they were both fairly adequate.
But then I drew the wild card and ordered the grilled pigeon. The small splayed bird, laid out on a sheet of flatbread next to a handful of soggy fries, was overcooked, rendering the flesh impossibly hard and chewy in places. It's clear from the packed dining room and tumultuous takeaway activity that Lebanese Flower does a roaring trade. Whether this is because there are few independent Lebanese restaurants of genuine quality in Abu Dhabi or because usually the food is of a much higher standard than it was on our visit is open to conjecture. But we found that the most successful dishes were the ones they didn't encourage us to have.
Maybe we'll unearth more hidden gems next time around, but on this showing, Lebanese Flower isn't likely to become an emblem of genuine Lebanese hospitality any time soon.