Wandering around Mirdif City Centre last week, I happened upon a restaurant called Leila. The name sounded familiar and remembering a friendly press release informing me about a Lebanese restaurant that originated in Beirut and opened up in Dubai last year, I stepped inside.
Despite its open front, Leila does a good job of spiriting customers - the majority of whom seem to be Emiratis - away from their mall location. Music plays gently in the background, pastel wallpaper embossed with flowers creates a sense of femininity, large, mismatched frames displaying faded photographs line one of the walls and a wooden dresser with a selection of potted plants stretches out across another. The overall effect is rather whimsical - like sitting in a living room of yesteryear.
Because I was on my own, but still wanted to give the place a fair review, I ordered more than I usually would from the selection of hot and cold mezze, grilled dishes, Leila specials, salads and more.
A basket of bread and decent enough olives arrived first, quickly followed by tabbouleh, mouhamara and much better bread - warm, slightly sweet and deceptively moreish. The verdant, dark green tabbouleh glistened with freshness and was among the best I've ever tasted. Importantly, the salad consisted primarily of parsley; the small amount of bulghur wheat was there to add texture only. Despite being dressed with plenty of lemon juice and olive oil, there wasn't a hint of sogginess; just fresh, zippy, grassy crunch.
The russet-coloured mouhamara had a thick, course-cut texture that suggested a generosity with the walnuts that some versions lack. While nowhere near as memorable as the tabbouleh, the pepper dip had a pleasant, slow-burning heat to it and an oily luxuriousness courtesy of the ground nuts.
By this time, my table had been further furnished with a small plate of chicken livers in a thin, dark gravy. The perfectly cooked liver was smooth and creamy, there wasn't a hint of sinew about them and the tangy, sweet-sour sauce balanced their rich, strong flavour well. It might not have been a particularly attractive plate of food, but it was very tasty indeed and at Dh29, well priced, too.
While I was still eating, my main course arrived, which was indicative of the service throughout. I ordered a second bottle of water and it never appeared and it took me a long time to get someone's attention so that I could ask for the bill. Empty plates and glasses were left on the table throughout the meal, rather than being cleared. While I fully appreciate that this is a casual restaurant rather than a high-end one, a bit more attention to detail wouldn't go amiss.
Kafta b'laban featured three strips of lamb kebab served under a blanket of yogurt, with a few (too few, I think) pine nuts scattered over the top. While not outstanding, the minced meat was juicy, the crisp, fried bread hidden underneath was a pleasant surprise (to me at least) and the yogurt sauce added a sour, cooling note. The dish was garnished with a lone piece of tomato, but since I was still ploughing my way through the deceptively large bowl of tabbouleh, this didn't matter.
For many of us living in Dubai, Mirdif City Centre is a bit of trek, but should you find yourself there one day though, a meal at Leila comes recommended.
A meal for two at Leila, Mirdif City Centre, Dubai, costs approximately Dh200. For reservations, call 04 251 5161. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito.