DUBAI // Guests may wish to take off their shoes after passing through the huge wooden door of Emirati N More restaurant at Cassells Hotel in Al Barsha.
After all, it is traditional to do so when dining in an Emirati's home, and the brothers Khalid and Faisal Al Romaithi want their customers to feel that they are doing just that.
The restaurant, which opened four months ago, is thought to be the first in Dubai to offer a dedicated Emirati menu for diners to sample.
"There are a lot of traditional kitchens that are known among locals but they don't cater for the expatriate community," said co-owner Khalid. The traditional kitchens do not have English menus that explain the dishes, he said.
"Our food is 90 per cent traditional Emirati food," said his brother, Faisal. "However, we do also have dishes from across the Gulf such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia."
Inside, the walls are decorated with photographs of fishermen and dhows. Guests can chose between sitting at a table or booking one of three private dining rooms that resemble a miniature majlis. Here, diners recline on traditional Arab Tekay cushions on the floor and are served dates and Arabic coffee, or Gahwa, in the traditional way.
Khalid said he had the idea for the restaurant after volunteering at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and asked his family's advice. "We often have tourists in hotels who ask us, 'What's your food? What does it taste like?'" said Khalid, who works for the Dubai Government. "I realised how much there is a need for expatriates to taste traditional food."
Among the dishes they serve are majboos, which is a dish of spicy Basmati rice cooked in meat stock and served with meat, margooga or meat cooked with vegetables and bread, a salt-cured fish dish called maleh, and harees, which is a meat and wheat dish.
"I loved the harees - especially because I could tell they used pure ghee," said Reem Ahmed, a 28-year-old Emirati mother of two. "Usually you can't find it perfect in many places and this is one of the few places that perfected it."
Ahmed Ehab, the restaurant manager, said they had served all sorts of guests in the past four months. "The locals really appreciate the authenticity of the food and the tourists loved the experience of trying Emirati dishes," he said.
"It was a really good experience," said Sarina Wakefield, a Briton who is completing her doctorate in Abu Dhabi. "The staff explained about the Emirati food and how it is made. It is the best Emirati food I've had so far."
The restaurant also serves a breakfast called balateet. The sweet and salty dish includes vermicelli noodles prepared with saffron and rosewater, and topped with an omelette.
But feedback from expatriate guests has resulted in an added twist to the old favourite. "We sit with some of our guests when they come in," said Faisal. "For them, it was not appealing like it is for us, so we added chocolate as an option."
The menu is set to undergo another revision in the coming weeks. "The reason we are changing it is a lot of the dishes do not give information about the background of the dish. For example, a Briton may read 'chicken Machboos' but won't know what it is," said Khalid.
The new menu will include a story about the history of the food as well as the spices used. Unique dishes will be introduced, including a camel milk date milkshake. "When a lot of people come here they think about camels in the UAE, so we thought of giving them a flavour of it," said Faisal.
The price of dishes at Emirati N More ranges between Dh14 and Dh50. The average price of a meal for two is Dh250.
Emirati N More is on a service road parallel to Sheikh Zayed Road, near Sharaf DG metro station. It is open daily between noon and 3pm, and 6pm and 11pm. For reservations, call 04 408 4777.