x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Restaurant review: Mijana in Abu Dhabi for Lebanese food

For top quality Lebanese fare, head to Mijana at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi.

The Lebanese restaurant Mijana at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Courtesy Mijana
The Lebanese restaurant Mijana at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Courtesy Mijana
Managing expectations can be tricky for the UAE's five-star hotels. Especially when you hit patrons with an almost-intimidating grandiosity on the scale of the Ritz-Carlton's lobby. Mijana, the hotel's Lebanese restaurant, had its work cut out before a fork was raised, then.
Not that Mijana is a total stranger to subtlety - perhaps, even, to its detriment. Signs en route from the lobby pointed only to the "Lebanese restaurant", with no mention of its name; similarly, the signage outside Mijana is so understated that we actually needed to enquire if we'd arrived at our intended destination.
Once the smiling maître d' had confirmed that we actually hadn't wandered into a random restaurant, we chose a terrace table. Not only is the weather perfect, but Mijana's interior is strangely sparse and underpopulated to an atmosphere-killing degree.
Perplexingly, despite an abundance of vacant tables, we were seated next to the Arabic band, within touching distance of a decibel-blasting speaker - a request to move somewhere quieter was met by a bemused waiter swivelling said speaker approximately 45 degrees away, to barely discernible effect. The whole shebang was turned into a dual-pronged aural attack by the booming club music emanating from an adjacent bar.
Gladly, a second member of the staff understood our desire to eat without the threat of tinnitus and we were soon perusing the relatively extensive mezzeh menu from the safety of a fresh table.
From the hot side, the nakanek (dinky Lebanese sausages with pomegranate sauce and garlic) were tangy and satisfying, though the kebdeh dajaj (chicken liver with garlic and coriander) didn't tantalise our tongues quite as elegantly.
Curiosity got the better of us on the cold options: nekhaat (lamb brain with lemon, parsley and garlic) wasn't for the faint-hearted, but had a salty enough texture to maintain interest, while the shanklish Arabic cheese, with onion, tomato and thyme, was reminiscent of a grainier feta and not at all unpleasant.
We could, however, have managed without a sneaky moment of hummus upselling: a post-meal inspection of the bill revealed that the seemingly kind offer of a complementary side actually cost Dh30.
At this juncture, it became apparent that few of Mijana's chiefly Arabic clientele seem to opt for the western, three-course dinner tradition of starter-main-dessert. Although we'd negated the usual etiquette of ordering starters and mains at the same time, our waiter seemed shocked that we wanted to further stuff ourselves with mains.
Still, our selections were met with approval all round: the lahem meshui (charcoal-grilled lamb skewers) were as tender as you could reasonably hope, while the shari meshui - putting aside guilt at ordering one of the region's least sustainable sealife - was a chunky white fish mountain that was excellently presented.
Those of a hygienic disposition may like to look away now, however: my dining partner noticed that an addition of pine nuts to our mains was something of a one-for-me, one-for-you affair - as a member of staff in the open kitchen cheerily gobbled down some of the nuts between sprinkling the garnish. Yummy.
At least the general culinary expertise continued to fine effect when it came to dessert. The cinnamon mahalabia milk pudding was wonderfully light, imbued with well-judged hints of Turkish coffee and embellished with bite-sized discs of banana. The oven-baked umm ali maybe took its bready wares a touch too far towards a granary loaf, but otherwise couldn't be faulted.
At less than Dh500 for two, the menu is solid value for money and, for that, Mijana should be applauded. Just brace yourself for the possibility that the applause may not be the only intrusive noise during your meal.
. A meal for two at Mijana, Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal costs Dh482. For reservations, call 02 818 8282. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito