For well-executed, reasonable Middle Eastern fare served in surroundings that provide a welcome respite from the bustle of The Walk, look no farther than Sarai.
Sarai, The Walk, JBR: authentic quality
The Walk at JBR is perhaps not the first location that springs to mind when embarking on a quest for authentic Middle Eastern food. However, Sarai is a bit of a find. By that, I'm not suggesting that I've unearthed a secret spot - this place has been open for a few years and already has its loyal fans - just that it is worth a visit.
Tall glasses of creamy, pale yellow mango juice, blended to order - we heard the whirr of the machine - provided a delicious start to what was an interesting, tasty and reasonably priced meal.
Puffballs of warm, light Arabic bread with a slightly charred exterior arrived first, and soon after that came a bowl of really excellent mohammara. The thick walnut, red pepper and pomegranate molasses paste was as brightly coloured as it was flavoured, with a chilli heat that made the tongue tingle in anticipation of the next mouthful. Had the arrival of our next dish - kassabieh kebbeh - not distracted us, we might well have polished off the whole bowl then and there.
The balls of grilled kebbeh had nice crisp shells and a good ground meat to cracked wheat ratio; the lamb was moist, without being too oily and the centre revealed the odd pine nut and plenty of parsley. We wished the spicing had been a little more pronounced, but enjoyed the kebbeh and the strands of braised onion and red and green pepper that accompanied it nonetheless.
Sarai is known for its kebabs and grills, and the maajouka that we shared as one of our main courses didn't disappoint. From what we deduced, the delicately spiced meat had been shaped into a patty and then stuffed with kashkaval cheese, chopped pistachios, red peppers, parsley and chilli, before being cooked on a hot grill and sliced into triangles. The combination of flavours and textures was delicious: really juicy, succulent meat, mild, slightly stringy cheese, plenty of aromatics from the herbs and spices and the odd crunch, courtesy of a piece of pistachio.
A very generously portioned platter of sawdat djej - sautéed chicken livers deglazed with pomegranate molasses - confirmed that this was a restaurant to return to. The pieces of liver were soft and creamy, with a rich, assertive flavour. For me, though, the thin gravy that the liver was served in really stole the show; it was fruity, tangy, sour, sweet and utterly addictive. We finished the meal by dipping more hot bread - delivered to our table without our even having to ask - into the liquid and wondering how to recreate the dish at home.
As you can no doubt tell, I was really rather charmed by our meal at Sarai. Everything we ordered proved to be a success and we were impressed by both the quality of the ingredients and the delicate, considered use of herbs and spices.
We were also very well looked after by our waitress, who offered advice and recommendations and kept the waterglasses and bread basket topped up, but also left us to enjoy the meal without constant interruption. For well-executed, reasonable Middle Eastern fare served in surroundings that provide a welcome respite from the bustle of The Walk, look no farther than Sarai.
• A meal for two at Sarai, The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai, costs Dh159, including service. For reservations call 04 438 0640. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito
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