Zaroob on Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road offers all the staples.
Zaroob's Levant-style food is very low in price and packed with delicious flavours
Thanks to a large sign bearing green and pink neon lights, Zaroob, an independent restaurant on Sheikh Zayed Road serving Levant-style street food, is hard to miss. Once inside, the interior lives up to the exterior: it's bright, modern, quirky, ever so slightly eccentric, and all the better for it.
Graffiti artwork covers the large corrugated iron walls, tall wooden shelves display a selection of condiments, fresh fruit spills over the counters adding splashes of colour and in the background, the chefs occasionally catch your eye as they toss large rounds of saj dough through the air or carve meat from a revolving spit.
Perched on stalls at the counter, we were quickly presented with a platter of pickles, olives and a few salad items, before being left to peruse the tick-the-box menu, while nibbling on flatbreads dipped in a lovely, piquant pomegranate molasses.
The menu is extensive and offers all the staples – hummus, falafel, halloumi, saj bread, shawarma, man'oushe – in simple form and also with a twist. Prices are very reasonable (starting at Dh2 for a "2 bite zaatar man'oushe") and the dishes are quite small, providing the perfect opportunity for ordering a selection and sharing.
We started by picking away at a bowl of hummus topped with pieces of shredded chicken shawarma. While the ratio of meat to dip was slightly off (there was a lot of the latter and just a sprinkling of the former), the flavours were spot-on - the meat was succulent and the hummus creamy, thick and tangy with tahini.
The Lahem b ajeen (Lebanese pizza) arrived at the table sizzling hot. The wafer-thin, light-golden-brown, puckered-around-the-edges crust was topped with a thin layer of very tasty, spicy ground meat and finished off with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. It was quickly devoured.
Halloumi skewers were another hit: the generously sized squares of cheese were crisp on the outside, but pillowy and marshmallow soft in the centre. The mellow, salty flavour was nicely balanced by some cherry tomatoes, which had been roasted until they were slightly sweet and oozing juice.
French fries were lightly dusted with paprika (we think) and arrived at the table in a cute metal tin. They were piping hot, properly seasoned and crunchy on the outside, yet fluffy in the centre. The falafal plate (Dh7) was another example of a simple dish done well. Falafel is easy enough to make and cook, but if it is left to sit for too long after being lifted out of the fryer, or if the mixture isn't pepped up with a dash of cumin and coriander, it can be very forgettable. Zaroob has got its version just about right.
While eating our food, we sipped away at fresh orange juice (squeezed in front of us and served in a large jam jar) and a delicious, pink-and-yellow fruit cocktail concoction, which was thick with mango and strawberries.
The service from our bandana-wearing waiters wasn't particularly attentive, but then nor was it remiss. All the dishes we sampled were freshly prepared and bursting with flavour as well as being keenly priced and presented with a sense of fun.
The really winning thing about Zaroob though, is the restaurant's sense of individuality: in a region filled to bursting point with identikit brand names, it's great to visit somewhere that's not afraid of being a little bit kooky.
A meal for two at Zaroob, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai costs Dh102, not including service. For reservations call 04 327 6060. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito