Can this joint offer anything new to Arabic food lovers?

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If you’re like me, you probably had your first taste of Arabic cuisine – Lebanese, to be more specific – almost as soon as you touched down in the city. And since then, it’s probably become a staple in your diet.

When I think of Arabic cuisine, I think of copious bowls and platters brought the table to share – “I think we over-ordered again” – that create a colourful spread for us to feast on.

Typically, these restaurants are the epitome of no frills: basic furniture, minimal décor.

So Azkadenya stands out from the get go. Billed as an Arabic restaurant that blends the traditional with the contemporary, the latter is seemingly predominant. The walls are lined with vibrant retro decals in a homage to Arabic pop culture with cassette tapes, colourful characters, licence plates and graffiti. With added pops of purple, yellow and lime green furniture balanced out by the monochromatic tiled floor, it all screams diner.

The receptionist’s welcome doesn’t match the personality of the restaurant – a smile never goes amiss – and the waiters (we had about seven of them throughout our meal) are equally as unenthusiastic. The eerily quiet open kitchen and lack of music don’t do much to liven up the atmosphere.

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Thankfully the food makes up for this. The menu is a decent size with usual Lebanese mezze items as well as other Arabic specialities like Turkish laban soup and more unique options like a quinoa mujadara. Many dishes are also prepared homestyle like sawani, mulukhiyeh and mansaf.

Vegetarians don’t have a huge amount of options: there are no vegetarian main courses, but the fattet hummus, a hearty bowl of warm yoghurt with garlic, chickpeas and fried Arabic bread, is a good option.

All the food is quick to arrive, well cooked and not overly greasy, a common trait with fried Arabic foods. The cheese rolls are thin and long, served with a lovely fig jam to balance the saltiness of the cheese. The beetroot muttabal has small chunks of the earthy vegetable in it for added texture and is creamy and moreish, lapped up with the freshly baked bread. The kibbeh is well seasoned and the patata harra, though I’d prefer smaller chunks of potato, is well seasoned with garlic and chilli.

The standout dish, though, is the fakharat freekeh with meatballs. Two clay pots arrive on a wooden board, one with meatballs cooked in a rich tomato sauce, the other with cooked freekeh, a durum wheat, to balance it out. Cooked in chicken stock in the oven and served straight to the table, it’s a comforting and rich dish.

While the service could be improved on, overall Azkadenya is a good place to grab your favourite Arabic dishes or try something new.

NEED TO KNOW

Location: Azkadenya, Marina Mall, Ras Al Akhdar
We say: Just a few friendliness issues to iron out
Cost: AED 207 for two
Opening times: Daily 10am-midnight
Contact: 02 621 2788, facebook.com/azkadenyauae

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