It’s UAE National Day, so Abu Dhabi World heads to Mezlai, a truly authentic and traditional-style Emirati restaurant located at Emirates Palace.
Words: Derek Issacs
Step through the grand doors (there are 7,000 of them, we’ve been told) of Emirates Palace and you’re immediately transported to a world of extravagance.
Stroll through the hotel’s lavishly decorated grand halls, along the corridors, down a grand staircase, and across more vast ornate spaces until you finally arrive at Mezlai, which translates as lock or bolt – but the long horizontal kind found on traditional-style wooden shutters.
The restaurant bears all the traditional hallmarks of the Emirates. Servers offer Emirati coffee and fresh dates as soon as guests enter the airy space whose style gives a nod to a Bedouin tent. Several majlis – a place of sitting, in Arabic – are divided by mashrabiya – an architectural screen characteristic of Arabic residences.
The Majlis, which are adorned with traditional Arabic artifacts, provide the perfect waiting area where friends gather, chat and partake in drinks before being escorted to the dining area.
Dine indoors or al fresco – whatever you choose, you won’t be disappointed. We opt for al fresco and head to the cabanas.
Seated, the soft-sea air quickly embraces us as the distinctive sounds of award-winning Emirati singer Hussain al Jassmi are carried on the breeze, reverberating around the riad-style architecture.
The leather-bound menus, complete with clip-on reading lamps, surrender the names of dishes that reflect the region, which have been devised by the skillful hands of Emeriti chef Ali Ebdowa.
Camel, of course, is there in the form of tongue or chops, not to mention Camel Tannour, marinated camel meat in local homemade spices and served with ladies’ fingers (okra) and ersyah (a type of fruit).
But first, the friendly waiters, whose Bedouin-style uniform adds to the Emirati ambiance, serve the starters.
The ‘Chicken Liver and Hummus’ arrives in culinary style – handsome-size pieces of chicken livers (an absolute favourite of mine) are drizzled in fresh, sweet-tasting dibs rumman (pomegranate molasses), placed next to a serving of freshly made hummus.
Accompanying this was a delightful plate of ‘Mugrabia (oversized couscous) with Scallops,’ a creamy dish with garlic, Parmesan and saffron.
For mains, we go for the Emirati special of ‘Jasheed.’ Now, boiled shark probably doesn’t sound that appetizing to most of us, but we say jump in and order it – This super moreish dish certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The shark is chopped in crumb-like pieces mixed with onions, dry lemon, local spices, lemon juice and served with white rice, dihn khanina (pieces of fat) and chili tomato sauce.
Also on the table was lamb ‘Medfoun,’ slow-roasted UAE-raised lamb that simply melts in the mouth. Quick fact: Medfoun is a way of slow-cooking meat wrapped in a banana leaves in a hole in the earth.
We couldn’t wait to attack the classic Emirati desserts.
Still full from the mains, two were more than ample. The ‘Fami,’ a simply sweet mix of rice powder, milk, rosewater and a generous helping of sugar served in a tall dessert glass certainly hit the spot.
The ‘Bethitha,’ was to-die-for – okay, okay, it’s a cliché but a deserving one for sure. This mouthwatering cream-filled mini-tower includes layers of dough made from locally picked dates (what else did you expect?), flour and saffron
To wash it all down, what better than one of Lebanon’s finest bottle of red grape, followed by piping hot tea served in ornate glasses.
WE SAY: Be adventurous and soak up the Emirati ambiance | AED 640 net for two including drinks | Emirates Palace hotel, Abu Dhabi | Mon to Sun, 1pm-10.30pm | Contact: 02 690 7999, email@example.com