The fact that we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Arabic food in this city is not surprising.
But what else do we know about the cuisine? Well, it seems that Arabic food is no different from many other cuisines in terms of it being a mishmash of multiple influences shaped by resources, climate and trading opportunities.
Such is the case of Moroccan food, which owing to its rich past and geographic location has blended flavours from Spain, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe. Equally interesting is the culture that surrounds the food.
In Moroccan culture, people believe that eating in groups produces a special kind of energy. Summoning this tradition of intimacy is Ornina Oriental Lounge in Al Bandar.
Its location – up a flight of stairs and right on the waterfront – instantly gives you a sense of exclusivity, making you feel like you’re somewhere special.
The inside is undeniably Arabesque, with wooden flooring, chairs and couches upholstered in warm reds and striking black fabrics, plus carpets with matching curtains and walls adorned with paintings that depict times of Morocco gone by.
The tiny interior highlights a communal spirit without coming across as intrusive and the limited space inside is balanced out with a large outside terrace that boasts unspoiled vistas of the marina.
The menu is typical of most Arabic restaurants, with a selection of hot and cold starters, main courses, grills and a mix of Western and Middle Eastern desserts.
We begin with a cold starter of moutabel, a staple appetiser in Moroccan culture that’s soft in texture and has a slightly bitter taste, owing to eggplant, that’s mellowed out by the tahini. It’s perfect when scooped up with fresh Arabic bread.
The rest of the bread is used to wrap around the chicken liver, a hot starter that’s a personal favourite of mine as it resembles some of my most-loved Filipino dishes. Bitter and sour, with a hint of sweetness from the fresh pomegranate pieces, the flavours come together with each bite.
For the main course, it’s all about the meat. The mixed grill platter is composed of lamb chops, shish taouk, grilled lamb tikka and lamb kofta. The meat is tender, juicy and subtly smokey without being overdone. The plate comes with fries and arayes, a traditional Arabic meat-stuffed pita, which is likewise delicious.
Despite feeling stuffed, we order a konafah to cap off the experience. This sweet treat is the perfect ending and goes beautifully with a pot of sweet, minty Moroccan tea.
If you ask me, the communal spirit of Moroccan dining is alive and well at Ornina.
Need to know:
Location: Ornina Oriental Lounge, Al Bandar, Al Raha Beach
We say: Authentic Arabic and Moroccan food in an intimate setting
Cost: AED 350 for two
Opening times: Sat-Wed 4pm-1.30am, Thu 4pm-3am and Fri 2pm-3am
Contact: 050 696 9312,facebook.com/orninaorientallounge
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez