Ajman Kempinski Hotel
Bookings: 06 714 5555
Echoes of Samarkand, the Great Game and the northern Kashmiri passes. The Muslim food of Delhi: spiced kebabs, subtly flavoured, meaty meals served with piles of steaming, crisp-edged breads bubbled up in a fiery oven and a heart-stoppingly rich dal. This, then, is the food that Bukhara serves to its guests. In a deeply strange way, it has to be said...
Bukhara is to be found in the deeply odd Ajman Kempinski, a hotel that feels strangely like an office building, something to do with the blue-framed windows and the functional (being kind) interior design. If you fancy a drink before or after the meal, your choices are limited to the weird marble-floored open plan 1st floor bar which stinks of indoor shisha smoking, is open plan, echoey and lit by the unremitting glare of halogen. Your alternative is the sleazy, dark cocktail bar downstairs downstairs which, for some mad reason, imposes a dress code.
The decor at Bukhara is no less odd in its way, with half of the guests forced to sit on heavy stools not entirely unlike mushrooms. With no backs to them, they're not terribly comfortable, so the rush is on to get the high-backed settles that face the stools at each table. The 'theme' of the restaurant is irritating in the extreme: you're given bibs and no cutlery because you're supposed to eat everything using your hands. Try that with dal makhani. So we always ask for cutlery and there's always a fuss about it. And we always get it.
Bukhara is not cheap (do pronounce the k hard, as in bu kara when you book: bu khara is very rude in Arabic indeed). We're eating out in Ajman, for pity's sake, not London.
But do go there if you find yourself with an evening to kill in the Northern Emirates. Because the food, the stuff you get when you make a selection from the worryingly toilet-seat shaped daft wooden menus, is simply the most amazing of its kind. It's food that surprises and delights, that raises eyebrows and brings smiles. It's spicy, dry, aromatic, herby: warm and satisfying, dry and pungent: perfectly cooked and deliciously varied. This is food that you over-eat, guiltily, knowing that you've simply eaten too much and you're just going on because it's so damn good. Try the spiced butterflied shrimps. Try the stuffed potatoes or the leg of lamb. Try the mildly aromatic chicken kebabs, the coriander chicken and, for sure, the dal makhani. In fact, try as much of it as you can. And wash it down with pints of glacially cold lager.
Bukhara is undoubtedly a memorable experience. Just a strange one...