Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Café Arabesque

Café Arabesque

Park Hyatt Hotel, Dubai

Bookings: 04 602 1234

Dubai and Tokyo are the only two cities in the world to have all three Hyatts: the Regency, Grand and Park brands are all here. The Regency’s been around for donkeys’, as has its famous revolving restaurant - Sarah has always called it the revolting restaurant, which is an unfair pun as the food’s always been fine. The Grand lives up to its name, a Ssanyong built pile that mixes clean-line uber-chic architecture with art deco and arabesque and somehow, amazingly, gets away with it. And the Park Hyatt is probably my favourite Dubai hotel: it’s always a treat, personally and professionally, to find myself there. So this is a biased review by a fan, basically. :)

Lunch at the Park Hyatt’s Café Arabesque, which is effectively the coffee shop in this ‘boutique’ high end Hyatt property, is a light and airy affair. The Park Hyatt is, in any case, a light and airy hotel: a studied uber-funky pile, this aptly named restaurant is the Park's most Arab outlet and is decorated in Islamic patterned, pearlescent white, with large creek facing windows looking out, across the pergolas, white walls and blue domes that make the Park Hyatt feel so very, well, Mediterranean.

So there are no club sandwiches on offer at Café Arabesque, which mixes buffet and á la carte, offering three nationally themed mezze stations (Syrian, Jordanian and Lebanese) and then, from the menu a range of hot mezze and main courses, with a trip back to a buffet of Arab sweets, desserts such as kneffe, Lebanese sweets (heaps of nuts, filo, butter and honey) and fresh fruits served on ice. Frankly, most lunches I’ve had here have started and ended with the mezze which, at around $15, has to be the best value, fastest and most delicious business lunch in Dubai.

The meal starts with a selection of nibbles brought to the table, a bowl of beans (‘termous’) another of soaked almonds and a bowl of mixed salad: all a little more refined than the ‘traditional’ offering of everything in the garden piled around a whole cos lettuce. We ordered simply a Lebanese Shish Taouk (there are two taouks on the menu, a ‘Lebanese’ taouk marinated in yoghurt and a ‘Jordanian’ one without. That distinction alone will cause a huge punchup if you’re dining in the right company, let alone the comparisons between the three mezze tables. Who does make the best tabbouleh? Just light the blue touch paper and stand back!) and then hit the cold mezze.

It’s a magnificent selection which reverses the way things are normally done in the Arab world, where the mezze is brought to the table and laid out in front of you (there are restaurants in Lebanon that pride themselves in offering over 200 mezze items!) – at Café Arabesque, you go to the mezze and it’s more practical for smaller scale dining: a dip here, a mix there. And the choice is magnificent, all the old favourites rub shoulders with selections of the Middle East’s savoury cheeses, including the deliciously bitter and dry shanklish (along with herbs, tomato and onion, as tradition dictates). There are butter bean salads, tahine salads, toasted cauliflower salads, pepper and tomato, potato, herb and bean salads. There are a huge range of well selected flavours and textures on offer: crunchy, sharp, oily, bitter, sweet, fragrant, soft, harsh and seductive. It’s all there. And then there’s a bowl of breads brought to you, too: little puffy breads, koubiz and thick triangles of a leavened bread to boot.

So by the time the Shish Taouk comes, we’ve over done it. Which is awful, because the chicken is grilled to perfection; hot, fragrant but subtly flavoured with a hint of garlic and a soft moist texture: it melts in the mouth and we both keep eating well beyond satiety. The desserts look excellent but we’ve gone too far: just enough room for coffee and that’s good, too.

A great meal: one of those meals where you pass stuff across the table on your fork because your partner has just got to try that. And there’s scant praise higher than that…

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