Zahira is the latest restaurant to open in the five star H Hotel. Located at the top of a small staircase in the main lobby (just next to Okku), there’s something special about this new Middle Eastern dining destination.
A set of wooden doors open into a darkened corridor, leading the way into the main restaurant space. An entrance that feels somewhat like strutting down a catwalk due to the sheer amount of light-bulbs embedded in the walls. At the end lies the intimate 130 seater restaurant decorated with Middle Eastern paraphernalia that brings a subtle sense of charm to a relatively dark space. A small bar area lies off to the left while the main dining room features a ceiling of dazzling mirrors and comfortable seating in a number of configurations.
Zahira, meaning blossoming flower in Arabic, comes to us from Chef Greg Malouf and is his second Dubai venture, following the now defunct Cle. The restaurant looks to bring Modern Middle Eastern cuisine to the Dubai diners by taking traditional Middle Eastern dishes and giving them a progressive new update. It’s a bold move considering how much Middle Eastern cuisine is cherished in the region, but one that we certainly appreciated. Considering the abundance of Middle Eastern restaurants vying for diners attention, it’s an exciting prospect to see a restaurant taking steps to differentiate from their competitors, while still retaining the core essence of what makes the cuisine popular.
At Zahira the dining experience is likened to an art form, with each area of the menu given a name reflective of this notion – the art of mezze (starters), the art of sharing (main courses) and the art of sweet decision (the desserts). Zahira also offers a number of tasting menus designed with sharing in mind, and so it was that we opted for the New Feast. A selection of seven dishes priced at a very reasonable AED 180 per person (or AED 400 paired with Zahira wine, beer and spirits).
The New Feast is representative of a novel approach to dining and one that certainly satisfied our lunchtime cravings. The seven dishes are selected from the main menu (four mezze, two mains and one dessert) and shared between the assembled diners. The mezze offerings include some interesting options such as a Salmon Kibbeh and Halloumi Fondu but upon spotting burrata, we couldn’t resist the Burrata with foul mudammas. An unusual choice for us, considering we’re not usually a fan of foul. Here, the Egyptian broad bean mixture hints at Arabic flavours while the creamy burrata is used as a juxtaposition in terms of both flavour and texture.
Split Gulf Prawns arrive four to a plate and are marinated in a delightful green chermoula that didn’t last long at our table. While the House made Ma’Hanie Sausages didn’t really do it for us (with the fiery Harissa potato salad accompaniment being the exception), the Hazelnut Falafel is the star of the mezze section. The use of hazelnut is relatively subtle but helps to cleverly lighten the mixture and move this particular falafel away from the dishes usually dense trappings. Featuring a crisp exterior, yoghurt tahini and a slaw of shredded turnip that makes for a surprisingly moreish choice.
A break is needed before the arrival of the mains and we’re left slightly disappointed the restaurants signature Duck Bisteeya is unavailable on the day we dine. Instead, we’re torn between Egyptian Style Pigeon, Malouf’s Ouzi and the Wagyu. After much deliberation, we settle upon the latter two choices, neither of which disappoint. The Ouzi, in particular, is fantastic for its blend of aromatic rice and slow cooked lamb shoulder that melts in the mouth. The Ouzi was recently described by Time Out magazine as ‘genre-definingly good’ and while we wouldn’t go quite that far, it’s a parcel of delights encased in bread, and one that shouldn’t be missed when dining at Zahira. The Wagyu beef skewered with pearl onions is exactly as you’d expect, with the meat being particularly tender and flavoursome, though somewhat lacking in presentation compared to what had come before.
When it comes to desserts, Zahira offers all the expected Arabic sweet treats including Kanafeh, Baklava and Lebanese Milk Pudding. Ultimately, it was the Pavlova that piqued our interest, with its orange blossom infused labneh stuffed meringue, topped with strawberries and an Anubis design. A real winner of a dessert but one that we really didn’t want to share! We would strongly suggest to the Zahira team that the New Feast menu includes two desserts, rather than one.
Despite dining on a relatively quiet Friday lunchtime, Zahira is offering a good alternative to the Friday brunch scene, while still including an all you can drink option. Unfortunately, we did find the service to be a little inconsistent, with some team members lacking confidence surrounding the menu.
Service issues aside, Zahira and Chef Malouf have done admirable things, pushing the boundaries of a cuisine so often protected. How the local Arab community will take to it, is still to be determined, but Zahira is already making a strong mark on Dubai’s dining scene and rightfully so.
We were invited to dine at Zahira. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE. Interior images used courtesy of Zahira