There’s nothing more authentic when it comes to dining in the UAE than a trip to Mezlai at the iconic Emirates Palace Hotel.
Located beneath the hotel’s impressive golden dome and flanked by corridors lined with palm trees lies Mezlai, the UAE’s first fine-dining Emirati restaurant. Greeted by a charming hostess dressed in an intricately embroidered abaya, we’re offered qahwa (Arabic coffee brewed with spices) and moreish luqaimat, a dumpling slathered in date syrup and topped with sesame seeds. A precursor for the renowned Emirati hospitality we’re about to receive.
Walking into the restaurant, the high ceilings are immediately noticeable, while an open show-kitchen complete with live cooking gives the impression of a souk (not to mention the camel statues). At times Mezlai feels more like a museum than a restaurant, with Emirati heritage items adorning the walls and standing proudly as focal pieces of the restaurants simple decor. The dining room boasts textiles galore and offers up a unique charm that’s also reflected in the cuisine.
When it comes to Emirati food many of us may be familiar with the likes of chebab (pancakes), balaleet (sweet vermicelli with eggs) and machboos (rice and meat), yet Emirati cuisine is far more diverse than one might expect. When it comes to navigating the menu constructed from woven palm fronds, we would highly recommend you allow the Mezlai team to guide you on dish selection, thus enabling you to get a real feel for the cuisine.
We begin with the cold mezze selection presented within individual white ramekins – hummus, pumpkin, beetroot and baba ganoush – all of which are top notch, though it’s the smoky moutabel we‘ll likely remember the most.
When experiencing a new cuisine we find it imperative that the individual elements of each dish are allowed to shine and this was certainly the case with the salads. A cherry tomato and za’atar salad revolves around the fresh herb, and works perfectly in conjunction with the freshly-baked rgag bread.
Mezlai’s mughrabia with scallops is quite literally the stuff of legend and works as a real showcase for what the restaurant is trying to achieve in terms of both flavour and presentation. A trio of pan-seared scallops perch precariously on top of a saffron and parmesan mughrabia (cous cous), with the delicate shellfish heightened by the powerful flavours from the saffron. The prawns Chef Ali style mark another high point via an intricate blend garlic, mint, coriander, lemon and chilli.
It’s some of the more obscure choices that are likely to leave a lasting impression for diners at this particular venue. The camel tongue may perturb some diners, but is a pleasant dish boasting quite the remarkable texture, more akin to a tender pulled chicken than the muscle it actually is. Similarly, the jasheed (shark) represents another unique choice and as one of the most popular Emirati dishes on the menu. Braised in tomato, onion and spices and served upon a bed of rice, the fish is meatier than expected and the flavours particularly potent.
Specialist dishes such as these allows visitors to the Emirates Palace to experience a cuisine which is usually cooked in the home and not that easily accessible to the masses. With Emirati cuisine historically revolving around slow cooking on an open fire, it’s the simplicity of dishes such as the grilled sea bream with it’s tender flesh and sparing use of spices, or the chicken biryani that really prevail.
As a luxury hotel renowned for it’s food and beverage offerings, including Le Cafe’s famed 24K gold cappuccino, camel burgers, and camel milk ice cream. It’s pleasing to see these gracious animals that are such an integral part of the Emirati culture, maintaining a focus on the dessert menu. The camel chocolate mousse is a light dessert that impresses due to its silky smooth consistency and accompanied by a cup of karak tea, makes for a pleasing finale to such a unique meal.
To dine at Mezlai is one of Abu Dhabi’s most unique foodie experiences. One that represents the opportunity to enjoy the aromatic flavours one of the regions lesser know cuisine. Mezlai offers a true reflection of Emirati hospitality and reaffirms the Emirates Palace as one of THE places to dine in the capital.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of FACT Magazine.
Location: Emirates Palace, Corniche Road, Al Ras Al Akhdar, Abu Dhabi
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Hours: 1pm – 10:30pm
Phone: 02 690 7999
Out & About UAE were guests of Mezlai. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.