Dubai is a land where hypes thrive. The inception of practically everything comes with a truckload of hype here. While this ensures tremendous word-of-mouth and subsequent footfalls, the downside is what can be called as “unmatched expectations”. All those oohs and aahs you gather from your friends and colleagues create a mountain of expectation that is tragically but unsurprisingly left unmet. While the matter in question may actually be quite good, when compared to the gargantuan image you had created in your mind owing to all that hype, you are left with an experience bare of much glitz or glory.
This review is an anticlimax. Within the first 10 minutes since I stepped into the grand insides of the restaurant, I was mentally typing out a flamboyant start to the write-up. Unfortunately, a few twists came along to our desired romantic dining adventure for the night. Before you come to me with guns blazing, let me accept that Qbara is one those places that had us look around in reverence for the sheer elegant interiors. After hearing ONLY great things from my friends in the blogging community and outside, I spared no dime and requested our server to bring forth the Qbara Experience. This, as explained by the menu, well and truly showcases the best of what the restaurant has to offer. A splendid saga of contemporary Arabic cuisine, told in the Qbara huskiness.
The voyage began with some crispy raw vegetables accompanied by truffle scented labneh. Stuck into piles of crushed ice, the vegetable sticks were fresh as possibly could be, and the labneh exuded the aromatic brilliance of truffle. Letdown- For a starter salad concept, the size was unacceptable. Wastage was imminent, as after all, who would want to curb their appetite with raw vegetables with almost a dozen courses pending?
Along came the platter of Arabic bread selection, olive oil and wild za’atr dip. Fresh, warm breads had nothing to be complained about. In fact the za’atr dip was beautifully flavorsome. Root vegetable and chickpea hummus with crispy parsnips got diligently creamed clean.
What came next was too delightful in appearance to lay a fork over. Watermelon and tomato with homemade shanklish with mint- a fabulous salad that bowled us over. Each element merged together so well to create a perfect dish that had us eagerly looking forward to what’s next in store.
Lobster kibbeh with fresh herbs and avocado labneh. The crunchy kibbeh succumbed easily to the probes of my knife. Together with the creamy avocado labneh, the lobster meat mixed with aromatic herbs was a clear winner.
Something led us to have a serious conversation during this time. Hence, when the next dish of Herb marinated roasted bone marrow, botarga and hot Arabic bread was brought to our table, we were unable to marvel its beauty immediately. Unaware of the absolute divine flavor of this dish, I scooped a spoonful to my mouth and let out a near orgasmic Ooooh in mid-sentence. Yes, it was delicious, to say the least. The bone marrow cradled some exquisite, herb infused filling that was melt-in the mouth-material. The letdown- it was like a tiny whiff of a perfume that wafts by you in a crowded room. The marrow was only a couple of spoonfuls and over by the time you realize its preciousness.
Basturma, grilled peaches, halloumi and spiced dates came next, looking cute with tiny flowers on top. Not much of an air-dried, cured meat fan, I focused on enjoying the halloumi and dates combination. There was only so much chewing the husband was keen on observing himself, so some of the basturma had to be abandoned.
Crispy soft shell crab “saj”, garlic and harissa was brought about in the form of a sliced up shawarma. The bites were easy to take, juicy and tender. It was not out of the world, but it didn’t disappoint enough to make us whine either.
The next dish brought about a bit of a ruckus. Moroccan spiced grilled quail came wrapped in vine leaves with an accompaniment of pistachio labneh. Quail is always in my good books, which was why I was determined to savor this dish slowly. That decision turned out to be exceptionally good for more reasons than one. A, I was able to enjoy the flavors of the quail, grilled in vibrant Moroccan spices. B, I was able to save my gums of a very unexpected, potentially harsh attack from a sharp quail bone. With our server missing to explain that one vine leaf parcel would contain the meaty half of the quail leg, while the other, the bony half, I was obviously caught off-guard. Quite surprisingly, the husband who finished the dish before me, encountered no bone whatsoever in his parcels. Perplexed, I conveyed the matter to our server, who was more than apologetic of her mistake and expressed genuine concern if I was all right. Consoled by her appropriate response and mellowed by the deliciousness of the dish, we moved on. So when the Manager came around to enquire if all was fine, apologized on his behalf for the incident and offered us a shot of liquid tabouleh with his compliments, we felt indulged enough.
Spicy grilled lamb cutlets with rosemary, oregano and minted labneh came looking glorious. We had requested medium well done, though the insides looked a bit too pink to be done enough. The flavor was fantastic, the herbs were fresh and the labneh performed the role of a perfect accompaniment.
Unfortunately what came next turned out to be the least enjoyed dish of the night for us. Baked sea bream with walnut and herb crust and tahini yoghurt. Utterly bland, we pecked on it in disbelief. A seafood lover, the husband who had eagerly waited for this dish to turn up was disappointed to say the least. The meat was not flaky, but being overcooked, came apart in a minced manner under our forks. The herby crust could have done with a good deal more of herbs to overcome its stark blandness. Personally, I felt this dish had no reason to be included in the Qbara Experience.
With portion sizes that were more like books in itself rather than pages of the book, we were stuffed by now. Our appetites felt shaken and we briefly wondered if we would have enjoyed the ride better had we stuck to ordering the conventional 3-course dinner. The fattoush with avocado, lemon & mint dressing was brought to the table as an amuse bouche, but sadly, the huge bowl in itself was too much to take and we had to leave it as is.
After what seemed like forever, it was finally time for the desserts to make their appearance. Labneh and orange blossom cheesecake with almond & cinnamon crunch, baked white chocolate crunch & citrus was a “deconstructed cheesecake” in the words of our server. It was a tasty treat, but sparkled marginally lesser compared to the fantastic baklawa “smash” walnuts & dark chocolate with camel milk icecream. A stunner to look at, the baklawa crackled in our mouth, exuding the most divine sensations with the pair of walnuts & dark chocolate, and a splendidly creamy camel milk icecream in tow.
Truth be told, Qbara was an experience of sorts for me. It had me cajoled, confused and questioning. With dishes like the watermelon & tomato salad, herb marinated roasted bone marrow and the baklawa smash, Qbara is brilliance, hands down. But when it comes to disproportioned dish sizes, average dishes like the baked sea bream and excruciatingly long waiting time for plate clearance and course changing, it had me confused. Did I unwarrantedly opt for the Qbara Experience paying an arm and a leg? Should I have played the cards safer by opting for a simple 3-course without succumbing to the play of hype? And what of the torturously loud background music? For a fine dining restaurant with breathtaking interiors as Qbara, the blaring music made us raise our voices to hold a conversation and had us looking around in wonder for a non-existing live performer. So let me warn you to be a little cautious while choosing your pick. A dozen Arabic dishes back to back can tend to carry a monotonous taste tone. I’d rather give you the Hurrah! for choosing your delicacy a la carte. That is surely something I’ll be doing if and when I’m back in this stunningly done restaurant.
Qbara is located inside Wafi City, Dubai. Ph: 04 7092500, 800QBARA. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org. The “Qbara Experience” is priced at AED 450 per person (taxes included).