My brother had just arrived in Dubai for a short vacation, after a fling with the treacherous GMAT. The preparations had raged on for months during which time we sparse heard, let alone see him, outside his room. So here when I spotted him spending more time under his blanket than out, I decided to drag him along for a review session I was planning. Off we went, to the ever-bustling Dubai Mall, targeting Café Blanc, one of the ground floor restaurant promenade spots, for some authentic Lebanese goodness.

Café Blanc screamed airy. It had the advantage of 3 types of seating areas – indoor in the comfort of air-conditioning minus harsh natural light, patio area (air-conditioned with fine natural light) and out under the sun, breathing in fresh air or some flavored sheesha (a perfect evening/winter setup). Since we were not ready to get baked under the mean noon summer sun, it was the patio for us.

The restaurant had a pleasant color scheme. The blue hue was comforting to the eyes while the shimmer gave the place a chic and trendy vibe. The menu seemed extensive. There were multiple sections for one to linger on and ponder over. My tongue tried to roll out the many foreign names of dishes and it was getting increasingly difficult for me to stop sounding completely absurd, especially under my brother’s gaze (with a raised eyebrow, of course!). Pretty soon, I found myself requesting the restaurant manager Georges Abou to take over and order a storm for us. The result was as follows:

Tabbouleh and Fattouch. Absolutely fresh and adequately tangy. The lovely part of Lebanese cuisine that inspires you to keep munching while feeling healthy and irrevocably hopeful with every spoonful!

Hommos, Warak Enab and Shankleesh. Hommos was no stranger. Being a regular in our Arabic dinner orders and barbeque parties, we had developed flair in appreciating well-made hommos. And Café Blanc made it lovely and rich. The warak enab (vine leaf with stuffed vegetables) was still alien to my palette. While it tasted pretty all right, I won’t be the wisest to comment much on it. The shankleesh dish, made from fine shankleesh cheese and served with tomato, onions and parsley, was a new and delightful experience for me. Being a cheese lover, I enjoyed the saltiness of the shankleesh mingled with the crunch of the greens.

Batata Harra. This was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of seasoning. Diced potato, fried with garlic, red pepper and coriander, the kind of appetizer you can keep popping into your mouth in between a great conversation.

Ras Asfour. Georges swore by this dish. It was supposedly his favorite in the menu, and that was all the inspiration I needed to plunge my fork into the platter. Admittedly, the dish had a chinese zing to it, owing to the presence of soy sauce. Nevertheless, in the company of soy and onions, the diced beef was delicious to munch on. I could see Georges’ point.

Mixed mezze. This was a steal for 30 dhs! Complete value for the money, it offered 2 pcs of rkakat jebneh (cheese-filled pastry delights), 2 pcs of fatayer baqli (homemade pastry filled with baqli, onion, pine nut, lemon and sumac) and 2 pcs of sanbousik (homemade pastry filled with a delicious mix of meat and onion). The pastry was fresh and wonderfully crispy to the bite, and each of the fillings had a distinct taste and identity. My choice? The rkakat jebneh, cheese filled one. No surprises there!

Riach. The lamb chops were served with a rich and sweet pomegranate sauce. The sauce as such had a mindblowing flavor. But unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of accompaniment that would go hand-in-hand with the chops. The sweetness of the sauce over powered the smokiness of the lamb and that was not fair to the meat. Words of a true lamb lover.

Mixed Platter. Mixed grill platter of 1 meat, 1 taouk and 1 kafta skewers served with either Café Blanc rice or potato wedges, garlic paste and hommos dip. Contrary to my fears of overcooked meat that I may have to chew on for the larger part of the evening, this dish had perfectly cooked, soft meat pieces on skewers. The succulent and juicy taouk and kafta worked fabulously with the delicious garlic dip, taking you through a perfect Lebanese cuisine ride.

Shawarma lahmeh. Café blanc meat shawarma came with grilled onion and tomato and was served with home made bread, tarator dip and fries or potato wedges. While I was expecting a neatly rolled and easy to bite shawarma, this dish presentation came as a surprise. The flavoured meat was placed inside a couple of gaping breads with onions, tomatoes and a truck load of freshly fried chips served on the side. While the meat alone tasted lovely, combining them to a burger style bite was too much of an effort for me. Next time, I know my request would be to have the dirty-work done by the chef in the kitchen. Roll it for me, and I shall do better justice to the dish, please!

Desert Rose. If you are not used to the strong flavor of rose syrup, this isn’t your cup of…uhh..mocktail. Made with rose syrup, peach syrup and cranberry juice, the Desert Rose is Café Blanc’s bestseller during iftar times. We (rose-syrup-virgins) on the other hand, were completely perplexed by the strong fusion of flavors on our taste buds. This is your stairway to a refreshing drink, if you are a child of the Arabic sensations.

Rabih. The menu described it as “All the sweet freshness of a spring breeze.” Fresh lemon and mint blended with ice topped off with a dash of violet syrup. The virgin mojito with a violet halo. The foolproof drink for the non-experimental mocktail drinker. Rewardingly refreshing.

Byzance cheesecake. A fine oriental cheesecake topped off with rose loukoum. A Lebanese play on the conservative cheesecake, the flavor of this dessert rested on the delicious cheese and the well-complimenting rose topping. If you have been too used to the boring blueberry and sour cream toppings, its high time you gave this one a go!

Aysh El Saraya. Soft and juicy bread topped with kashta and nuts. The bread was transformed into a heavenly fluffy sponge cake that beautifully took in the no-frills sugar syrup that was served on the side.

Knefe a l’orange. A must try for the Kunefeh addict. Made to a special recipe, this delightful homemade orange knefeh featured a mouth wateringly crispy top layer, determined to absorb every bit of the sugar syrup poured over it.

Just when you begin to feel that all the grills and sugars are taking your system to a coma, the finale comes to play. Café Blanc, the hot drink, that is allegedly Lebanon’s favorite! Served in traditional cups, this is a blend of hot water and orange blossom water that delivers the perfect finish to the meal. It is claimed to ease the digestion and makes your heavy meal settle in more comfortably. The warmth of Café Blanc was a welcome invasion on my food-tripping body.

It was indeed an appetizing Lebanese cuisine experience at Café Blanc, with some beautiful dishes and some room of improvement for couple of other dishes. Of course, the meal we ordered was probably good for 4-5 people and we did have a lot of leftovers- lest you take me for an incredible glutton (That’s just a disclaimer, valid only until proven otherwise!)

The pricing story (in AED):
Hommos- 26
Tabbouleh- 26
Ras Asfour- 39
Mixed mezze- 30
Shawarma Lahmeh- 65
Desert Rose- 28
Byzance- 32
Knefe- 36
Café Blanc- 10