Sunday, 1 January 2012

Beirut, 2nd December St, Dubai

Sidra and Al Mallah's biggest competitor- how does it match up?

Back when I lived in Manchester, I made a difficult yet exciting New Year's Resolution to visit every single restaurant in Chinatown. Needless to say, that was one resolution that got broken, not for want of trying though. Every time I visited its hallowed Chinese arch, I would tend to revisit old favourites like Try Thai, plus Chinatown seemed to be sprawling at an alarming rate with more eateries and cafes creeping outwards into its surrounding side streets. Geographical constraints meant that it was difficult to define where Chinatown finished, meaning that there simply wouldn't be enough days in the year (or cash for that matter) to visit every single eaterie. When I moved to Dubai, I contemplated taking on a similar challenge, but where and how? There is no Chinatown here, so that was out of the question. I could perhaps do a curry-related one, but Bur Dubai has so many winding side streets and would be difficult to pin down all the curry houses. Lebanese perhaps? There seemed to be an abundance of Lebanese restaurants. Then I had it. Al Dhiyafa Rd (recently renamed 2nd December St) was to be the focal point of my challenge. A busy high street with an abundance of affordable restaurants of different cuisines, this challenge would certainly be a tasty one!

After raving on about Sidra and slurping fruit cocktails in Al Mallah, it was high time for me to try the third Lebanese eaterie in the street, Beirut. Beirut is directly opposite Sidra and when I have chowed down on coriander-seasoned potatoes, I have often looked across the road at Beirut and wondered how they measured up. Beirut sits on the sunny side of the road which is why I had always defaulted into the shady, secluded Sidra, but as it was a cool day, Beirut got my custom.

First impressions were that the staff didn't seem to be on the ball like their Lebanese counterparts in the street, presenting us with some alluring scratched dinner plates. Beirut did score points for having some colourful pics of their dishes and cocktails in the menu, particularly useful for foreigners who are unsure of the Arabic names, but were the pictures a true representation of the dishes? After seeing the lady behind me order a cocktail, I think not. Her cocktail was flat and presented in a scratched glass reminiscent of student club nights, a far cry from the dazzling concoction on the well-styled photo. At this point, I was tempted to dash across the road to Sidra, but as the old saying goes, don't knock it until you've tried it.

I ordered a plate of Mixed Vegetable Fries and in order to fully compare, a plate of spicy coriander potatoes. The young man who took my order promptly sneezed into his hand- tasty! This was going to be a Fawlty Towers-esque dining experience.

The obligatory plate of mixed pickles and olives were served, looking a bit like the plants on your kitchen windowsill after you've been away for a fortnight. The olives were wrinkled, dehydrated and looked past their best. Even the pigeons would probably turn their beaks up at them. Next to come was the customary bowl of unprepared salad. Full marks for presentation- they were displayed in an 'arty' way but again, zero for freshness. Like the pickles, they were wrinkled and looked like market stall fades; the dirt hadn't been washed off and there was a bonus prize- a rogue chest hair nestling in between the tomatoes! Sidra's salad comes ice cold and is immaculate- this was a disgrace; if these veg were in your fridge at home, they would be straight in the bin.

My coriander potatoes were a cholesterol filled nightmare. Soaked in oil and tasted like they had been fried, left and deep fried again, these were a recipe for heartburn. The coriander had all but disappeared, the spice tasted like a bit of chilli powder sprinkled on as an afterthought. Goodness, I was going to need the Rennies. The piece de resistance came, the Mixed Vegetable Fries, another cholesterol special. Now, I bet you're reading this thinking the clue is in the name, but it is possible to have something fried without it drowning in a gulf of grease! As you can see from the pic, it contained aubergines, courgette, cauliflower and garlic, but I could barely taste these beautiful legumes. All I could taste was grease, oil, fat- call it what you want, if I would have closed my eyes, I would have thought I was in a low- rent chippy on Southport Prom. Tahini was my saviour here as I doused the veg in the lovely sesame sauce, however, it didn't rescue the meal. As I tentatively nibbled the deep fried cauliflower, I decided to cut my losses and stop eating this meal for the sake of it. I can still taste the grease now.

To round off this unpleasant meal, let me leave you with a couple of observations. Beirut actually charges 2dhs per person for bread while its neighbours give it for free. Also, that bowl of disgusting veg with the body hair in? The poor folk on the table behind me got served exactly the same bowl, albeit with a few lettuce leaves on the top to garnish. How many people were going to lay their hands on the infamous bowl of unwashed veg after us? See you soon, Sidra!

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Hi Vindaloo Kings and Queens!