As we sat by the terrace, surrounded by a hauntingly beautiful Emirati past, I contemplated on how the chaos of city life managed to look so serene from this angle. At this vantage point, the stark lights of the city halo into a rainbow of colours, and enchantingly spill onto the vivid dark waters of the Deira Creek.
I have dined at Barjeel Al Arab a number of times before (my first visit was exactly a year ago, followed by a communal Iftar in their social hall). Barjeel Al Arab is located inside the Barjeel Guest House (in the Heritage Village lining the Deira Creek).
Barjeel Al Arab specializes in authentic Emirati cuisine, as well as a number of specialty dishes from the Levant. However, the food at Barjeel is only half the story. The building itself is a part of a heritage site, and the original design aesthetics of the architecture have been beautifully preserved allowing guests to relive the charmed hospitality of an Emirati past.
We had a table booked on the terrace of Barjeel Al Arab, giving us spectacular views of the Deira Creek. I was getting as excited as my 5 year-old, gasping at the pretty lit-up boats as they casually took to sail, one round after another.
The neighboring building to Barjeel Al Arab is the Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House, the ancestral home of our current ruler of Dubai. The house was built in 1896, and has now been converted into a museum.
We had the entire terrace to ourselves. It is rather surprising how this scenic spot has not been discovered by Dubai foodies. Barjeel Al Arab is a hidden gem, a real relic of the past that has been brought back to life. The hospitality at this restaurant is impeccable, and we were hosted by the very friendly and knowledgeable Mr. Swaleh, who was by our table whenever we needed any assistance.
We started off our meal at Barjeel with refreshingly chilled mugs of Lemon Mint, and decided to go for the Arabic Set Menu, a three-course dinner that costs AED 85 per head.
For AED 85, the set menu is real value for money. It is loaded with well-loved Arabic favorites, and best of all, you get to relish it at a leisurely pace with this divinely scenic view, far from the maddening crowd.
For our appetizers round, we were served the following:
For our main-course, we had a platter of mixed grills. This platter included a serving of Shish Taouk (succulently soft chunks of chicken marinated in yogurt and Arabic spices, and char-frilled to perfection), Camel Kebabs (minced camel meat, char-grilled into skewers), Emirati Kebabs (char-grilled lamb cubes marinated in traditional Emirati spices), and two very juicy servings of mildly spiced lamb chops.
We enjoyed all the four varieties of char-grills on the platter, but I have to admit I liked the Camel Kebabs the best. A few years ago, the very thought of eating camel meat would make me wince. Cooking camel meat is a fine art. Given it is a leaner, more muscular meat, a little overcooking can render it to a rubbery, inedible mess. It also tends to be naturally salty, and the spice quotient for preparing this meat has to be done quite differently from other cuts. Head Chef Ghulam Rasool of Barjeel Al Arab has done an immaculate job with these melt-in-the-mouth, soft, mildly spiced Camel Kebabs. Despite being a Pakistani national, he has mastered the art of traditional Arabic cooking, the greatest test being the preparation of camel meat.
Even our host for the night, Mr. Swaleh, went on to say how camel meat is so much better for health. It is much lower in fat that other red meats, has a higher portion of protein, and is full of nutritional goodness.
We had the char-grilled platter with Machboos (a traditional Arabic rice pilaf tossed with bell peppers and pine nuts), and Salonah (a mixed vegetable dish with a spiced tomato gravy).
This simple, healthful and beautifully authentic dinner felt all the more special in the enchanting surroundings of Barjeel Al Arab. Halfway through our dinner, the singsong sounds of the Azaan (the Muslim call to prayer) relayed from the nearby mosque, and for a fraction of a second, my mind was exported to another time and place. At Barjeel Al Arab, you get a rare glimpse of a very hospitable Emirati past. This heritage site whispers many a tale, and even the chaos of city life is lulled into a magical silence over the mesmerizing waters of the Dubai Creek.
With a view this spectacular, we decided to extend our time at the terrace of Barjeel Al Arab by sipping on hot cups of Moroccan tea.
We nibbled on a shared plate of Arabic sweets, the perfect ending to a scrumptiously memorable meal.
Barjeel Al Arab remains a hidden gem, more frequented by tourists looking up the ‘Emirati authentic’ than by local residents. Perhaps it is a parking issue (looking up parking in the Deira area can be a nightmare!). The good news is that Barjeel Al Arab can be easily accessed by the metro, and is right behind the Al Ghubaiba Metro Station.
Rediscover the magic of the Emirati past, and book a table at Barjeel Al Arab. Barjeel Al Arab is located inside the Barjeel Heritage Guesthouse (in the Heritage Village, Al Ghubaiba Road, Dubai). Call 04 354 4424 for details.