Citywalk Phase 2 has an eclectic vibe about it. Perhaps it’s the highly Instagrammed graffiti that adorn its surrounding walls, or the cobbled, open spaces, all at once European yet undisputedly Dubai that makes it so endearing. Despite the summer heat, the evenings are bustling with activity here. A group of children play hopscotch near the cascading fountain, young friends chat over coffee and haloed puffs of shisha. Yet above it all is the decadent scent of freshly baked bread and melting cheese.
Follow your nostrils, and you will find yourself in Babaji, Citywalk’s newest restaurant opening. A London import, and restauranteur Alan Yau’s very first international debut, Babaji is a wide and spacious, and has been brimming with diners from the time it opened this May. Word about their famous pide is out! Pide, the traditional Turkish cheese bread with assorted toppings, puts food-court pizza to shame.
The walls are adorned with artful tiling in shades of ocean blue, turquoise and white, an ode to the cuisine’s Turkish heritage. By the entrance is a large clay oven where a pair of bakers busily toss in dough and slap out fresh, golden-brown bread. There is something very familial about the ambiance here, a sense of warmth and welcoming that is not so common in commercialized, stiff upper lipped dining institutes of the city. It’s like being invited to an exotic Mediterranean family home where food and drink is in abundance, formalities are left at the door, and cheerful banter prevails.
In sync with the intricate art and culture of Istanbul, all the cutlery here is authentic Turkish, and this makes everything so Insta-friendly!
We started off with arguably Babaji’s most epic of pides, the Mevlana. Priced at AED 75, it is the most expensive in the lineup of pides, and comes loaded with beef, lamb, beef sucuk (a form of spicy sausage) and warm, gooey kasar cheese. Meaty, cheesy and packed on pide fresh out of the oven, this Mevlana is to die for! I loved it with spoonfulls of Cacik, a thick hung yoghurt beaten with garlic and shredded cucumber.
We also had a basket of complimentary pita bread, warm, golden and puffed up like balloons right out of the oven. We used the pita bread to wipe clean the Homemade Hummus which came with decadently savory beef sucuk (Turkish sausage) and tomato sauce.
If you love cheese as much as I do, an order of the Oven Baked Halloumi is a must. At Babaji, it comes garnished with moreishly sweet Datterini vine tomatoes and sprinkles of oregano.
As a respite from all that cheesy, meaty goodness, we ordered Babaji’s Beetroot Salad, a delightfully light, flavorful toss-up of Datterini cherry tomatoes, wild rocket leaves, pomegranate, lemon and drizzles of a special honey dressing.
Through it all, I sipped on a glass of Quiet Storm, a tropically fruity mocktail consisting of passionfruit, coconut, lychee and lime.
We were so stuffed by the time our mains hit the table, yet the very aroma of the dishes had us craving for more. We went for the Alinazik, a lamb grill served with eggplant puree and yoghurt, and the Kulbasti, grilled lamb on a bed of tomato sauce, yoghurt and shreds of flatbread.
The Alinazik is the drier of the two, and also happened to be our favorite! It was recommended to us by the restaurant manager who is a Turk himself, and claims they don’t even do it this good in Istanbul! The meat was beautifully soft and succulent. It was loaded with exotic spices without overpowering the meaty goodness of the lamb, and I especially liked the hint of barbecue smokiness from the mildly charred meat. This is a star dish that is reason enough to revisit Babaji on any given day.
The Kulbasti is more moist given it sits on a gravy-like base, and the shreds of bread are like soggy croutons that have soaked up all that tomato and yogurt goodness. I loved the base; tangy yet savory, and delicately laced with traditional spices.
We ended our meal at Babaji with a very delicious serving of traditional Baklava (how can anyone not order this when dining in a Turkish joint?), and a very unusual, overly healthy dessert by the name of Kabak. Kabak is essentially pumpkin pieces that have been cooked in a sugar syrup, and is served with clotted cream. I think I prefer my pumpkin savory.
To digest it all, we indulged in traditional dark, aromatic Turkish coffee, complete with a bite of Turkish Delight to cut out the bitterness. How gorgeous is their serveware?! I need to make a trip to a souk in Istanbul.
Overall, Babaji is a wonderful new addition to the Dubai foodie scene, and we have gone back for pide and the Alinazik a number of times since. Babaji is currently topping my charts for Turkish cuisine, and if you haven’t done so yet, I suggest you pay them a visit soon!