Al Mayass is a Lebanese foodie institution of sorts. The legendary chain was first opened in Beirut circa 1997 by an Armenian family, and has since expanded to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar, Riyadh, and New York.
The menu here is predominantly Lebanese, and also features a number of Armenian favorites. I visited the Dubai branch (located in Sofitel Dubai Downtown) earlier this month, and got a delectable insight into the authentic cuisines of the Levant.
The word ‘Al Mayass’ has a double meaning in Arabic. It can be used to refer to a very prim and proper lady and her graceful strides. It can also refer to a sacred tree where the leaves gently dance in a subtle breeze. Given the logo of the restaurant resembles a falling leaf, I take it this is the meaning they were going for.
Having said that, walking into the very beautifully done-up interiors that have a touch of bourgeois Parisian chic, I’m sure many a fine lady would love to be seen here.
But we didn’t sit inside. Instead, we were lead to the open terrace outside where the exotic music of a live Tarabish band greeted us with much gusto. It’s a different world out here! The playfully colorful setup resembles an exotic secret garden of sorts, and the breezy weather makes brunching here an absolute delight.
The brunch at Al Mayass runs from 1 pm to 5 pm every weekend. The set menu costs AED 185 with soft drinks, or AED 285 with house beverages, and covers quite an enticing feast!
We started off with a wide variety of hot and cold mezzes. If you are new to Lebanese dining, you would be forgiven for thinking this was the entire meal! Remember to save space for the mains.
Some of my favorites from the appetizers round included the Jawaneh (Lebanese-style fried chicken wings with garlic, lemon juice and fresh coriander) and the Armenian Manti (meat-filled dumplings served in a yogurt gravy).
From the appetizers round, there were a few dishes I’ve never tried before. This included the Kebbe Nayeh, which literally translates to ‘raw Kebbe’. This dish features raw, uncooked meat that has been mixed with burghul and traditional spices. Although I love a good carpaccio, I was a little hesitant to try.
I guess being adventurous of palate pays off, because I discovered I really liked the Kebbe Nayeh! I liked the mild spiciness of the meat, and the slight stickiness of the texture. It takes an acquired taste to really enjoy it, and our Lebanese friend at the table was enjoying it with more enthusiasm.
The other dish I haven’t tried earlier was Eetch. Eetch is an Armenian chewy, cooked grain salad made with bulgur wheat, roasted red pepper, tomatoes and onions. It has a salty-sour taste and a granular texture from the bulgur. I really enjoyed it, and have been meaning to look up recipes online.
I also tried an authentic Lebanese alcoholic drink called Arak. Arak is a traditional Lebanese drink that is distilled from organic grapes and has the pungent hit of aniseed. At Al Mayass they serve Lebanon’s favorite brand, Al Massaya.
For our main-course we were served fresh off the grill Shish Tawouk. The chicken was ‘melt in the mouth’ tender, and we loved having it with generous dollops of garlic paste.
However, the real show-stopper from our brunch was the absolutely divine Armenian Kebab Bil Karaz. These meaty, succulently soft lamb kebabs are served with a traditional sweet and sour cherry sauce that gives the dish a whole new dimension. If there’s just one dish you’re planning to order when dining at Al Mayass, let it be this one! Loved the mix of meaty goodness with the tartness of fruit.
Our dessert round was also filled with a number of firsts for me. We had traditional milk biscuits dipped in a sweetened tahini (sesame) dip, and we also got introduced to ‘Tarboosh’.
Our very talented friend Paul Estorffe surprised us with a few treats from his kitchen. We had his famous creation, the Zaater Cake with Lemon Sauce and his very tart yet sweet Lemon Pie. Great to have friends who can bake!
Overall, Al Mayass is a hidden gem for really authentic Lebanese and Armenian cuisines. The brunch setup is absolutely magical with live music that features many a classical Arabic love song, an open-air seating that looks so festive, and a lineup of dishes that has something for every palate.
Al Mayass is located inside Sofitel Dubai Downtown – Dubai. The brunch runs from 1 pm to 5 pm every weekend, and the set menu costs AED 185 with soft drinks, and AED 285 with house beverages. Call now 04-3387772 to book a table, they fill up fast!