Food

Open sesame

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Dinner at Arab Street is as intriguing as a tale from The Arabian Nights

The plan for the evening is a jazz concert and a quiet dinner. But the guitarist’s riffs have me spellbound and my dinner alarm is screaming raucously when I pull up at Arab Street.

Past an entrance laden surprisingly with gourmet chocolates and pastries is a flight of stairs that runs past a sepia map of the Levant stretched across a wall. Above, the restaurant, lit by ornate lamps, casts a medieval glow on the blue-tiled walls inspired by the Topkapi Palace. Wooden park benches, with beautifully carved wrought-iron feet, frame tables with intricate geometric patterns. Faint with hunger, I feel I’ve walked into an Indian imagining of The Arabian Nights.

The staff is courteous and by my side at once. In the surreal light, I read the menu aloud to the friend. “Fattosh salad,” she orders. “Sorry, that’s not available,” says the staff. “Rocca salad?” I ask. “No rocket leaves,” comes the reply. Feeling increasingly like Scheherazade who has to keep the story going, we both yell “Greek salad, Capriss salad?” Capriss it is and we await what the menu promises — feta cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil topped with bistro sauce. What arrives are cheese cubes, tomatoes, jalapenos and sesame-dotted basil leaves. But we are saved by the garlic bread with its spongy centre and crusted edges. Pleasant, but not West Asian enough.

So, when the mix mezza of hummus, baba ganoush and moutabal with warm, fluffy flatbread arrives, we fall upon it like wolves. It’s as if Scheherazade has been granted time for another tale. Glossy hummus with plenty of tahini whisked in, smoked eggplant flavoured with onion, garlic and capsicum, and pureed aubergine in sesame oil with a dash of lemon juice — when we break the bread and dip in, I silently hail the chef.

The Arabic shawarma sliced into two, with a serving of French fries, spills chicken that has been clearly roasted on a spit — the way it should be. There’s the scent of woodfire, and the taste of fresh herbs and vegetables sending it on its way. Served with tahini, whose coarse-ground sesame kernels graze the tongue, it sparks off a heady flavour. The platter announces to the world, and to our palates, the complex network of interweaving cultures that has gifted us this food.

The dinner has suddenly found a new lease of life, and I even find the music of the oud and the castanets that play on an endless loop soothing. The contest, however, is won by the chicken arayes. It must be the richest sandwich ever made, although it looks like it’s been flattened by a road roller. It has a compelling aroma — chicken, spices and seasoning run riot and flow like lava when bitten into. Despite a large portion, the meal doesn’t tarmac my gut. There’s still room for the Muhalabiya — milk cake with blancmange consistency, sweetened with rose water and sprinkled with crushed almonds and rose petals. One spoonful and... unforgettable? Perhaps. But it is also something else — a snapshot of West Asia, served one platter at a time.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT



Pass up the salads, delve into the dips.



MEAL FOR TWO: Rs. 1,100



LOCATION: 101, Dr. Ambedkar Road, 4th Avenue, Ashok Nagar



FOR RESERVATION: 3301 1691



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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 10:31:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/Open-sesame/article14428044.ece

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