Al Khaimah is an Arabian restaurant. When I think of Arabian food I first think of Arabian rice! I know that all the cuisines of Asia and the Middle East feature rice as a base BUT Arabian rice is ever so different. Soft and fluffy, a double process, cooked with those haunting Arabian spices [nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, etc], so aromatic. It is sometimes easy to forget the main ingredients of the dish and just keep eating the rice.
The restaurant is pure Arabian, with a few Indian dishes added, though why they also have to feature the odd 'western' dish is beyond me. For this review I have ignored them, as most people would.
Being a restaurant that caters to the Muslim majority the inside walls are lined with private curtained-off booths for privacy. The centre section is all lounge chairs and coffee tables, a weird management decision and one that is about to be changed to conventional tables and chairs after Idul Fitri. At the restaurant entrance there are two Sisha Lounges, each with separate air-conditioning.
The menu contains many snack style finger food options. If just visiting the Sisha lounges at the front of the restaurant then they would be perfect. They also make great starters. One of the best is the Hawashi Egyptian, a round of pita bread, split and stuffed with spiced lamb, finely minced, then grilled. Served pre-cut in sectors similar to the way a pizza arrives. They are light and tasty, very easy to eat. Sambosas, similar to Indian Samosas, can be ordered stuffed with ether lamb or cheese and onion.
Moroccan Bastilla are square pastries, very light and crisp, stuffed with a well spiced minced chicken mix. Then there are the simple Warag Enag, rice rolled in vine leaves, long thin cigar shapes, similar to the Greek Dolmades. Another Greek name beckons, Moussaka, but this one is very different; eggplant with chicken, lamb or livers.
Shakshouka is a popular breakfast dish that is these days finding its way onto the menu of trendy cafes everywhere [even in Bali]. Eggs are scrambled in the pan whilst being mixed with sliced capsicum and diced tomato. Pure Arabian is the Foul Mudammas, broad beans cooked in olive oil with cumin and chopped spices.
Most of the soups are cream ones, Mushroom Cream with chopped mushrooms added, Chicken Cream with sliced chicken and a Sweet Corn Cream. The exception is the excellent Red Lentil Soup, thick with lentils, so healthy. Although there are Arabian soups as well; Burmah Yaman is from the Yemen, a hearty lamb soup.
At your first look at this menu and you may think that is a bit over-priced. However when the large main courses arrive you understand that all dishes are meant for sharing, an Arabian feast! A good example of this is my favourite dish here, the Kabsah Chicken. Not a small piece of chicken breast, but a whole half chicken arrives totally covered with an enormous mound of that scented rice, just decorated with a scatter of raw onion rings. As with most of the dishes here no attempt has been made for any fancy presentation, it is in fact peasant food, and that is not an insult. After all, this cuisine has been done this way in the villages for centuries. The chicken has been cooked on the bone, but one slight touch and it falls away, so tender.
Kebabs, a variety of meat on a skewer, grilled over charcoal, are a feature of this cuisine. Lamb Kuftah is one of the best, well spiced minced lamb, sausage shaped. The Chicken Kebab is also minced not pieces of chicken as you may well expect, whereas the Shish Kebab is actual pieces of meat, lamb.
Shawarma is recognisable by all. It can be ordered rolled in pita bread as sold at takeaways all around the world or on a plate, with many pieces of the sliced meat [chicken, lamb or mixed] alongside that Arabian rice.
Kabsah Lamb is also available. The spiced rice is cooked with pieces of the meat, slowly to preserve the magic flavours. The Biryani and Madghout dishes use Indian spices, which are much stronger.
Charcoal Chicken is a strange title however it has not been blackened, merely grilled over charcoal after a prior marinade in lemon juice and spices. The Mixed Grill presents a variety of meat, it is an enormous meal for just one person; shish kebab, shish tawouk, lamb chop, grilled prawn, kuftah kebab and liver. It is served with pita bread, salad and the very non-Arabian French fries.
Idam is Arabian style curry very different from the Indian ones also available here. Idam can be with either lamb or chicken.
An Arabian Feast is to order a whole lamb, grilled on the spit over charcoal, supposedly enough for 20 persons. It is also possible to order just a half or even a quarter of a lamb. All are served with your choice of rice; mandhi [Yemen], kabsah [tomato based], kabli [Saudi], biryani or madghourt.
Muhalabiya is an Arabian dessert. Milk pudding flavoured with rose water and orange zest.
Alcohol is obviously banned here, being a 100% Halal restaurant but they do offer a wide variety of standard fruit juices, plus one very unusual one, Date Juice. Of interest also is the Yemeni style Adeni milk tea and the spiced aromatic Arabian Coffee, a pot thereof, served with dates on the side.
Al Khaimah may not appeal to everyone but it is an experience well worth visiting, the soft flavours so different to the usual almost brutal intensity of some other Asian cuisines. A complete and pleasant change,