Published: Saturday, December 02, 2017    

By Yara Borale

Oasis Living headed down to Al Fanar restaurant and cafe in Al Ain to try out some traditional Emirati dishes

T he UAE’s food scene is just as diverse as the population, but while the country’s cultural traditions are always still carefully emphasised, it could be argued that not enough focus is given to Emirati cuisine.

And with December being all about celebrating national pride, Oasis Living decided to hunt out a hidden gem to try the Emirates’ fnest traditional fare.

Te concept

Al Fanar, Arabic for lighthouse, is a fort standing tall in Al Ain’s Souq Al Zafarana and delivers not only in taste and service, but value too.

Before entering, patrons are met with mannequin installations out front showcasing Emirati trades from days gone by. Once you step in, you can tell that a lot of attention was paid in recreating an authentic Bedouin ambiance circa the sixties from vintage photographs hung up on timeworn walls, to an almond tree smack-dab in the middle of the dining area.

Everything imbues old world charm from the cutlery, furniture and Emirati music playing in the background to antiques and artefacts dotted around.

Digging in

The menu offers an eclectic mix of courses, with almost all the dishes containing the restaurant’s special spice and sauce.

The amuse-bouche, a plate of dates seared in peanut sauce, was already set on the table and we decided to follow it up with a range of mixed appetisers that included koftat samak (deep-fried fsh), samboosa and hobool (fried fsh eggs, which, if you look past the fact that you’re eating unborn fsh babies, tastes pretty decent). Next on our taste buds’ warm-up was a hamba and rocket salad – tangy pickled mango chunks and sliced tomatoes on a green bed, embellished with a sauce of mustard seeds, vinegar, chilli sauce, and olive oil.

Then we dived straight into the main course with the robyan magli (pan-fried shrimp), thereed laham (thin Arabic bread topped with meat stew and vegetables), naghar mashwi (grilled squid) and tekat deyay (chicken kebab).

The pan-fried shrimp was defnitely the crowning jewel of our meal due to its palatable seasoning, however, the grilled squid was our least favourite due to its stringy tentacles and bland body – it helps to dip it into one of the trio sauces like cumin, chilli, or sweet and sour just to add some life into it.

Now, if you know anything about Emirati dishes you may be wondering why we didn’t order the one staple dish of harees (savoury oatmeal basically), and that is because it’s sadly only available on the weekends.

Sweet endings

Although when it came down to desserts, boy, did they do it justice. This fnale was defnitely the highlight of our afternoon. While you can still have your desserts at the table, there’s also the option of indulging in them at the restaurant’s café where it offers a far cosier setting.

The light, crispy and date syrup-soaked luqaimat (sweet dumplings) disappeared in the blink of an eye. Word even has it that these doughnut-like balls are what put the restaurant on the map, and when complemented with traditional red tea or gahwa (Arabic coffee) to balance out the saccharinity of it all, we are keen to agree.

With every bite after, be it of the decadent, moist chocolate-date cake or the honey-saffron camel milk ice cream coupled with aseeda (date pudding), we were satiated to the point of contentment, but still left feeling light unlike many other times in our previous reviews where we had left feeling painfully bloated.

The food had that healthy, homemade flavour to it; we could have sworn the chef could have been a loving Emirati grandmother – he wasn’t though, we checked!

A noteworthy observation was that the place had a healthy midmorning footfall of Emiratis as well, and when nationals come to dine in instead of eating these dishes at home, that’s when you know it’s as good as it gets.

There’s only one branch in Al Ain and one in Ras al-Khaimah, two in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi, with the Al Ain one being the biggest branch of them all.

The restaurant also runs festivals which feature souqs, live-cooking and outdoor cinemas. To learn more about their upcoming events, contact 03 766 5200 and/or visit
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