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REVIEW: Qbara

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We have something of a problem on these pages dividing restaurants, bars and nightclubs. In this town, the line between them is frequently be blurred by the presence of DJ booths, imposing bar areas, happy hours, nocturnal lighting and spectacular design –especially at places like Okku, Zuma and Caramel, which have all provided the complete package of fine dining and refined, upscale entertainment.

Qbara, located on 13th Street, Wafi, is another in the same vein. Indeed, there’s an argument that it stretches the point more than most.From the red-carpet entrance and hostess greeting to the cavernous, split-level gold-and-brown interior that greets you when you first walk in, this feels like one of those gastronomic palaces north of 50th Avenue in New York that is frequented by major league baseball stars and age-defying TV executives.

Qbara offers an impressive space from whichever angle you approach it. The top tier is a gallery of booth-style seating, intimate tables and one of the more precariously positioned DJ booths in the city, all of which are perched over the main dining area, linked design-wise by a huge wall of wood-cut letters. Up here, it’s all about sipping on cocktails, air-kissing semi-acquaintances and nodding your head to whatever resident DJ Mary G (Saturdays and Sundays only, we’re told) is pumping out.

Down below is what we’re about here, though. Head chef Mohanad Alshamali has maintained the modern Arabic theme first established by Colin Clague, with a staggering selection of innovative and interesting dishes with familiar names – kofte, saj, kibbeh – served with with novel ingredients. The freshly sweet lobster kibbeh with avocado labneh is a prime example, as is one of the house specialties, the soft-shell crab saj with garlic and harissa. Perhaps our favourite, though, is the chicken skewers with Yemeni saffron and Aleppo chilli salt, which combine heady local aromas with subtle spiciness.

For mains, it’s a similar story. The local favourite sayadieh is prepared with black cod and spiced rice and caramelised onions, while the Moroccan-spiced quail in vine leaves was a genuine culinary discovery. Elsewhere, the pinkish spice sumac makes an appearance on roasted poussin in the house version of musakhhan, with za’atar favouring the grilled veal chop, all underpinning your confidence in the chefs’ understanding of the region’s best flavours and their creativity to use them with originality and sensitivity.

If the choice seems a touch intimidating, as it might, the Qbara Experience menu is an excellent option, serving the entire table a selection of dishes for AED450 per person. The slow-cooked lamb shank and the seven-spiced salmon are phenomenal, as is the baklava with camel-milk ice cream. It’s fair to say you won’t find Arabic food like this anywhere else in Dubai.

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