James Fryer faces some delicious home truths at Abu Dhabi’s new Persian restaurant.
If I had a dirham for every time a press release landed on my desk making outrageous claims such as ‘world’s most famous brunch’, ‘best live cooking stations’ or ‘tallest chocolate fountain’ (okay, so the last one’s just a dream), I’d be a fillionaire by now. So, while I wasn’t doubting Anar’s claim that it’s name comes from the Persian for “red pomegranate” – a fruit native to Iran which has been cultivated there for 4,000 years – I was more sceptical about assertions that it’s named after the fruit of heaven which was the real apple in the Garden of Eden. That was throwing down the gauntlet.
We spotted the restaurant’s greeters a mile off. “They’re too late for May Day,” I whispered to my other half. “They’re not maypole dancers,” I stood corrected. “That’s traditional Iranian dress.” And very nice it was too. But not as nice as the beaming smiles radiating from the staff at Anar’s entrance. The restaurant’s interior was resonant of the warm greeting – an eclectic mix of mismatched red and blue tiles, rugs and tableware giving it a grandma’s house vibe – perfect for popping ‘round for a cuppa and cherry bakewell cake (or a pomegranate bakewell?). The music, like a Persian Swan Lake, was a soothing touch. The only downfall was that the place was almost empty. Luckily Anar’s space is divided as such that we weren’t sat in a vast void.
Soon a delicious, home-cooked-tasting cocktail stick-skewered lamb meatball with pomegranate sauce arrived for us before we’d even seen the menu. I enjoyed it so much I inadvertently ordered something almost exactly the same – kufeh-ye Anar-o pesteh (Dhs55) – for a starter. The almond, pistachio and aromatic herbs complemented the lamb beautifully. We weren’t as convinced by the halim bademjan (Dhs55) – a slow-cooked, stodgy eggplant casserole with lamb and a garlic and yoghurt sauce. It was more like a dip than a starter – a ‘stip’ perhaps? Fresh, warm bread was used to scoop up the flavoursome food with a new name.
No sooner had starters been cleared and we nibbled at the house salad – vibrant mint, spring onions and crumbly cheese – the mains arrived. It was a little too quick for comfort, and further evidence the staff weren’t as busy as they should be.
The meigu kabab (Dhs165) boasted five or six fat, nay obese, jumbo shrimp coated in an orangey tamarind glaze which proved a little bland with the plain rice. My ghurmeh sabzi (Dhs120) was much tastier – a dark, rich and heavy stew of lamb, red kidney beans and spinach that burst with unusual flavours – including the dried lime I accidentally ate half of.
Dessert was faludeh bastani (Dhs45) – a homemade-tasting Shirazi-style noodle sorbet and rich Persian ice-cream with rose water, and the bastani e akbar mashti (Dhs45) – a stretchy saffron ice cream with pistachios and saccharine sweet sauce. Both were exceptional and featured a subtle sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, as had appeared in all of the evening’s dishes. A refreshing, earthy pomegranate juice was less restrained and altogether delicous. Any gimmickry aside, the restaurant’s signature ingredient was a worthy basis for generally great food. Let’s hope it fills to its deserved capacity.
Anar, Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. Tel: (02) 6908980.