Review: Majlis Alfareej in Abu Dhabi
Fusion meets tradition at this new Emirati outlet. But is it a good introduction to local food for expats?
Majlis Alfareej is all about the letter F: food, fusion and family. The brainchild of a husband and wife team, it’s the latest in a slew of Emirati outlets that have opened in the past year, but this one wants to be a little different. While you will find traditional dishes on the menu, there’s a few modern twists as well, such as foukhara al noukhatha (mixed seafood with peppers and onions and a pastry crust), a pistachio sponge cake and smoothies with Red Bull.
What is a little more traditional is the decor. The sand-coloured walls and low seating are more bedouin in style, and there’s nods to the UAE’s past on the walls – paintings show camels trekking across the desert and models of old sailing boats and steering wheels line the walls.
All the dishes are well presented here but veggies beware: this is not the venue for you. Even a starter of broccoli soup came with chicken broth. Served topped with a layer of puffy pastry, it was hearty and rich and a good start to our meal. The rocca salad with strawberries and pomegranate seeds will please meat-shunners and was fresh and zesty, although some might find the taste a little too sharp and sour.
A portion of fluffy khameer bread from the breakfast menu was also decent, although the two dips it’s served with, date syrup and cream cheese, are polar opposites and can leave tastebuds feeling a little confused.
From the mains, the aforementioned mixed seafood with pastry was also a winner, thanks to a combo of fish, calamari and prawns in a rich tomato sauce. The more traditional machbous lahem (lamb cooked in rice with chickpeas and lentils) was also of a high quality, albeit a tad heavy. You’ll want to snooze afterwards.
We suggest though you skip the fried fish balls: while they looked the part, they were ordinary, stodgy and bland. If you want to try a local dish, the chicken with oats porridge and ghee is unusual, but not unpleasant and works well mopped up with the khameer bread.
For dessert, the pista cake, a pistachio sponge cake served with ice cream, was exceptional – light, warm and fluffy. The coffee and date cake unfortunately though didn’t work. It was way too sweet and had a consistency more akin to a blancmange. It had potential but missed the mark.
A couple of things do need tweaking here. Most of the dishes were served in just a few minutes, causing chaos on the table, and the staff, while incredibly friendly and likeable, lacked knowledge of the menu. That’s important considering many expats might not have tried local dishes before.
Overall, though, it’s a decent start for Majlis Alfareej and the restaurant is a pleasing introduction to Emirati food.
Darwish Tower, Embassies District, Abu Dhabi, daily 9am to midnight. Tel: (02) 6653653. Taxi: Behind the Holiday Inn on Airport Road