Is Alaya a guaranteed recipe for success?

Simply by opening in DIFC, restaurants carry a certain level of expectation with them. These include great ambience, quality food and faultless service. Such expectations are increased further when acclaimed chef Izu Ani is also at the helm. With the likes of Greek hotspot Gaia, French brasserie Carine, and most-recently French-Mediterranean spot La Maison Ani under his belt, there’s no denying Chef Izu can deliver a great restaurant. But Alaya moves into a slightly different realm, this time offering East Mediterranean cuisine, otherwise known as Levantine.

The menu is easy to get excited about, especially when you love cheese as much as I do. Our first dish, mangal salad (Dhs45) is served with oven-fresh Arabic bread; allowing guests to scoop on piles of finely chopped aubergine, courgette, bell peppers and a creamy melted cheese. Despite the combination of ingredients, the flavour blends seamlessly to create a truly balanced dish.

Alaya is smaller than we expected, having been a gallery in its former life. Much attention has been paid to the fit-out, with a lovely dark marble floor, chic cocktail bar and open kitchen. Tables are packed in close together with intimate table lamps, although the glow from the gallery opposite flood the space with an unfortunately bright artificial light. Props must be paid, however, to the glassware and plates, each of which could be considered a work of art.

Additional starters are split between cold and hot mezze, and from the cold section we opt for yellowtail Lakedra (Dhs160). It’s a simple dish, devised of four thickly sliced raw yellowtail pieces, served with an olive oil and lemon dressing, it’s not complex but it is delicious. We also couldn’t resist trying the raw kibbeh (Dhs170) to see how it compared with what we’ve experienced in Lebanon. Using Angus tenderloin, the kitchen serves the meat raw in a thick stone bowl, alongside a serving of crisp, crunchy lettuce. “You must eat the two together,” our server tells us, and we happily oblige, squeezing fresh lemon on top. The meat could have done with a little more seasoning, but it ticked the boxes all the same.

From the hot mezze we choose the cheese borek (Dhs125) which has been given a Dubai twist thanks to the sprinklings of fresh truffle. Warm crispy filo pastry is stuffed with creamy truffle and cheese sauce; it’s super tasty but a generous size, ideally to be shared amongst at least four people.

We forgo the main course section in favour of ‘bazaar’, choosing a wagyu picaña from the rotisserie, which is sold on grammage. The meat was beautifully tender, coated in a spiced rub for extra flavour. The only let down was a minimum cooking temperature of medium, as we felt that the dish would have been even better served medium rare.

Desserts include Middle Eastern favourites date cake and kunafa as well as more European treats including apricot tart and pistachio ice cream.

WHAT’S ON VERDICT: Alaya has all the potential to stand out in DIFC, elevating Levantine cuisine in a classy, premium way.

Alaya, Gate Village 4, DIFC, daily 12pm to 2am. Tel: (0)4 570 6289.