Of tea, tale-telling and time capsules…

The year, 1997. The place, Al Bastakiya, a thriving enclave within a Dubai that is, in many ways, still in the tender stages of its Burj-oning growth curve. The Arabian Tea House is open, bustling and already telling a story of culture that speaks to the homely heart.

Visiting the spot now, more than a quarter of a century later, makes for an escape to that bygone era. Inside these walls, not much has changed. People rush in from the surrounding streets to take refuge from the sweltering summers, but staying for the charm, a menu that celebrates the local, cups of aromatic karak and the unmatched joy of good company.

Arabian Tea House is an authentic nugget of Emirati dining in Dubai, a legacy kind that has preserved the traditional methods of how things ‘should be done’. The city has spurred and grown around it, but the Tea House remains stoically unmoved.

Arabian Tea House

The building, a traditional construction, feeds into this old-world mystique. Inside there is lowhanging foliage overhead and a blanket of white pebbles under your feet, beckoning you into the courtyard-esque interior.

Guests sit on white rattan chairs, hemmed by lace curtain and tasteful turquoise in the raised benches. There’s a sizeable tree smack in the middle of the restaurant, the trunk disappearing beyond the thatched roof.

Our meal commences and our first round of starters comes as hummus, falafel and bread that’s just reached the cusp of doneness. It’s warm and fresh, and pairs perfectly with the creamy, rich hummus (Dhs33). The falafel (Dhs33) is shatteringly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, packing a flavourful punch in each small bite.

Arabian Tea House

Harees, balaleet and an Emirati salad (Dhs42) – an Arabian Tea House special – make up our second set of starters. A wholesome porridge of meat and wheat, the harees (Dhs35) is earthen and rudimentary, but absolutely comforting – and the balaleet (Dhs25), vermicelli cooked with cardamom, cinnamon and saffron – is sweet but doesn’t leave a lasting impact. For the mains, the lemon lamb tikka (Dhs70) speaks for itself. Juicy, chewy chunks of lamb meeting citric tartness. The machboos rice with chicken (Dhs62) is a delight, flaunting the very best of Arabic spices.

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The widely touted date cake and aplate of luqaimat are served for dessert, along with sharp karak tea. This is a tea house after all. The date cake (Dhs35) is a dense, uber sugary celebration of the Arabian culinary crown jewel. The luqaimat (Dhs30) are airy and doused in caramelised syrup, and how can we possibly go wrong with that?

Arabian Tea House

At the end of our meal, we realise just how much time we’ve spent eating and that’s exactly what Arabian Tea House is all about. Fast conversation, slow and low dining, and loads of Emirati hospitality.

What’s On Verdict: History, heritage and honest good food. What’s not to like?

Arabian Tea House, Al Fahidi, Dubai, daily, 7am to 11pm, Tel: (0) 4 353 5071, arabianteahouse.com

Images: Supplied