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    Shebestan’s authentic Arabic food arrives in a traditional yet trendy package

    Brilliantly painted lamps in a riot of colours, wait staff in extravagant costumes – fez, agal for the men and tantour for the ladies, Shebestan at the Sterlings Mac Matthan has all the makings of a Middle Eastern palace. And although we were admittedly a bit wary about all the razzmatazz, the restaurant turned out to be charming and interesting. We decided to skip the regular seating and chill out (bolsters and cushions in true camp style) by the open kitchen to watch the chefs’ antics while we took in the vast interiors filled with trinkets and artifacts from exotic desert regions like Syria, Dubai and Morocco. There is also regular seating if you prefer.

    Spot on
    After a shot of strong qahwa, we began our feast. A mezze platter of hummus with a light sesame dip garnished with plump whole chick peas, mouttabel – chargrilled aubergine pureed with tahini paste, yoghurt and olive oil and tabbouleh that was loaded with mint, tomatoes, lemon and olive oil flown in from the Middle East. Plus, a delicious chicken sambousek, fried in mint and spices that really whetted the appetite as did the mildy spiced harra fish with delicious bell peppers. The bartender is happy to shake up some interesting cocktails. Think a shot of Arabic coffee with copious amounts of sambuca.

    Culinary couture
    After Shorbet Adas, a classic red lentil soup with a dash of lemon for extra zest, we took on the main course – lamb, vermicelli and saffron rice.
    The Bahmiya bil Lahema, served with Arabic rice, was simply divine with the lamb almost falling off the bone. Cooked in hand-picked okras with herbs like cilantro, black peppers and the traditional sumac and zatar, it was mildly spiced but bursting with flavour.

    Fassolia bi Riz, French beans soaked with onion, garlic and tomatoes reminded us of a Lebanese chilli con carne. We mopped up every bit of this gravy with vermicelli rice. The Middle Eastern version of the biriyani – saffron rice, was next and it tasted as sensational as it looked. The saffron lent the dish a unique and subtle flavor that was beautifully complimented by spiced yoghurt.

    Desert dessert
    Baklava was naturally an authentic way to end this meal and what a fine finale it was. Sinfully layered filo pastry that was loaded with finely chopped nuts and drowned in honey, the rich dessert hit all the right spots.

    Rs2,500 for two. At HAL Airport Road. Details: 42494949

    —Aakanksha Devi

     

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