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Seven of the tastiest iftar spreads in the city

From modern feasts for all the family through to authentic Ramadan tents there's plenty of iftars to inspire you. Friday tries the best

Magnificent iftars
Image Credit: Supplied pictures
From left: Ramadan tent, Taj Palace Deira, Horizon Restaurant, Amwaj Rotana and Constellation Ballroom, The Address Dubai Marina.

Horizon Restaurant, Amwaj Rotana

The magical month of Ramadan brings aromas and tastes we can bathe our senses in. That’s why I couldn’t wait to indulge in the iftar feast that awaited us at Horizon Restaurant.

As my friend and I entered through the large wooden doors, we were greeted by the friendly staff and a wonderful aroma dancing around us. Making our way to the table by the window, I noticed the beautiful display of Arabic sweets and desserts and reminded myself that I shouldn’t indulge too much and save space for some sweet treats at the end.

We kicked the evening off with a few helpings from the salad bar. It was a refreshing start, with the Thai beef salad definitely the star. The first bite was an explosion of flavour with tender beef strips and crunchy bean sprouts drizzled with a thai peanut dressing. The rest of the plate revealed more flavours –
a Caprese salad with lemon-drenched rocket leaves, mixed seafood salad with soft calamari rings and a sweet beetroot salad.

Next we went for the ouzi – a traditional Arabic dish consisting of a whole steamed lamb served with rice. We tucked in and while savouring every bite the sounds of the oud player filled the room with calming notes. We wanted to try everything and after the ouzi, we took a stroll around the buffet area to plan our next move.

The chef pointed us towards the finger food – a selection of spinach and potato pakora, fried crisp and golden; kibbeh; falafel; shawarma and our favourite – delicious cheese sambousek – a warm, comforting pocket of cheese. Small bites of crunchy delight have always been my weakness so I really couldn’t stop once I started eating this, but my friend reminded me that the spicy curries awaited and I pulled myself away. We were greeted with a good selection of warm dishes consisting of butter chicken, seafood curry, vegetable daal, bean curry, roast turkey, steamed hammour with a divine lemon and garlic sauce and lamb stew with ladyfingers cooked to perfection. I tried a bite of everything, but my favourite was definitely the butter chicken – so tender it melted in my mouth.

After our mains we knew that our feast would have to come to an end and it was time to satisfy our sweet tooth. The chef told us earlier that they make their own Arabic and Turkish desserts. Armed with this knowledge and knowing my other weakness – sweets – I knew where I was heading next! We filled our plates with all sorts of sweetness – mine mostly Arabic sweets and my friend white chocolate éclairs. The mini chocolate cakes tasted as good as they looked and the chocolate éclairs were heaven on a plate – a soft cloud of dough that oozed cream as
you bit into it.

We washed our feast down with a cappuccino and beamed with pleasure as we reflected on the night. And a wonderful night it was, with a great selection of well-presented, delicious food and friendly staff who took care of our every need.
Best for: an international buffet with a good mix of European, modern and traditional Arabic delicacies.
Cost: Dh135 per person
To book call: 04 4282000
-- Sue-Mae Easton

Almaz by Momo, Mall of the Emirates

When I arrived just after 7pm, the restaurant was already bustling with families. I started with the harira, a soup made of lentils, chickpeas, fresh herbs, vermicelli and lamb. This thick soup that Moroccans normally eat to end a fast during Ramadan is delicious – comfort food at its best – I even forgot about the pita bread. Next up was cold mezze – Lebanese tabouleh, Moroccan tabouleh, Greek salad with Moroccan bread and hummus. The crisp bread beautifully complemented the zesty tabouleh. I enjoyed every mouthful and every now and then I dipped the bread in hummus.

The buffet spread is predominantly Moroccan, however, it also boasts the finest traditional Arabic fare from around the region.

I was drawn to the tagine section of the buffet. There’s a tagine dish for all tastes – lamb and vegetable; chicken; hammour; kofta; and vegetable. I opted for the first three and made a great show of dishing from the tagines.

The lamb and vegetable tagine was the winner by far. The roasted lamb shoulder mixed with green peas and cherry tomatoes was tender and bursting with flavours thanks to the six-and-a-half hours of slow-cooking in the oven.

In the chicken tagine the poultry had been marinated in saffron, cumin and Moroccan olive oil, and the dish was flavoured with preserved lemon. It melted in my mouth.
As for the fish version, the hammour fillet was marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and an array of spices. It looked appetising but a bite into the succulent piece made my eyes water. I tried to cool my mouth down with couscous but that didn’t help so I went for a second round of chicken tagine – the distinctive sour-sweet flavour of the preserved lemons really hit the right note.

Of course, it is a matter of personal taste, but I found the jallab juice, which was made with dates, and qamrideen juice, made with apricots, very sweet.

The offerings at the dessert counter had exotic-sounding names but there was also good old fruit salad and tiramisu. Slilo (a crunchy mixture of flour, butter and almonds, mixed with spices and honey) caught my eye, as did m’hanncha (a flaky pastry that is filled with almond paste and scented with rose water). The latter looked interesting (the pastry is coiled like a snake) and made for a fitting end to an amazing feast.

After all this feasting I was too full and had no room for the Moroccan tea but that gave me all the more reason to visit the restaurant again.

Best for: Indulge your senses at Almaz by Momo, a trendy restaurant situated on the second floor of Harvey Nichols, Mall of the Emirates. From the Moroccan-themed lanterns to decorated tagines and ambient Rai (Algerian folk music) ballads – that immediately transport me to North Africa – this gem offers a pleasurable sensory experience.

Cost: Dh170 per person. For an additional Dh40 you get shisha.
To book call: 04 409 8877
-- Khulekani Madlele

Ramadan tent, Taj Palace Deira

As I entered the Ramadan tent at the Taj Palace, I was sure I was suffering from what doctors would call, iftar fatigue. I was showing all the symptoms – numbed taste buds, a bored look and a let’s-get-this-over-with-ASAP attitude. The better half, who prizes his time in front of the telly more than anything else, wasn’t looking too enthusiastic either.

Luckily for us, the morbid mood did not last too long. As we were doing our first lap of the buffet, we spotted sake anara with enoki mushrooms. So used to seeing Middle Eastern and Indian preparations grabbing all the limelight at most iftar buffets, both of us were quite taken aback when we saw this Japanese fish dish. Making a mental note to sample it later on, we decided to first give the usual suspects – kibbeh, fatayer and sambousek – a try. Worth it… totally. The cheese fatayer was crispy on the outside and absolutely cheeselicious on the inside. While on my second visit to the appetisers, I spotted another ‘odd’ one – roasted pumpkin salad with feta cheese – vying for attention. Fresh herbs were blended to perfection with delicious cubes of feta and roasted pumpkin.

Now it was time to try out the fish. But what was also demanding my attention was the huge cauldron of lamb ouzi that was hanging from the centre of the tent. A chef was standing by to carve out succulent pieces of meat from the roasted leg of lamb. How could I not try something that looked so regal? So I did. The fish had to wait. If I am ever allowed to make changes to the thesaurus I would make that preparation of meat a synonym for perfection. No questions asked.

Now it was time to give that fish a visit. Let me tell that I am not a huge fan of Japanese food, but this dish proved me wrong. Gorgeous!
 While sipping on passion fruit green tea, we were happy to admit that the best way to cure iftar fatigue is to try another one!
Best for: Sake anara with enoki mushrooms
Cost: Dh119 per person
To book call: 04 211 3070

-- Mrinal Sekar

Constellation Ballroom, The Address Dubai Marina

I was feeling vegetarian while I was on my way to the Constellation Ballroom to try out the iftar spread and I was hoping that the feeling would last through the evening.

The amount of meat that I’d had – thanks to the number of iftars that I’d tried over the past few weeks - had taken its toll on my palate. But one look at the fish sayaddieh, lamb biryani and kibbeh bil laban and I decided to hold over the ‘vegetarian’ feeling for some other day. My carnivorous friends will agree that sight of succulent pieces of meat does that to you, I guess.

So there I was piling up my plate with seafood and meats, when I found a dish that I thought was as refreshing as any green salad on the table. It was chicken faas – bite-size pieces of chicken grilled to perfection with slices of oranges. My husband and partner in crime, so to speak, declared the chicken faas “very high on succulence quotient” and I agreed. I have never tasted a dish that had fruit and meat come together in such perfect harmony.

But let’s start from the beginning, or shall I say starters? Along with usual moutabbel and hummus, was the lentil soup. Surprisingly, it was very light and had a hint of lemon that spiked its flavours in a delightful way. To quell my vegetarian ambitions, which turned into a guilty feeling when I saw all the meat that was on the spread, I decided to try out the vast variety of fresh salads that were on offer. It was very apparent that the salads were really fresh, cleverly put together from the finest available ingredients and packed with flavour.

The fact that the salads assuaged the guilty feeling had nothing to do with it.

While I was trying out the meats for my main course, I decided to try the veg au gratin as well. This was, of course, just to test if the chefs, who clearly were masters of Middle Eastern food, knew their continental cuisine as well – and they did not disappoint.

After this gastronomic binge, the husband and I decided that we would give the desserts section a miss, but one look at the umm ali and its silky texture and we decided that a small helping has never harmed anybody. Thank goodness we surrendered to our urge!

While sipping on our green teas, we realised that we had learnt a valuable lesson this Ramadan – don’t let guilt mess with your urge to relish an iftar – it could cause indigestion.
Best for: Chicken faas
Cost: Dh140
To book call: 04 436 7777

-- Mrinal Sekar

Blue Orange restaurant, The Westin Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina

When it comes to the ultimate family-friendly iftar in Dubai no one does it better – and with more style, than The Westin. With a Ramadan tent overlooking the Arabian Gulf, with palms swaying and the surf crashing against the yellow sand, and authentic Arabic cuisine, this is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Or, if you want a more cosmopolitan fare, venture inside the Blue Orange restaurant where there’s a delightful clash of the old and the new.

Alongside the iftar staples – lamb, chicken, hot and cold Arabic mezze, there’s international food at its finest – Chinese, Indian and Asian, along with a salad bar, cheeses, and desserts that look almost too good to eat.

There’s a reason why brunch at The Westin is always booked weeks in advance – the food’s delicious,  the setting elegant, the kids’ club  is amazing, and the entertainment jaw-droppingly good – and they’ve brought all this pedigree to their iftar offering.

While families figure out what to try first, tabla and oud chill-out music sets the tone. Iftar here is all about relaxing, while the efficient and friendly staff looks after you.

Even the kids’ club is supervised, so you can feed the children first – ours were happy eating Peking duck pancakes they’d filled with cucumber and hoisin sauce and rolled themselves, and chicken with roast potatoes and broccoli fritters – before vanishing to play with the other children, while we grazed around the world.

First up was a delicious salad for me – with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, a myriad of lettuces as well as hummus, while my husband sampled the Chinese duck, special fried rice and noodles. Then I ate a perfect vegetable biryani with roasted nuts and delicious butter naan while my husband Alex had a traditional slow-cooked lamb and rice, which was so good he had two portions.

I fetched the children and hit the dessert stations – laughing as we dipped marshmallows into the chocolate fountain.

Our four-year-old went back for so many tasty treats on a stick that in the end it looked like she’d been dipped in the chocolate too.

Face wiped, we gave in to her pleas to return to the kiddy club – and the rocking horses she loved so much, while her nine-year-old brother put the PlayStation through its paces.

My husband and I sipped sweet Moroccan tea feeling full and happy – just like all the other families sitting around us.
The Westin has long been one of our favourites and its iftar didn’t disappoint. It’s cosmopolitan, elegant with a menu to cater for all tastes, in a luxurious setting.

Quite simply it’s an impeccable iftar for the family.

Best for: cosmopolitan families
Cost: Dh195 adults, Dh90 per child
To book call: 04 511 7115

-- Karen Pasquali-Jones

The Fountain, MÖvenpick, Bur Dubai

Being a Brit, I’m used to queueing. Whether it’s to buy a ticket, be first in the sales or for a taxi, it’s normal to form an orderly line. But when I turn up at a restaurant and see a queue snaking up to the entrance I get excited. It’s a surefire sign the chef knows what he’s doing. And when I’m lining up behind people of all nationalities, including ones in national dress, you know the iftar has to be something special.

The flamboyant extras normally associated with The Fountain were absent – the overflowing seafood platter starters, the Mexican cooking station, the steaks and even the kids’ club was closed. But the friendly, great service, and pared back – but delicious – menu was more than enough.

My family love seafood and their taste buds were kept happy with the succulent prawn salad while I devoured lentil soup, foul medames, then loaded up my plate with fresh vegetables, Caesar salad, hummus, egg mayonnaise and potato salad. Kid-friendly mains included vegetable pizza, and chicken shawarma, while lamb, beef, chicken and donar tempted the adults.

Our plates cleaned, we explored the desserts and found a treasure trove of treats. There was chocolate everywhere you looked – the chefs had even sprayed a lantern with the stuff – and my children’s eyes were, for once, not bigger than their bellies. They begged to try the chocolate cake and chocolate cheesecake – all smothered with chocolate sauce, of course.

I went for the healthier option of fruit salad and the most delicious jelly I’ve ever eaten. After demolishing two, I asked every waiter and waitress for the recipe, but no one was giving anything away. So I ate another in a vain bid to work out the ingredients, then turned my attention to my total weakness – the cheese platter.

Our children were growing tired, and full, so we left, this time ahead of the crowd, who were still happily tucking in to one of the best iftars in town.
Best for: value for money.
Cost: Dh120
To book call: 04 3104320

-- Karen Pasquali Jones

Mosaic, The Pullman Hotel, Mall of the Emirates

With its chic, minimalist decor and perfect location at the Mall of the Emirates, the Pullman hotel packs more punch than its four-star rating. The same can be said of its iftar.

Even though the Sanabel restaurant where it’s usually held was closed, the Mosaic was a plush temporary replacement, bustling with tourists and locals. Gone, sadly, were the live interactive cooking stations with chefs making everything to suit your exact taste, to be replaced by a choice of mains to help yourself from.

But the salad bar was as big as any others I’ve seen, and the children were excited to see a chef making cheese or Nutella-filled pancakes, which they couldn’t wait to try.

Luckily, I managed to drag them past the pancakes to sample the squid salad, artichoke, sweetcorn and sun-dried tomatoes, along with the Arabic favourites of fattoush and moutabbel served with Arabic bread.

Salads polished off, we hit the mains – succulent beef and lamb with vermicelli, saffron rice, couscous and buttery vegetables. For me, the vegetarian, there was a jalfrezi, which the chefs assured me was mild, but for me it was spicy. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, but I made sure I gave the children buttery, succulent chicken with veg and couscous. “Eat it all and you can have chocolate pancakes,” I promised them and watched as they cleaned their plates.

First they tried the cheese pancakes, which they declared delicious, and then the chef made them double chocolate desserts – with Nutella filling and drizzled on top.

My husband – who had demolished a giant plate of lamb and rice – and I investigated the desserts. I had to try the miniature trifles, cheesecakes and tiramisu. Each was divine, and Alex matched me dessert for dessert, licking his lips at the end. There was just time for a coffee, and glancing around the lounge-style restaurant, I realised there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere.

We left suitably impressed. This iftar isn’t as big as others I tried, but what it lacks in size, it makes up with taste.
Best for: Modern iftar
Cost: Dh150 per adult, Dh75 per child
To book call: 04 377 2353