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Thu 21 Feb 2008 04:58 PM

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Restaurant review: Al Basha

A pleasant setting and solid Lebanese food makes it a decent place to spend an afternoon.

Time Out visits restaurants anonymously and pays for meals.

The sun beamed its brilliance onto the terrace from an azure sky. Birds twittered in the trees and children laughed as they splashed in the water. The scene was as close to idyllic as al fresco dining could be and, save for the fake rock formations, could have been at a resort on the shores of the Black Sea.

Indeed, most of the patrons at this Lebanese restaurant were Russian, yet this Englishman was busy slathering rich and spicy mohamara onto Arabic flatbread. Of course, I could have been nowhere else but Dubai, and in particular overlooking the swimming pool at the Habtoor Grand Hotel.

Inside Al Basha, the tables were laid and the stage set for an evening of dining and entertainment, yet everybody was outside enjoying the sun. The vibe was sub-relaxed, which may explain why it took an eternity for my mezze to arrive. When it finally found its way to my table, following a detour and short pit stop at two other tables, the tabbouleh I had ordered was missing, yet a bonus fattoush and moutabel had materialised by way of consolation.

The confusion continued as I attempted to unravel the mysteries of the order. Both waiters looked as if they'd been asked to explain Einstein's theory of relativity in Classical Latin, but since the setting was so serene I soon abandoned the investigation with a sanguine smile and interrogated a plate of sambousek instead.

The bite-sized snacks revealed moist and flavoursome granules of gently cooked minced lamb within crisp yet light pastry cases, and were eagerly dunked into the creamy tomato-rich mohamara dip, which was sharp with spice and studded with cracked, toasty walnuts. But, as is so often the case with mezze, the highlight came in the form of raw meat.

The kibbe nayeh was a proud and pink mound of uncooked lamb pulverised with gritty bulgur wheat, which provided a pleasing contrast between smooth creamy meatiness and crunchy grainy fragments. With mezze this good, I thought, who needs tabbouleh?

As a waiter shifted an umbrella to shade us from the intensifying sun, I asked him to tell me more about the ‘birds' I'd seen advertised on the menu. ‘They are little birds, sir', he demonstrated by pursing his lips and making a pinching gesture between his thumb and forefinger. The twittering in the trees seemed to grow louder, so I chose the grilled shrimps.

As I'd become accustomed to waiting by now, I was almost awoken by a large plate of seemingly larger prawns served atop a mound of potato wedges. The giant sea creatures were hastily shelled, their plump flesh dipped in the accompanying pot of tomato and chilli salsa, and munched down with the crisply fluffy potato chips.

As the sunbeams began to weaken and the birds resolved to rest their beaks (lest they ended up in a pot, perhaps) we decided to drag ourselves away from Al Basha. While it's hardly among the best Lebanese restaurants in town, its easygoing feel, pleasant setting and solid Lebanese food makes it a decent place to while away an afternoon if you're at this end of town - or if you're on vacation from Russia.

The bill(for two)

Mineral water Dhs30
Pepsi Dhs25
Mohamara Dhs35
Meat sambousek Dhs29
Kibbeh nayeh Dhs45
Grilled shrimps Dhs124

Total(including service) Dhs288

Al Basha, Habtoor Grand (04 399 5000). Open 12.30pm-11.30pm daily. All major credit cards accepted.

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