One of my favorite attributes about being a Lebanese is laying claim to one of the world’s healthiest and most socially oriented cuisines. I know everyone says that about their own food but hey, who doesn’t love sharing a plate of humus?!
Whenever my friends ask me where the best Lebanese food in Dubai is, I always answer with “My house” and miserably fail to recommend a casual Lebanese restaurant for them to enjoy.
When Leila’s opened in Mirdif City Center around a year ago, I would hear interesting rumors of its offerings. Like tales from a far away land, Leila’s was always an experience that I wanted to have, but alas, ’twas quite a journey to Mirdif, so it was one I never had.
So what a pleasant surprise it was to see Leila’s opening in my hood, Down Town Dubai, which brought a whole new meaning to “Good things come to those who wait.” And to welcome Leila’s to my neighborhood, I booked a table for 14 of my FIOD Tuesday diners.
Just to put it out there, Shishas and I do not get along, at all. Therefore walking into Leila’s, I’m happy to see high ceilings and a clear atmosphere.
Taking a seat at my 14 seat-er table, I glance through the very concise and well-selected menu. Because I know my Lebanese dishes more than I know my self, I take the liberty of ordering for everyone so they can focus on enjoying their time.
And it begins, the showering of small mezza plate from over my shoulder, under my arm, the left, the right and everywhere in between.
I immediately start with what I think are the two cornerstones of Lebanese mezza, humus and tabouleh. If a Lebanese restaurant can’t master those dishes, I would suggest they pack up and leave.
The classic tabouleh should be juicy, have almost the same quantity of tomato to parsley and include hint of sweet pepper. Putting a spoonful of tabouleh onto my plate, I notice juice dribbling off the bottom of the spoon. Check. Forming my bite of tabouleh with my bread, I notice yes there is tomato, but I would recommend a touch more. Taking my bite I taste the freshness of ingredients and a hint of seasoning. Check. That’s a pass.
Humus should not include garlic, should not be too soft and finally should include a splash of lemon. Check, check, check, but just a drop more lemon please.
Leila’s has officially passed my stringent two-tiered Lebanese restaurant base test. And now, the remainder of the dishes for the icing on the cake.
My favorite aspect of Lebanese mezza is that it’s designed to share. “Can you please pass the grape leaves, fatoush, spicy potatoes, moutabal, fried haloum, cheese rolls, meat sandwiches and mixed grill” is how I spend the majority of the evening.
At the top of my list are the cheese rolls generously stuffed and extra crispy, the kafta meat sandwiches that have a hint of sweetness and the spicy potatoes which are indeed spicy.
When I used to hear tales of Leila’s, back when it was located a time zone away, Mirdif, the focus was on desserts.
Growing up in a household where dessert meant fruit, traditional Lebanese desserts were eaten mostly on occasions and which I would only take a bite of. And so, my reaction to the rumors was a raised eyebrow and a “Hmmm…. Interesting.”
Speak of the devil, our desserts arrive, layali Lubnan, ghazal Beirut, knefeh and osmalieh.
Crash Course in Lebanese Desserts:
Layali Lubnan: Meaning Lebanese nights, is a layer of pudding cream and bananas with flavors of rose water and mastic.
Ghazal Beirut: Lebanese cotton candy stuffed with ice cream.
Knefeh: A cheese base dessert with a breaded crust served with syrup.
Osmalieh: Two layers of crispy thin noodles and a layer of cream in between served with syrup.
A bite here and there, and my usual one-bite-is-enough rule applies, that is until I reach the belle of the ball, the osmalieh. Crunchy, crispy noodles with soft clotted cream dunked in as much syrup as you wish. It’s a dessert that I not only take more than one bite of, but also know that I would crave.
Leila’s is a trendy Lebanese restaurant that offers all your favorites at prices that would make your wallet rejoice. A rare combination in Dubai. Sans, the shisha, I’m liking everything about it.