After a day at Chepauk watching Sachin Tendulkar in full flow, who was still at crease at the end of the Day 2 of the first India vs. Australia Test match, all I needed was a fabulous dinner to sign off a fulfilling Saturday. Frequent advertisements of Al Arab in The Hindu City supplement featuring a mouthwatering roasted chicken had already gotten me all excited about visiting the place.
I have paid a heavy price for not heeding to Shakespeare’s advice in The Merchant of Venice that appearances are deceptive.
We reached Al Arab, which is located just across the road from the City Center mall; two floors for buffet and two floors for a la carte. I requested the staff to allow us to order from the a la carte menu for the kids but they refused, saying that family as a whole would have to choose either. In no mood to argue we agreed and were told to proceed to the fourth floor. Then elevator wouldn’t budge further from the third floor so we took the staircase instead. There was hope that food will make up for these minor inconveniences.
Once the food arrived, we realized Al Arab was a wannabe Barbecue Nation rather than an Arab specialty restaurant. Now I am not a fan of Barbecue Nation either but concede they serve edible food. Here we were served skewer after skewer of things like tough and chewy paneer, mushrooms that had seen better days before reaching the grill, prawns that appeared to be marinated in what I guess as red chili powder, fish that was falling apart even before being grilled, dry seekh kababs accompanied by shawarama rolls with bitter tasting greens within and hardly any meat.
The main course featured a decent dum biryani and many other non-descript curries made of mutton, chicken and veggies. A very unappetizing dessert spread with cakes and pastries of different colours and flavours with hardly any Arab or Middle Eastern character to them. Something that tasted like a runnier version of a fruit phirni with mango being the predominant flavor is what I considered slightly above the threshold of ‘edible’.
When I came out I realized that Al Arab to be a very popular place with more than a dozen people waiting to get in. Maybe the Rs. 495 price tag attracted as them as one can really eat one’s fill of meat for that price. But since I am past the ‘hog till you die’ stage of my life, I wouldn’t consider visiting Al Arab again if possible, and would even feel embarrassed to be identified with the crowd that patronises a restaurant with such poor quality of food.
Even an early dismissal of Sachin the next day when I just had travelled 35 kms to watch him resume his innings, didn’t leave as bad a taste in the mouth as the food at Al Arab did.