By Sachi Kumar
First off, be prepared; asking for Na-3-Na-3 will ensure you get incredulous and then slightly exasperated looks at The Address Dubai Mall. The ‘3s’ are silent and the restaurant is pronounced as ‘NaNa’, signifying ‘mint’ in Arabic or as you would call your favorite grandmother!
We visited Na3Na3 to check out the interesting sounding Halla nights. While we conjured up images of fire eaters, belly dancers and maybe some other exotic affair, just walking into the traditional Arabian tent at the entrance of the restaurant transported us into an era of Arabian nights.
Thankfully, our expected visual distractions were absent so we could focus entirely on the food, to the accompaniment of the live kanun music. Every Friday, Na3Na3 hosts Halla nights where Arabic specialty dishes from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iran take center stage.
The décor was accentuated with some green colored walls, and high ceilings which suspend dim bulbs. Underlining the contrasts, the tableware was laid out on deep maroon embroidered mats, perhaps as a reminder to the diners that they were indeed in for a Middle Eastern experience.
BLOWING HOT, BLOWING COLD
We started with a DIY round of salad, which was not particularly inspiring except for the pesto dressing. Moving on to the cold mezzas, we dived into some all-time Arabic favourites – Fattoush, Hammous and Sambousek. The combination of sweet beetroot, sour yoghurt and the earthy flavor of tahini in the Beetroot Moutabel piqued my interest first, and later, my appetite.
We headed to the hot mezza counter, where it was fascinating to see freshly baked bread coming out of the live kitchen. The Sujouk and Spinach Fatayer were appetizing and tangy. The Falafel was probably the best I have eaten in my 19 years in the Middle East. Crispy and fluffy from the outside and absolutely soft on the inside, they were cooked using different ingredients rather than the conventional ones used elsewhere. Chef Hanna revealed that the secret for this wonderful creation lay in soaking chickpeas a little longer than overnight and adding a bit of soda for the extra fluffiness.
On the other hand, my companion struggled to make his own Shawarma and expressed feelings of dismay about the lack of juiciness in the chicken pieces. I adored the heavenly combination of yoghurt and kibbah in the Kibbeh Bil Labban, another great Lebanese delicacy.
MELT-IN-THE-MOUTH MEATY DELIGHTS
What stole the limelight was the Lamb Mandi. The word ‘mandi’ comes from the Arabic word ‘Nada’, which means dew. It is used to denote meat that has a ‘dewy’ texture. Lamb Mandi is rice and young lamb meat pieces in a spicy mix. The meat is so succulent that it does indeed melt in the mouth, unlike other red meat preparations, and its taste is alleviated courtesy the fine paste of onions, tomato and mint in which it is cooked.
With the number of options present, the dessert counter looked quite enticing and left us spoilt for choice. However, the desserts were predominantly Western, consisting of fruits tarts, cheesecakes, mudcake, and my personal favourite, Chocolate Raspberry Mousse. The only Middle Eastern option was Mohalabia, a pudding scented with cardamom and rose water. As an ardent fan of Um Ali, I can claim to have had better.
Na3Na3 is a remarkable blend of Middle Eastern hospitality and authentic Arabic home style cooking. With views of cascading waterfalls and an ambience filled with warmth and simplicity and the wide range of Arabic delicacies, one is sure to be left enchanted.