A few years ago, if you wanted an authentic taste of Emirati cuisine, you had to be fortunate enough to get invited into someone’s home.
Now, with more and more Emirati restaurants opening across the country, diners should have no trouble finding authentic local dishes such as balaleet, khameer, batheetha and legimat.
When I visited Osha Emirati Restaurant in Masdar City for a midweek lunch, there was only one other couple dining there. The restaurant is quiet, almost tranquil, and despite speakers hanging from the ceiling, there was no music playing during my visit.
The venue has 10 light, wooden square tables, contrasted by bright-red chairs, in the small dining area. There are also a handful of private majlis seating areas that can be closed off with curtains. Two bright-red chic chandeliers hang over the majlis area, while artwork on the walls depicts scenes of Arabian life from years gone by.
The concrete floor and exposed black pipes give a trendy, industrial feel. There’s a large bookshelf – an ersatz wall – that divides the dining area, with an assortment of books in English and Arabic, many of which focus on life and architecture in the UAE.
Overall, the space is a well- executed attempt at blending the old with the new.
There is a selection of ryoog (breakfast) combinations on the menu. The ryoog osha is an Emirati breakfast with balaleet, chebab and egg with tomato and chami dates. The ryoog Mumbai is an Indian breakfast of chickpea curry, vegetable curry, lentil curry and minced-meat keema (along with a description that reads “simple dishes home-cooked by my Indian nanny Kumari with love and passion”).
While you will find several dishes that are not traditionally Emirati on Osha’s menu, you’ll find plenty of authentic tastes from the country, such as chebab, chami and dates, maleh salad (aged, salted king fish), harees (a ground wheat and meat dish), jasheed (shark), sambosas and much more.
The menu is a playground of authentic Emirati spices and flavours and it’s a good education for the uninitiated.
I started with a quartet of sambosas (Dh20), which were surprisingly good. A step up from standard sambosas, the shells were perfectly flaky and crispy.
The mint-infused cheese sambosa was light and fresh, the chicken variety was tender and fragrant, while the vegetable option was packed with Arabic spices and was the most flavourful – and my favourite – of the bunch. The meat sambosa was average and fell short on flavour – it was the only one I didn’t finish.
They came with a thick, sweet date and spicy-chilli dip, which added another level of interest to this classic appetiser.
In hindsight, I should have stuck with a traditional Emirati dish for my main, but my friendly server suggested a new dish on the menu: salmon teriyaki (Dh55). It was a generous, thick portion of salmon, while the teriyaki sauce was tasty and not overly sweet. However, the fillet bordered on boring and simply failed to leave a lasting impression – though I loved the side of sautéed leeks and mushrooms. Unfortunately, it also came with mashed potatoes that were unforgettable – for all the wrong reasons. The mound, mixed with dill, was glue-like and inedible. Overwhipping can murder mashed potatoes and perhaps that’s what happened here.
I also tried the camel pizza (Dh55), just to say I did. I loved the thin, crispy crust and the simple red sauce, but the minced camel meat on the eight-slice pie was mild-flavoured and underwhelming.
Sambosas aside, my meal was bordering on forgettable – but then the sticky date pudding (Dh36) arrived. This rich, thick, moist date cake was covered with a thin layer of date syrup, and the vanilla ice cream it was served with was doused in pistachio bits and toffee sauce. Both were set atop soft, wispy layers of white candy floss, which added a surprising bit of playfulness and texture to the dessert. I loved every bite – this is a must-try item.
The chefs at Osha are clearly proud of what they’re sending out and it shows in the careful presentation of each dish. The food was a bit hit-and-miss – but if you’re in the area anyway, Osha is worth a visit.
Heed my advice, however, and stick to the classic Emirati options – it’s clearly what Osha does best.
• The meal, enough to feed two, cost Dh171. For more information, call 02 555 3575. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito.