Lions are known for their ferocity when they are hungry, so maybe it's not unusual that Al Ain Zoo has paired the breaking of the fast during Ramadan with the majestic cats' feeding time.
For those who are fasting, the food is important — and done rather well here; however, it's watching lions up close and personal with little distraction that is a hypnotic experience.
Where to sit and what to expect
The iftar with lions experience takes place on the periphery of the lion territory, in an Africa-like landscape, a mere 10 metres from the kings of the jungle as they enjoy a bloody feast. A party of 12 is seated around a perfectly laid, candlestick-adorned, white-clothed surface, with impeccable silver service and a table groaning under the weight of the food on offer.
The food is beautifully presented and the service is top-notch. Your mealtime chatter is adorned with the growls, grunts, roars and groans from felines hidden in the darkness that envelopes your table mid-meal. The evening gains an ethereal atmosphere with its incongruous dinner setting that would not look out of place in an Agatha Christie novel, coupled with the smells and sounds of the jungle.
Begin your meal with dates; nuts and dried fruits including apricots, raisins, figs, almonds, pistachio and walnuts; and “Ramadan juices” such as qamar al din, jallab and Vimto. Next, dunk the rolls from the bread basket into lentil or harira soup.
A selection of cold and hot mezze follows, with hummus Beiruti, beetroot mutabel, tabbouleh, fattoush, potato harra and stuffed vine leaves making up the former; and Punjabi samosa, fried kibbeh and cheese fatayer the latter.
This is followed by seven primarily meaty mains: mix grill, hammour in butter-lemon sauce, chicken biryani, veal harees, lamb thareed, tourlou tajin and saffron rice.
The dessert course takes in Umm Ali, fruit and a selection of Ramadan sweets. End the meal with Arabic coffee or mint tea.
It's an elaborate spread. However, being this close to the majestic animals leaves you slightly breathless, and the food, especially given I was not fasting, was a sideshow. The incongruity of exquisitely civilised dining in the lap of elemental wildness is a profound experience.
Price point and contact details
The experience is unparalleled and comes with a hefty price tag of Dh840 ($228) a person, which includes a sunset tour of Al Ain Safari with a specialist guide. The iftar needs to be booked for a minimum of four people and at least 48 hours in advance. Children under 12 are not allowed.
For more details, call 800 966.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi