I do a very simple test when deciding whether or not to eat in an Indian restaurant: peer through the glass or door to see how many Indians are dining. One table or none and I move on. But the sight of several families tucking into curries and kebabs is better than any advertisement. Barbecue Delights, however, is a Pakistani restaurant, albeit with strong Afghan influences. There are plenty of Indians, Pakistanis and even Afghans who may not welcome the comparison, but let's leave geopolitical hostilities aside because the test remains the same. The last thing I want in a South Asian restaurant is dumbed-down flavours catering to a meek Anglo palate.
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This popular chain has several branches in Pakistan and its Dubai location is fantastically situated on the upmarket Jumeirah Beach Residence Walk. The restaurant is more down-to-earth than the address suggests and on weekends it is packed with Arab and Pakistani families looking for a moderately priced meal. We are greeted by three very attentive staff when we arrive and are seated right away. The dining room has an orange, cream and black theme but it is too bright and feels like a hotel lobby.
"Would you like the steak?" the waiter asks my companion as we scan the menu. He is startled. Certainly not. But I see why he asked, when a few minutes later, two steaks with hot cheese arrive at the table on my left. The man at the table on my right is eating fish and chips. They are all Europeans. The menu is varied with a large selection of Arabic salads, Afghan kebabs and Pakistani curries. My companion and I decide to share a starter and main courses.
I order a fresh lime soda. The fish and chip eater next to us has also ordered a plate of pakoras which looks good. We'll have one too, please. They arrive hot and fast, minced vegetables battered in chick pea flour and deep fried, but they are not greasy at all. The lime soda is a disappointment, though. It is a commercial brand of soda with a squeeze of lime. My companion is dipping his fourth pakora into the coriander chutney when the main courses arrive. The lamb chops are peppery, tender and moreish. The royal kabuli palao is wonderful: the grains of rice are perfectly separated and darkened with caramelised sugar. Large pieces of baked lamb fall away at the bone. The dish has a mellow, deep flavour offset by slivers of sweet carrot. We order another Afghan speciality, mantu, steamed parcels of beef and onion served with a smattering of yogurt sauce. We eat six and want more.
Mutton seekh kebab, normally hard to do well because it ends up being greasy and bland, is spiced nicely with green chilli and balanced with tamarind sauce. It is best eaten with the fabulous naans which arrive straight from the tandoor oven with brushings of hot butter. We finish everything in less than 30 minutes and I am ready to be rolled out of the restaurant like a barrel, but there is still some room for dessert. Gulab jaman - cottage cheese thickened with milk - is good, but I can only eat two pieces before giving up.
My companion, who insists he doesn't want dessert, orders shahi tukray, bread soaked in cardamom-flavoured milk and pistachios, and polishes it all off. I'd recommend the two choices of mixed kebab platters if you cannot decide what to eat. There is also a buffet which is very good value. The food is not as spicy as Pakistani cuisine should be and I put this down to its heavy influence of Afghan food and a large Arab clientèle.
But I feel sorry for the cheese steak and fish and chip eaters. They seriously missed out. Barbecue Delights at the Jumeirah Beach Walk, Dubai. Our reviewer's meal for two cost Dh211 including soft drinks. Restaurants are reviewed incognito and the meals are paid for by The National. Charles Cole is a nom de plume.