The spirit of Syria is well and truly alive at Bluewaters Island Dubai, where the emirate's second branch of Sah El Nom opened its doors earlier this year. Classic Damascene dishes adorn the menu, which also features a fine-dining twist.
Where to sit and what to expect
The restaurant is split into three parts: the main dining area, a closed-off shisha lounge, and an outdoor seating section for cooler months. In contrast to the brand's first restaurant, which is decidedly casual, this new venue is more upmarket, with design-led interiors, fine crockery and super-attentive service. The manager tells us more concepts within the restaurant's brand are on the cards, each designed to suit the location they're in.
Who’s eating there
Businesspeople striking deals over lunch as well as groups of families and friends.
The food is entirely and authentically Syrian, but with a modern twist in some dishes. Executive head chef Abbas El Hajj explains the menu “focuses on simple elements, such as the authenticity of a family recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation. Our Bluewaters menu is more eclectic in terms of attention to detail and the beautiful presentation of each dish.
“I apply techniques that I have acquired throughout the years in regards to garnishing the meal by the infusion of authentic Syrian cuisine and exotic flavours. The cuisine embodies home-like dishes with a unique and contemporary twist.”
On the vast menu, you can find sections for soups, salads, cold and hot mezze, kibbeh, grills and desserts. There's even a small selection of raw meat dishes, plus a bunch of specials. These include lamb manti, chicken freekeh, seafood biryani, ouzi short ribs and a vegetarian-friendly bulghur wheat dish that's infused with truffle oil and topped with sliced truffle. A children's menu is also available, which for Dh42 offers a main course, side dish, garden salad, dessert and fresh juice.
Portions are generous; this is food that's meant to be shared. My dining partner and I select a range of dishes that show off the kitchen team's skills: a classic hummus, itch salad (cracked wheat with tomato sauce, vegetables, herbs and pomegranate molasses), herrak esba'o (lentils cooked in a tamarind sauce, served with caramelised onions and fried bread cubes), mousakka (baked aubergine cooked in vegetable-tomato sauce) and shish taouk (chargrilled marinated chicken breast cubes). Everything is as it should be: the hummus smooth and creamy; the salad citrusy, sweet and refreshing; the herrak esba'o a medley of textures; the mousakka richly flavoured; and the chicken chargrilled to perfection, so it's well-cooked but still juicy. Suffice it to say, we did not have room for dessert (you've been warned).
The herrak esba’o is one of those classic Syrian dishes you won’t see on many other Middle Eastern menus. The Sah El Nom chefs have created a delicious version, with chewy dumplings, a complex sauce, plus crispy bread cubes. The combination of textures and flavours works very well together. On the downside, we perhaps wouldn’t order the mousakka again, simply because we prefer ours hot, and the restaurant serves it cold.
The chef's suggested meal is the aubergine salad and mesrtsi cabbage salad, followed by the signature ghapama (baked pumpkin stuffed with rice and minced meat, served with lamb chops). For dessert, he recommends either the mandarin, cherry or lemon cakes, which, he says, "bring together a refreshing and unique variety of flavours".
Price point and contact information
Sah El Nom sits between the budget and overpriced mark. Dishes will set you back anything from Dh28 for a soup to Dh178 for the raw meat platter. As mentioned, however, portions are generous and these dishes are made to be shared, so choose wisely and you'll find great value for money here. Reservations can be made by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or at 04 423 1122.
This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant