Shoo Fee Ma Fee has aesthetic charm in abundance; what with all the draped curtains, patterned cushions, glittering Moroccan lamps, the hum of traditional music out on the terrace and the gentle gushing of the waterways below.
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Yet, as we all know, a dreamy location doesn't guarantee quality food. It may help to ease the disappointment of a mediocre meal, but it certainly doesn't make up for it. This needn't be a worry here, though. Despite a couple of dishes missing the mark, for the most part the food here was tasty and rewarding.
The excellent service from our waiter deserves a mention; he was well-informed and attentive, yet discreet and unobtrusive.
The starters met with universal approval: a pile of Moroccan pastries, stuffed generously with cheese and rolled up cigar-style. They gave a satisfying crack when you bit into them (a sign of fresh cooking) and the filling was light and smooth with a tangy aftertaste, reminiscent of goat's cheese. The chilli mayonnaise served on the side didn't taste particularly homemade to me (there was a hint of Hellmann's about it), but you could easily enjoy the rolls on their own.
Hummus and a fattoush salad were both rather nice, but it was a delicious, fiery dip made from harissa paste blended with crushed almonds that was the real gem in this selection. We used airy, slightly sweet bread to scrape every last morsel from the bottom of the bowl and then asked for it to be replenished. The staff were more than happy to do so, subtly, and with a smile.
Moving on to the main courses, a chicken kebab served with rice and vegetables tasted as bland as the description reads. Perhaps you could accuse the person who ordered it of making a mundane choice, but had the meat been marinated in a more vibrantly spiced mixture, or the rice flecked with dried fruit or nuts, then the whole thing could have been brought to life.
It still wouldn't, however, have been a match for the rather majestic-looking lamb tagine that I was presented with. When the waiter lifted the ornate lid, so aromatic were the smells that wafted through the air that I'm sure it piqued the interest of all the surrounding tables.
After such fanfare, my expectations were high and I wasn't disappointed. The stewed meat was succulent and warmly spiced with cinnamon, the glazed prunes were juicy and plump and added a honeyed sweetness, while the toasted nuts scattered over the top gave the dish texture.
Desserts were a bit of a let-down and an area in which this restaurant could easily improve. The selection itself was limited, with only six in total, and two of these were ice cream and fruit. Sliced orange salad dusted with cinnamon appeared as just that, although had the chef taken the time to remove the bitter white pith, it would have been appreciated. The rice pudding with rosewater was served in a modern, rather fussy plate/bowl hybrid, which was at odds with the rustic style of the rest of the meal. Although it had a thin layer of caramelised sugar running along the surface (crème brûlée style), the rice itself lacked sweetness and was actually somewhat stodgy.
I don't want to close on a negative, because this was genuinely a very enjoyable meal. My advice for a future visit? Skip dessert (it is probably unnecessary anyway, after such a satisfying main course) and end the meal by settling back to enjoy the view with a cup of Moroccan tea.
Shoo Fee Ma Fee at the Madinat Jumeirah. For reservations, call 04 366 8888. A meal for two, not including drinks and service, costs Dh395. Reviews are conducted anonymously and meals are paid for by The National.