“Wanna go to Iftar?”
Having arrived in Dubai post-Ramadan of July 2015, I had no idea what ‘Iftar’ was/is but I readily agreed to the offer, thinking it might be a newly released movie.
For newbies to the Middle East and for the non-Muslims among us, Iftar is one of the religious observances during the Holy Month of Ramadan and is essentially the evening meal when Muslims end their daily fast just after sunset.
We were kindly invited by the Al-Maeda restaurant at the DoubleTree Hilton, Jumeirah Beach to attend a press preview of what will be their forthcoming Iftar buffet.
A wonderful greeting from staff and the PR team was received by all invited guests. However, the seating arrangements were shambolic and post-greeting, we were left to fend for ourselves. In a ludicrous game of musical chairs (without traditional Arabic music), members of the press and food bloggers elbowed each other out of the way to sit wherever they possibly could.
Sheepishly, we ventured outside onto the terrace and interrupted two journos who were deep in conversation. Reluctantly and after some negotiation we perched at the end of their table. Of course, being a buffet, self-service is the only option and somewhat defeated by now having to give up our hard-won seats, we went back inside.
Have you ever been to brunch in one of the big hotels? Ever do-si-do’d around the middle serving table, not knowing whether to go clockwise or anti-clockwise? Should you pile your plate on the first revolution or go back for seconds? Have you ever had that embarrassing moment of joining the wrong end of the queue where the hot food is served? If you’re British, you’ve probably experienced all of the above. From my first-hand, first-time experience, the Al-Maeda Iftar is EXACTLY the same as any other tried and tested regular brunch situation.
I felt slightly oversold by the promise of “a traditional Ramadan Iftar and Sohour inspired by the most popular Levant and North African dishes.”
True, there was a Moroccan tagine, a lentil soup (my fellow diner enjoyed second helpings) and for dessert, a sweet Umm Ali. I thoroughly enjoyed roast chicken, a delicious portion of grilled lamb, a good pile of lamb biryani, some baba ganoush, hummus, tabbouleh and a variety of flatbreads.
Don’t get me wrong, the food was scrumptious but sadly I have nothing more to add. It didn’t rock my world and I discovered no exciting new flavours or indeed anything that I couldn’t find at a regular homogeneous brunch offering in any other mainstream Dubai hotel.
However, the super-attentive staff, the restaurant manager and the charming Al-Maeda Sous Chef, Lawrence Alnajjad impressed me with their enthusiastic conversation and hospitality. It’s rare to receive a personal welcome from the chef and, for me, the effort that Chef Lawrence made to leave his busy kitchen to speak to every single guest was the kashta on the kunafa. [Disclaimer: Obviously, I can’t promise that he’ll chat to every guest every night during Ramadan].
Overall, I think this Iftar experience lacked atmosphere. While the restaurant manager claimed that during Ramadan one can expect to see and hear traditional lute players, there was no live entertainment on our night.
The manager proudly boasted that shisha will be available on the terrace during Ramadan and that the terrace has TV screens too. From one of the restaurant’s own promotional posters, I notice that soccer matches will be shown on these TV screens. If you don’t want your traditional Ramadan Iftar or Sohour to be completely trashed by a modern game of soccer, check the match fixtures before leaving home.
Maybe my expectations were too high and maybe this actually IS a true representation of numerous traditional Iftars of Ramadan past. What do I know? Nevertheless, as an Iftar virgin and having no other point of reference, I was left thinking ‘Iftar … if only’.
- Food 6/10
- Staff 8/10
- Overall experience 5/10
Review: Nick Stephenson
The Iftar buffet at Al-Maeda is served every day during Ramadan from sunset to 9:00pm. Sohour is available from 9:00pm to 2:00am
Cost of the Iftar buffet (inclusive of Ramadan drinks) is AED 139.
The ‘Standard Platter’ from the Sohour a-la-carte menu costs AED 69 and the ‘Premium Platter’ hits in at AED 89.