By our talented guest blogger, Sonia Abdulbaki…
At the Wafi Fort Complex is Qbara restaurant, a new destination for dining with a twist on Arabic cuisine. Qbara means large and generous in Arabic and the service does not fall short of the name.
I get past the fact that I am near Wafi and walking on a red carpet before entering when I realize that Qbara has me believing it is an underground cavern. The warm brown color of the wood décor emits a cozy and traditional vibe while the touch of grandeur adds modernity and luxury with its simple glamour.
There is a corner lounge with hanging beads against the wall that shimmer gold on the left upon entering. I pass the lounge and the open kitchen of gourmet superiority and culinary expertise. It gives me a feeling that I am receiving quality service. A notable technique is definitely that of the shadows playing on the wall to create a shutter opening effect of the wall paintings. The atmosphere is warm and cozy yet grand at the same time with vast, high ceilings and deeply warm interiors with a glow from the dim lighting. It has two floors that makes room for over 300 seated guests. The restaurant also has music playing in the background by DJ Hoolz. The restaurant is designed by one of the restaurant world’s most respected designers, Tokyo-based Studio Glitt-Noriyoshi Muramatsu.
The place where I am seated is a step up to a platform area where a full house of chattering guests are, many notably local. The service was an attentive one with generous portions enough for 2-3 people. The sharing aspect is part of the experience in relation to the Arabesque approach.
With regards to the menu, Qbara gives a new version of traditional Middle Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine and takes an evolutionary step by deviating from the norm.
Qbara recipes and methods are applied to traditional dishes. The falafel salad surprises me as the seeping oil is obscured by fresh greens and an artistic presentation, adding intrigue to the experience. The mint yogurt with lamb shops also adds an uplifting freshness to the meat that is dense with fat. Simple, unique twists to the food such as a fish fillet with tartar sauce and fried onions sprinkled on rice made the food eloquently enjoyable. There is a twist on the simplest of foods such as fried shrimps, which are wrapped in pita bread yet cut into slices for a bite sized eating experience. The watermelon salad is the most unique dish for me, unexpectedly mixed in with tomatoes and surprisingly fitting. Both were filled with juice and compromised in a way that tasted fitting.
And what’s cuisine without the mastermind behind the operation? In this case it is Chef Colin Clague. Chef Colin Clague designed the menu for Qbara, contributing to the new restaurant with his expertise. He has a wow factor to his credibility as he was the opening chef for Dubai’s Zuma, part of the pre-opening team for Burj Al Arab and the chef at The Ivy in the Emirates Towers.
Chef Colin Clague grew up amongst a fishing and farming community. Inspired by his mother, who was also a chef herself, he studied catering at a university and traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East where his expertise was developed. His approach is all about simplicity, ingredients and the flavor that makes for exquisite culinary creations.
The chef is kind enough to offer us a first-hand insight on what he brings to the table.
How do you transform this region’s cuisine into contemporary cuisine that appeals to Dubai’s restaurant culture?
Dubai is modern, forward thinking and right at the forefront of what’s going on in the world. We take the region’s ingredients and make it contemporary through methods such as compression and presentation. Even the plates are sourced from places like Afghanistan where the pottery set up is by Prince of Wales Trust. They basically re-make 16th century plates with a modern touch yet keep the look and feel of tradition.
The menu is constantly evolving. We see which dishes are selling and the ones that aren’t are taken off the menu. The other chefs are the taste testers, they tell me if they like it or not.
Growing up in a fishing and farming community, you understand the quality of food and freshness. Who are your suppliers and how do you guarantee quality assurance?
Well everything is made fresh here from the ice cream to the bread. But it’s important that you get the best ingredients like quality scallops and quality beef and give your customers a wide range of choices.
Like Dubai itself, the food is from all over the world. The meat is from Australia, the fish is from England and France and the scallops are Japanese. It’s all about quality so wherever the best quality is is where I’m going first. If you look at the decor you will know that it’s a value restaurant so people come here looking for quality.
You designed and developed the menu. Can you tell us a little bit about what the menu offers?
There is an exotic element to the whole menu. We’re taking inspiration from the whole Ottoman area, from Turkey to the Middle East. We take spices, general flavors, traditional ingredients and the main dishes of the region and play around with them, interpreting them differently.
The main idea was to have a sharing menu. We also know what sells so we put the dishes that are popular, like falafel. Some people like spicy lamb or certain fish dishes, so we work around that and link it to the theme of the restaurant.
You believe in ingredient driven food. What ingredients, flavors and spices do you use on the menu?
We make all our own spices and mix them. There are 15-20 different mix of spices that we use. We roast them up and blend them and keep evolving the mixes until we’re happy with them.
We do a very nice soft shell crab in saj bread so it’s like a sandwich. We also do a version of kibbi with lobster. So as you can see, we have various take on things.
Food here is simple but different. It is ingredient based with a mix of spices. But you have to let the food speak for itself.
How do you apply your own method to the presentation of the food?
The flavor is the most important thing. We get the flavor right first then we choose the plate. The main ingredient has to speak for itself. We choose the plate to go with the spice but 99% is the taste, then you work on the visual aspect because you also eat with your eyes.
Dishes people seem to be ordering the most of are the falafel salad, watermelon salad and shangleesh where we make our own cheese. These are the ones we put on the menu. If it’s your first time, these dishes will give you an idea of the array of food we offer.
What is the most appealing dish to you and why?
The one that I enjoy the most is the soft shell crab in saj bread because I remember when my grandfather used to make crab sandwiches, so he was the inspiration. It was a fond memory.
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I would love for you to try out the Moroccan fare served at the Moroccan Restaurant & Lounge at Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed Road Dubai.
We also have a delightful Italian restaurant serving home cooked pizzas and pastas.
Email me at [email protected] or call me at 0561626811. We would love to have you over 🙂