It is just the first week of Ramadan, but I have already found what I believe will be my favorite Iftar meal. (If anyone wants to challenge my confidence, please feel free.) I am referring to the Market Iftar by Suzanne Husseini at the highly lauded Market Kitchen. I am not surprised, but relieved that is was all that I expected. Staying on the forefront of modernity and appealing to those that want real, great food, they have done it again. There is truly no Iftar like it.
Suzanne Husseini is a well-known chef and food personality in the Arabic world, whose repertoire also includes teaching and restaurant management...oh, and not to mention the minor job of motherhood (of three). She is stylish, friendly, gracious, and her enthusiasm for creating a great meal is contagious. She is partnering with Market Kitchen to provide guests with a contemporary Arabic Iftar that converts traditional elements of the meal into a fresh, new experience.
The meal begins with an orange lentil soup with toasted pine nuts. It is bright and nutty, and I am secretly hoping I can recreate something like this on my own. The freshly baked breads arrive (all house made). No, there is no pita here. My favorites are the zaatar croissant and the zaatar biscuit. I may have eaten three of each, and I can't say that I didn't think about returning the next morning to see if I could buy more for breakfast. She serves her breads alongside three antipasti: lebneh rolled in an herbed nut crust, a spicy red pepper spread, and hummus topped with warm olive oil and chickpeas.
Then arrives the fattouche. If you think you have found a fattouche salad that you like, you need to try Suzanne's. There is no lettuce, but instead loads of incredibly fresh herbs, crunchy cucumber, plenty of zaatar, and a tangy vinaigrette. We share our plates with the light and crispy cheese sambusek. Hers are made with aromatics and three nontraditional cheeses (including ricotta) to create that perfectly cheesy goodness inside. The final dish of mezze was the Grilled Aubergine with Lamb, Mint and Yogurt. It is meaty but still bright, drizzled with a light tomato sauce.
The mains were a Braised Lamb Shank With Okra, and Pan Seared Red Mullet in a Warm Tahini Salsa. The lamb was fall apart tender, satisfying and homey. The fish was light and moist, and that tahini salsa...well, I took seconds, and might have taken more if I wasn't sitting so far from the platter. Both are served with sides of crispy roasted baby potatoes, and a fluffy saffron rice studded with almonds and dried apricots.
Dessert ends the meal with a beautifully plated M'hallabia (milk pudding) with fresh fruit, but there is also the Attayef (crepe), and my favorite, the dense and decadent "chocolate falafel". A chocolate truffle rolled in toasted nuts and shaped to look like a miniature of our fried favorite.
While I have given account of my meal, the best thing is that Market Kitchen and Suzanne change the menu once a week, so we can return again and again without getting bored. And she happily caters to vegans/ vegetarians. Infact, she makes a roasted cauliflower steak with tahini sauce and bread crumbs that is a serious competitor for those meaty mains. On a final note, I really love that the meal is served to your table. There is no buffet playing host to swarming hungry crowds as the sun sets. So whether you fast or not, whether you take part in Iftar or not, this is one meal not to miss.
Le Royal Meridien
200 aed pp (inclusive of mocktails/ tea/coffee)