Al-Fanar (Emirates) – South Kensington, LondonHALAL STATUS Fully Halal
What made this news especially exciting was that the brand wasn’t just looking to showcase the region’s iconic bedouin culture and authentic Emirati cuisine, but also boasted five branches in the UAE and one in the capital of Saudi Arabia.
It goes without saying, that we were more than looking forward to visiting them in the plush London suburb of South Kensington’s Gloucester Road.
A large and spacious 140-cover restaurant, Al-Fanar is spread across three sections: an outdoor terrace for 30, a side room immediately entering the establishment for 20, and the main dining room for 90.
The place itself is cleverly designed, with intricate architectural features and plenty of traditional props and paraphernalia, including photos of Dubai in 1960’s, to help capture the mood and feel of the region.
Opening early at 8am, their breakfast menu is an exciting one which, although not able to try it on this occasion, comprises of familiar items served in the Emirates such as a selection of breads like kaqaq, khameer and chehab that are served with cheese, date syrup or eggs.
These small portion of grilled Naghar Mashwi, or squid, were defined more by the light subtle marinade, than their cooking, which bordered on the chewy.
With a delicate sweet edge to them, they were enhanced via a gentle squeeze of the lemon.
And though the chicken wasn’t quite there in terms of moistness, the textured sauce poured over the top – flavoured as it was with those classic Arab spices – not only combined with the raisins, fried onions and lentils to make this a well balanced dish, with those familiar notes of sweet and spiciness, but also the dish of the review.
A staple among staples for Emiratis, you simply cannot get more traditional than the Harees. Granted it isn’t the most visually attractive bowl of food you’ll ever encounter, but then again, it’s not trying to be. Instead, this is a hearty, no nonsense dish that’s made-up of two elements: wheat and lamb.
In essence, the Harees is similar to the popular South Asian dish known as Haleem, which originates from Hyderabad, India. But, that’s where the comparison ends, because, while the latter’s meat to wheat ratio is far more, the former doesn’t have anything close to the spices quintessential to the Indian subcontinent. Taste-wise, therefore… let’s just say that it didn’t take us very long to reach for the hot sauce that’s available on all tables.
Some dishes are such an integral part of a culture and upbringing, that they require some type of social context to understand, appreciate and, on occasions, enjoy them. There’s no doubt that Harees is one of those dishes that requires a certain degree of familiarity. Perhaps it was the absence of said context that resulted in the three non-Emirati Lions participating in this review, not able to appreciate this for what it is.
Having said that though, if you’ve never tried it, then it may be worth the punt if only for the experience (just bear in mind that it’s £18 a pop).
What made this Arabic bread peculiar, however, was that it was almost porous in texture, resulting in it absorbing a good quantity of the lightly spiced sauce.
What you’re then left with at the bottom, is an almost sludgy like mixture, which one Lion described as “saturated corn flakes”.
As for the lamb, then it was verging on the fatty side, though nonetheless soft and flaky in nature.
It isn’t a bad dish, but it is rather one dimensional in taste when all things are said and masticated.
Here the sauce, and plenty of it, had a good chicken flavour, making it a pleasant soup to intermittently slurp on.
This is a dish that would ideally be enjoyed on a cold, wintery evening.
In hindsight though, perhaps it might be a better idea to go for more interesting dishes from Al-Fanar’s extensive menu, such as, the kebabs or some of the rice dishes.
When they said grilled, they definitely meant it, didn’t they? And yet, despite this whole piece of butterflied fish coming out good and charred, it did manage remain relatively soft and fairly succulent.
Covered in a pasty tomato marinade and accompanied by a small watery bowl of masala and onion sauce, the fish betrayed a slightly fishy aftertaste in places (N.B. fish does contain long bones in places, so be careful).
Paired with a plate of plentiful white rice, we felt that far more of the sauce was needed to sufficiently bring things altogether. A straightforward dish, though nothing outstanding.
In spite of these Leqaimat “golden crisp fried dough balls” being nicely saturated in date syrup, they were, nonetheless, doughy in texture and, thus, rather heavy.
As such, you’ll definitely need something in addition to help down more than the one or two.
We opted for a pot of Arabic tea which managed to do the intended trick.
N.B. – there are plenty of other desserts available. This one, however, is their best seller.
- NO/ NO
- DISABLED FACILITIES
- CHILD SEATING
- JUST EAT
There's no doubt that the food served here certainly manages to achieve that, with plenty of traditional dishes to try. As such, if you're unfamiliar with Emirati cuisine, then Al-Fanar is worth the visit if only for the experience - you will encounter dishes here that will challenge and surprise.
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