DUBAI: Every year, around a month before Ramadan, begins the amazing email race — restaurants near and far rush to send out their dining promotions to media and to food bloggers. Needless to say, we receive a lot of these emails — hundreds, in fact — and that’s just for iftar, never mind the list of suhoors and Ramadan tents.
While sifting through the information this year, a couple of things stood out. First of all, ‘per person’ prices are becoming much more reasonable — gone are the ridiculous $100-150 deals. And secondly, an increasing number of establishments are steering away from the traditional “all-you-can-eat” setting, instead opting for a different kind of set up.
And we’re all for it, because it’s healthier, not to mention less wasteful.
One such restaurant skipping ‘buffet style’ is Villamoré at Emerald Palace Kempinski Dubai. This cute little Mediterranean hideaway is all about serving freshly-made dishes to your table, as we experienced at a recent iftar preview.
The only downside to this wonderful season happening in the warmer months is the fact that dining outdoors becomes a big no-no, and we suspect Villamoré truly shines in the winter, when the beachfront terrace area is fully operational. But there’s plenty of seating indoors too, which we opt for.
Offered dates and dried fruit at our table, our iftar experience begins with a choice of drinks, including the Villamoré lemonade (bascially a little fancier than regular lemonade), Qamar Al-Deen (a traditional type of apricot juice made from concentrated apricots soaked in water), and banana laban. As we break fast, the starters arrive — a nice selection of mezze, the highlights being fresh focaccia served with hummus, and the most flavour-packed muhammara we’ve sampled in a while.
Thankfully, the main courses arrive in time before we get carried away with the bread and dips; a selection of dishes designed to share amongst the group. I have to admit, I was perplexed by one of the restaurant’s choices. It’s rare that you find fish on an iftar menu, but Villamoré has a seafood stew as part of its three-main offering. Part soup, part paella, it isn’t really for me — salt and iftar don’t go well together, and it’s somewhat mismatched with the rest of the dishes. The other two, however, are more suitable offerings. The whole corn-fed grilled chicken is succulent and juicy, while the highlight is the tender, meaty lamb chops. Quite frankly, the lamb would have sufficed.
Of course, no restaurant iftar would be complete without a dessert or two. Or three in this case. Although it’s a platter with three types of dessert to share, and not three whole ones for each person (we appreciate Villamoré’s efforts to not get diners too hyped up on sugar). Choosing our favourite between the ricotta cannoli, orange almond cake, and vanilla panna cotta and strawberries is tough, and so one point for each.
Villamoré is not a restaurant that you’ll just happen upon; you have to know about it in order to find it. Once there, though, you’ll be transported away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland to enjoy a nice, quiet, relaxing iftar in a dimly lit setting. As the saying goes, less is more, and we’re big fans of this minimalist style of breaking fast.