REVIEW: Iftar and a movie at Cinemajlis in Dubai

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Iftar at Dubai's Cinema Akil. (Supplied)
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Iftar at Dubai's Cinema Akil. (Supplied)
Updated 05 June 2019
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REVIEW: Iftar and a movie at Cinemajlis in Dubai

  • Indie movie theater Cinema Akil offers iftar with a twist
  • Alserkal Avenue’s Cinema Akil and Project Chaiwala have partnered for this specially curated 30-day experience

DUBAI: As soon as I enter the grand hall of Cinemajlis, I am given a wristband to wear, before being greeted by a chaiwala who offers me a cup of steaming hot masala chai. It’s certainly not your typical iftar setting, but it’s offerings like these that have added much-needed variety to the Ramadan culinary scene in the UAE.

Alserkal Avenue’s Cinema Akil and Project Chaiwala have partnered for this specially curated 30-day experience, with Cinemajlis doing exactly what it says on the tin: it’s an iftar in a majlis-style setting, paired with a post-meal movie screening.

An independent arthouse theater, Cinema Akil was launched in 2014, and has since screened a multitude of independent and festival films via one-off pop-ups around Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and at its main venue. Project Chaiwala, meanwhile, also started as a pop-up concept, in 2017. Two years later, it opened its flagship store sharing a space with Cinema Akil.

It’s clear that the talents behind both brands have put a lot of effort into Cinemajlis. Understated, yet fastidious in design, the hall has been transformed from regular cinema to — you guessed it — a majlis with floor cushions around the tables. The venue’s regular interiors, featuring traditional Indian stencil design on the walls, mix well with the additions and tweaks made for the Holy Month.

Mainstays like the classic prints and posters dotted around — including one for the original “Star Wars” film, and a black-and-white photograph of a young Sherihan (one of the Arab world’s best-known performers) — complement the classic 'Khayamiya' used for the majlis. This beautifully designed textile, a type of decorative appliqué material historically used to decorate tents across the Middle East, evokes memories of North Africa and the Levant in the Nineties, a simpler time when ‘fawazeer’ was in vogue.

The menu, created by Project Chaiwala, is bona fide, family-style, South Asian cuisine, featuring dishes that are the epitome of comfort food. There are samosas, soup, naan bread, Chicken Karahi, vegetable pulao and more. A personal highlight was the rich, creamy and buttery Dal Makhani. Simply put, it was glorious, with just the right amount of spice.

Displaying energetic elan, the team from the kitchen were always on hand to check in on diners, before distributing dessert, which was saffron cake with ice-cream.

As iftar wrapped up, guests were encouraged to take to the actual cinema seats to watch the movie. The night’s screening was “Naila and the Uprising,” a documentary that chronicles the real-life journey of Naila Ayesh, a key figure in the First Intifada. Cinema Akil has chosen four films to screen during Cinemajlis, with a new one starting every Friday for a week. Also on the schedule are 2017 Iraqi drama “The Journey,” and “Ext. Night,” the acclaimed Egyptian drama which screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

While my trip to Cinemajlis was thanks to an invite, the experience left such an impression that I intend to return before the Holy Month ends. At AED200 ($54.45) per head for a light and delightful meal, and a film screening, it is such good value for money. And the fact that it’s the creation of two homegrown concepts makes it all the more special. To reserve your table, you need to book and pay online in advance, but you won’t regret it. The only thing you’ll regret is not having tried it sooner.


Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

Updated 17 September 2019

Startup of the Week: Protein Laboratory: Making healthy eating fun and easy

  • And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits

JEDDAH: An enterprising Saudi family is aiming to take the world by storm with its scientific approach to healthy eating.

The Bogari’s newly opened Protein Laboratory restaurant in Jeddah is the brainchild of brothers Ahmed, Hussain and Hassan.

The three doctors got the inspiration for their startup from hospital laboratories while studying in medical school, and with the help of their parents set about establishing their innovative culinary venture.

In recent years the health and fitness fad has become a flourishing business sector in the Kingdom, which has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of gyms and fitness centers.

And with growing health awareness, many Saudis are switching over to more nutritious dietary habits. However, eating clean can be a challenge for those with busy, modern lifestyles who do not have the time to prepare meals.

Enter the Protein Laboratory, opened to add fun to the idea of healthy food. “We wanted to reintroduce the concept of healthy food to the Saudi health and fitness community,” Ahmed, 27, told Arab News.

“We believe that healthy food does not have to be boring and achieving your goal of fat loss can actually satisfy your taste buds and leave you happily full at the same time.

“We are planning to expand in Jeddah and Makkah to help more people achieve their fitness targets while enjoying tasty food, and we are aiming to be recognized globally,” he said.

The trio started planning their enterprise while studying at medical college but credit their parents’ support for helping turn their vision into a successful business launch.

Their father guided them in setting up the company and their mother took responsibility for the restaurant’s kitchen, playing a major role in developing recipes and supervising operations.

The brothers’ association with the field of medicine also helped them in their efforts. Ahmed was first inspired by hospital laboratories and the way researchers worked on minor details to get the best possible results.

“The long counters, glass walls, and test tubes are what I liked the most, in addition to the complete transparency of the place. It is exactly how I wanted our restaurant to be. Everything to be prepared and cooked just in front of the customer with a high level of attention to detail,” he added.

The idea behind the name Protein Laboratory was to ensure customers had the option to select, mix and create ingredients according to their taste or preference.

“Customers can order their meals according to their nutritional needs and preferences, starting with selecting the protein base, cooking method, side dishes, the sauce and portion of the meal’s components in grams.”

Ahmed said: “We use the healthiest cooking methods possible. We don’t use frozen meat; we blend our own spices and make sure everything is always made in the healthiest way.”

The brothers and their mother work like scientists. “We spent one year testing ingredients and creating healthy recipes. We had only one goal in mind: High protein in a healthy meal and a portion that could help us and others to stay healthy while still eating the food we desired with higher quality and better taste,” Ahmed added.

Their lab salad dish includes more than 20 organic ingredients high in protein, fiber and antioxidants. The restaurant’s burger has only 396 calories, and one of their best-selling desserts is a sugar-free banana pancake.

“We aim to make our prices within everyone’s reach,” Ahmed said.

One of the services offered by the restaurant is subscription to a meal plan drawn up according to the nutritional needs of the customer and delivered to their workplace or home.

Protein Laboratory is located in Helmi Kutbi Street, in Jeddah’s Al-Zahra district and can be followed on Instagram @proteinlabsa.