Is Alaya a guaranteed recipe for success?
Simply by opening in DIFC, restaurants take with them a certain level of expectation. These include a good atmosphere, quality food and impeccable service. These expectations are further heightened when acclaimed chef Izu Ani is also at the helm. With the likes of Greek hotspot Gaia, French brasserie Carine and, more recently, French-Mediterranean spot La Maison Ani under his belt, there’s no denying Chef Izu can deliver a great restaurant. But Alaya steps into a slightly different realm, this time offering Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, otherwise known as Levantine.
The menu is easy to get excited about, especially when you love cheese as much as I do. Our first dish, the mangal salad (Dhs45) is served with freshly baked Arabic bread; allowing guests to scoop over piles of finely chopped eggplant, zucchini, peppers and a creamy melted cheese. Despite the combination of ingredients, the flavor blends perfectly to create a truly balanced dish.
Alaya is smaller than we expected, having been a gallery in its former life. Great attention has been paid to the layout, with beautiful dark marble flooring, a chic cocktail bar and an open kitchen. Tables are huddled together with intimate table lamps, though the glow from the gallery opposite floods the space with woefully bright artificial light. Props must be paid for, however, for glassware and plates, each of which can be considered a work of art.
Extra starters are split between cold and hot mezes, and in the cold section we go for the Lakedra yellowtail (Dhs160). It’s a simple dish, consisting of four pieces of thickly sliced raw flounder, served with an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette, it’s not complex but it’s delicious. We also couldn’t resist trying the raw kibbeh (170 Dhs) to see how it compared to what we experienced in Lebanon. Using Angus tenderloin, the kitchen serves the raw meat in a thick stone bowl, accompanied by a serving of crispy, crunchy lettuce. “You have to eat both together,” our server tells us, and we happily oblige, squeezing fresh lemon on top. The meat could have been seasoned a bit more, but it still ticked the boxes.
Among the hot mezes, we choose the cheese borek (125 Dhs) revisited in Dubai thanks to the sprinklings of fresh truffles. A warm and crispy filo pastry is stuffed with a creamy truffle and cheese sauce; it’s super tasty but generous in size, ideally shared between at least four people.
We forgo the entrees section in favor of the “bazaar,” choosing a wagyu picaña from the rotisserie, which is sold by the grammage. The meat was beautifully tender, coated in a spicy marinade for added flavor. The only downside was a minimum cooking temperature of medium, as we thought the dish would have been even better served medium-rare.
Desserts include Middle Eastern favorites date cake and kunafa, as well as other European treats including apricot tart and pistachio ice cream.
WHAT’S ON THE VERDICT: Alaya has every potential to stand out in DIFC, elevating Levantine cuisine in a stylish, upscale way.
Alaya, Gate Village 4, DIFC, daily from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tel: (0)4 570 6289. alaya-dubai.com
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