We hope you read the headline with the tilt from Disney’s Aladdin, as entering the doors of Rrala’s Habibi is like stepping into a movie set. Encompassing almost the entirety of the third floor of a Saket Mall, the restaurant resembles one of the roomier palaces, or at least a particularly sumptuous harem of a sheikh. There are lacquered wooden and glass screens, which can split the space into private party areas; a space which is split into two levels, with low couches and tables around; and a large circle where at night, there are performances by Lebanese singers and belly dancers. Large hookah pipes, ornate passages bedecked with oil paintings depicting Arab stallions, courtesans and belly dancers and large potted palms complete the “mirage in the desert” feel. Getting lost on our way to the rest room later in the evening (the space is that cavernous) doesn’t do much to snap us out of our reverie either.
The menu, created by the Syrian executive chef, traverses the entire Middle East from Egypt to the UAE. There are a variety of cold and hot appetizers, tagines, grills, kebabs and seafood, with a separate menu for the terrace, an adjoining space of equally prodigious proportions. For those parched, there’s a varied and variegated spirits, wine and cocktails list sobered up with some Arabic coffees.
Faster than you can say Yashmak, the cold mezze appear: Hummus, Moutable, Baba Ghanoush and Fattoush — a panoply of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, capsicum bound together by olive oil, red wine vinegar and fried bread bits — accompanied by toasted Pita bread. Chilled to the temperature of a mountain stream, the dips and the leafy salad are a welcome relief in the heat, and are soon supplemented by the hot mezze. These consist Falafel, Cheese Rokakat (cottage cheese wrapped in fried filo dough rolls) and Meat Sambousek (minced lamb and pine nuts encased in a flaky pastry). Heart shaped and sesame-seed studded, the falafel, attended to by the fattoush and much application of dips, are rolled into the pita bread and dispensed with, with great satisfaction, as a matter of course.
After all the mezze we stick to one dish for our mains, the Tinger Mixed Grill comprising Shish Taouk, Shish Kebab, Kofta and Lamb Chops served on a bed of saffron rice and liberally sprinkled with a garlic sauce. The grill comes in a clay tagine pot, revealed with much flourish and billows of steam. The kebabs are uniformly succulent, the feather-light Shish Taouk with the zest at its tail particularly standing out. The Tinger lamb chop is more well done than its Western counterparts, almost charred, while the sheesh kebab (our good old seekh) is elemental, very meaty with just a touch of seasoning. Needless to say it descends our gullets faster than water does a camel’s.
For dessert, we dive into the refreshing Mouhalbiya, a Lebansese concoction of milk pudding flavoured with rose water before sinking satiated back into our couch, sheikh for a day.
Meal for two: Rs 3,000
(including taxes, excluding alcohol)
Address: III Floor, MGF Metropolitan Mall, Saket.