Remember the time when I couldn’t recommend a good Emirati restaurant to a friend from abroad because I simply had never been to one. It was embarrassing, yes. Thus started my quest for an authentic Emirati restaurant which could be added to my list of 10 things to do in Dubai. That is when I discovered Milas at the Dubai Mall.
Milas is now shifting to a new location within Dubai Mall. It will now offer it’s guests unparalleled views of the Burj Khalifa from its large al-Fresco dining area and will feature a brand new Emirati- fusion menu. To coincide with this change, they are also rebranding the restaurant. They are giving away a VIP number 05X-6500000 to anyone who guesses the name of the restaurant. All you have to do is go to www.milas.cc/vip and fill out your details along with the new name. (They have dropped a hint to make to get your creative juices flowing and that is: I am what I see in the mirror.)
I was lucky enough to be invited to preview the new menu before the official launch and absolutely loved the new fusion concept. The service of course was top notch as expected and I was seated in a heartbeat and handed an Ipad mini to browse the new digital menu. One of the advantages of this was that all the dishes looked better on an HD screen than they would probably have looked on a printed menu. The flip side was that I had a harder time making a choice.
I liked everything that I tried but would like to share some of my favorites with you. If you want to know what camel meat tastes like, you should order the camel sliders. The texture of the meat was like beef but a lot leaner, hence a little dry. It’s a good thing the sliders were smothered with date sauce and mustard so the dryness got balanced out. The jalapeños complimented the sauces and there was a medley of sweet, tangy and hot flavours in every bite.
The winning dishes of the night were the Jumping Tempura and the Musical Shawarma. I liked the names so much that I had decided I would love them even before they had arrived. Thank God they lived up to the expectation or it would have been such a disappointment The jumping tempura was exactly as it said on the tin; A dish of fried shrimp and calamari coated with flavoured tempura and covered in a mayonnaise chili sauce that would shock and awe your tastebuds. No, it wasn’t unbearably hot. It is just that one would not expect a prawn tempura to have chili added to it. Also, the heat was camouflaged by the creamy mayonnaise. It takes a couple of seconds for it to register and when it does, you jump out of your seat a little. Hence the name.
The Musical shawarma is probably named as such because of all the various notes present in the dish. A soft Emirati bread was stuffed with marinated and sautéed beef, onions, parsley, sesame sauce and (get ready for this), fried kunafa. Now when was the last time you had kunafa in your shawarma? Probably never because we all know it as a dessert right? It turns out that kunafa is actually not sweet at all. A sugar syrup is added in order for it to be consumed as a dessert. Without the syrup, fried kunafa is actually the best thing that has happened to shawarmas since someone invented the large rotating column of meat.
The competition closes at the end of the month and the restaurant opens soon after. You still have some days left to try and win the VIP number but if that is not your thing, don’t worry about it. Soon you will be able to enjoy Emirati food with a twist and enjoy the Burj laser show at the same time. Do share what your favorites are once you visit and I would love to go back and try anything I have missed out and share my experience of that too.
Imagine my awkwardness when a friend visiting from abroad wanted me to suggest an Emirati restaurant which served authentic Emirati food and I couldn’t even come up with one name. It was actually quiet embarrassing, especially with me being a food blogger and all. “Where should I send him”, I thought. A shawarma restaurant maybe. No that was Syrian, right? How about a hummus restaurant? That was way too Lebanese.
Hence began my quest for an Emirati restaurant which I could recommend to others and after a couple of misses I eventually ended up at Milas.
Dubai Mall is probably the last place I would go to for a meal. There is nothing wrong with it! It is the first place I take my guests from overseas to show them what ‘My Dubai’ is all about and it has almost every type of restaurant serving almost every type of cuisine. It’s just that I’m a bit averse to braving traffic jams and hordes of tourists just to get a meal.
Luckily, Milas restaurant in Dubai mall is not anywhere near the mad crowds. It is in the Village precinct, a sunlit, indoors area which is an attraction by itself because of its open-air streetscape. The tree-lined walkways and fountains are reminiscent of a European street with cafes and restaurants all providing street side seating.
We were a huge party so we ordered a little bit of everything but there are 3 items on the menu which we could just not have enough of. One was the Chicken Lalmaas and the other two were the Hunter’s Lamb Leg and Lamb Biryani.
The chicken Lalmaas was nothing like anything I had ever had before in my life. Imagine chunks of chicken in a tomato gravy resting on a bed of puffed wheat, pomegranate, cashews and tiny bits of avocado. Now imagine the most amazing smoky flavor binding everything together. Nothing too intense. Just enough to compliment the freshness of the pomegranate seeds and leave you wondering “what the hell just happened in my mouth?!”
The Hunter’s lamb leg had been slow cooked for hours before it got to our table. The meat was so tender that it fell of the bone as soon as you touched it but it held on, maintaining decorum until the last moment. It was almost as if it was doing its part in keeping the presentation intact but was forced to disintegrate upon the slightest touch. The juicy meat was layered with a chunky tomato gravy which was amazing because all we had to do was take some pita, smother a little melted lamb on it and voila! We held in our hands what was probably one of the tastiest lamb
wraps, on this side of the desert.
The lamb biryani was a complete shocker for everybody and we almost didn’t order it. I honestly didn’t expect it to be anything at all but since I do happen to be the original Biryani Ninja, it is sometimes out of my control. Whenever I see the words ‘Biryani’ written on a menu, my ninja senses take control and I inadvertently end up ordering it.
Most of the times it is a complete disaster but luckily for everyone at our table, this time was different. This was not the ‘Dum’ Biryani you get at Indian and Pakistani restaurants or the Stir Fry type thing you get at Brit Asian restaurants. This was a creamy lamb gravy layered on top of aromatic rice. It was made of choice lamb meat that had been cooked to perfection in Arabic spices. Its tantalizing flavor had infused deep into the rice. It was so unique and so good that the Milas lamb biryani has now officially made it to my Top 11 Biryanis in Dubai list.
There is one last thing I absolutely have to mention here. Whatever you do and wherever you eat at the Dubai Mall when you visit next time, please do take some time out to head down to Milas and try the Fiery Date Margarita. This is the most unbelievable drink I have had since I discovered the salted caramel shake somewhere. It basically uses the same principle of shocking your taste buds by combining salt and sugar. Except this takes it up a notch by combining sweet Arabic dates with hot Mexican chili. It does not just shock and awe your taste buds but this ice blended drink creates a sensory overload that you recover from only once the brain freeze kicks in. This experience must be at par with the feeling you get when you are speed skiing down a slope at 200 km/h with Solumun’s ‘I want to party’ remix blasting on your Beats headphones. I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.
I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm!
I may well have eaten a couple of thousand shawarmas in my lifetime so 20 or 30 more in the name of research were to do me no harm! I wish this article had space for more than 11 because I was absolutely spoilt for choice between the Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Turkish and even Greek versions of the popular street food. I have listed my favourite 11 but by no means do you have to agree with me! In fact, I would love your comments and suggestions on places that I may have missed out. So without further ado, I present to you, 11 of the top shawarma joints in Dubai.
11) Barasti, Dubai Marina. Power House Wrap – AED 60.
Go ahead, judge me. Mishal did too. “You have lost it” is what she said to me when I told her that Barasti makes one of the best shawarmas in Dubai. “Never mind if it is good or not”, she said. “It’s not even a shawarma!” “Well technically it is a wrap and it has chicken in it” I told her. “That is exactly what a shawarma is” “So it doesn’t have heaps of garlic sauce or a pickle or grilled chicken from a rotating spit but it does have Japanese mayo and cheddar cheese and breaded chicken from a fryer! And who needs French fries in their wrap, not only do they take up space where there could have been more meat, they are not even remotely Arabic.” I think I won that argument; plus shawarma or not, who can argue with the convenience of a greasy wrap after a big night out, without making any additional stops on the way home.
10) Shawermania, JLT. Burger Shawarma – AED 20.
Hardcore shawarma fans and purists might put a bounty on my head for this but that is a risk I am willing to take. I believe in constant innovation. The only thing constant in life is change. If we can’t try new things, we just cannot improve or innovate. The guys at Shawermanaia have ditched the pita and saj for the burger bun. It is a strange combination that works. Your first impression is as if you just bit into a nice old Philly steak sandwich. As you explore further, there is an explosion of Arabic spices and garlic. You suddenly find yourself teleported to the land of falcons, sand dunes, camels and belly dancers.
9) IKEA. Chicken Shawarma
Klippan loveseat: check. Stockholm rug: check. Chicken Shawarma: check. This is probably the only Swedish shawarma on the list and like everything else Swedish, it gets the job done. They don’t cut back on the chicken or pretend that the French fries are made of meat like one pathetic (and famous) shawarma chain I don’t want to name. It has garlic paste, pickles, a few fries and chicken (lots of it). I never knew simplicity could taste so good.
Doesn’t matter how good your Tahina is or how much garlic you smother on the bread, if your meat is not of a high quality, it will show. The folks at Automatic know this. I would be upset if they didn’t because they have been in Dubai longer than I have! Expect perfectly charred strips of succulent lamb, creamy tahini sauce, coriander, some fries and slightly toasted pita! Mmmm mm mm. 😉
7) Filful, Box Park. Chicken Shawarma – AED 12.
Go for the place, stay for the taste. This is a hipster café/Beiruti street food joint and upscale Boxpark eatery with creative interiors all rolled into one. If you haven’t been or don’t like shawarmas, please do visit for an authentic Lebanese street food experience. It is the next best thing after hopping on a plane to Beirut.
6) Aroos Damascus, Muraqabat Street Deira, Shawarma meat or chicken – 6 AED.
More than half of you would not have heard of this place and unless you are brave enough to cross the bridge and land on Muraqqabat street near the Dubai clock tower most of you will never be able eat here either. I pity you all. You have not really had an authentic Dubai experience if you have not eaten at this Syrian restaurant in old Dubai. You will understand what I mean once you see the number of cars outside, or the 80 waiters doing laps between the cars, the kitchen and the 400 tables inside.
Tip: Take the metro to Salah al Din Station and just walk for 3 minutes if the weather permits.
5) YaSalam, JLT. Superfood Shawarma – 25 AED
The harmless looking pita bread that blankets the meat and pickles you hold in your hand carries 266 calories per 100 grams. Go ahead, google it. To put into perspective, you burn a 100 calories by brisk walking for 20 minutes. For times like this when some smart ass makes you feel fat and miserable and all you want to do is eat healthy even if it is just for a day or 2; read on. Lean chicken breast, quinoa, slices of beetroot and avocado, sundried tomato and balsamic dressing all wrapped in a brown multi grain bread. I burned some calories just by thinking about it.
Craving a late night shawarma? Do not fear if Zaroob is near or if you don’t mind travelling down to the World Trade Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. Yes this place is open 24 hours and they really do make a killer shawarma. Authentic Lebanese flavors await, regardless of the time. Another high end joint from the new wave of ‘cool’ Arabic restaurants. Attracts families, office types and a younger crowd, the latter mostly after the midnight hour as they stuff their mouths with pocket sized meat delights before heading home to crash.
3) Operation Falafel, JBR. Chicken Shawarma in Saj bread – AED 20.
These guys take their falafels seriously and they also make one of the best chicken shawarmas in Dubai. The Saj bread somehow enhances the flavor of the garlic paste but there is less of it so it shines through without ever overpowering the rest of the ingredients. This results in a well rounded and balanced shawarma. This is posh street food, if there could be such a thing. Expect to see a cooler crowd than many of the other joints because of the location.
When you do go here next, please do order the traditional pizza. I know this article is about shawarmas but Zaatar w Zeit have adopted the Pizza as their own and it has now become more Lebanese than Italian. I know it has a super thin crust and heaps of mozzarella but I haven’t quite been able to figure out what makes this pizza as good as it is. Oh yes, and now the Shawarma. So if this Lebanese joint can make Sicilian street food it’s own, imagine what it would have done with Beiruti street food? PS It is also open 24 hours.
1) Al Mallah, Satwa. Lamb Shawarma -AED 7.
Nostalgia wins again! This used to be our go to place for shawarmas in college and not much has changed since then. Yes a lot of fancy joints have opened up since then and I also have a little more money to ‘live it up’ but the Al Mallah lamb shawarma still has no equal. Succulent lamb meat, a liberal dash of creamy tahini and fresh coriander with mint; a formula that has worked wonders for 20 or so years and continues to do so.