When was the last time you had a good Middle Eastern meal that was not a 4am kebab?! We’re talking delicious hummus, mouth-watering mezze and crave-worthy koftas…
Well, we’ve found just the place for you – Zahrabel Dining Club in Wan Chai. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Zahrabel is the descendant of Zahra, the go-to restaurant for Lebanese food in 90s Hong Kong. Run by the daughters of the since-retired husband-and-wife team that originally ran Zahra, you can be certain that the menu here is stuffed full of traditional family recipes and authentic Middle Eastern delights.
Zahrabel works on a set menu basis; you can choose either the 10-dish version for a very reasonable $520 per person, or a lighter six-dish set for $380 per head, which is served from Tuesdays to Thursdays only. The menu changes every fortnight (see their current menu here) to make sure you get only the freshest ingredients, but always includes a selection of Zahrabel’s signature hot and cold mezzes, meat mains, veggies, and unlimited freshly baked pita and rice. In one dining trend that we hope catches on more in 2014, Zahrabel also takes only one table sitting per night – there’s no pressure to rush, so keep that pita coming… and yes, you really can stay as long as you want!
Our meal got off to a great start with several plates of homemade dips. The hummus, baba ganoush and tabouleh were all really good, but the star that put all the others to shame was the “jos mahrouse”. A house specialty made from Mediterranean spicy nuts, this was something we’d never had before – but would definitely be one of the reasons we plan on returning to Zahrabel sharpish. Team Sassy was practically fighting over who got to lick this plate clean, but it was worth every pita bit!
While we could wax poetic about the delish dips at Zarahbel for hours (more jos mahrouse please!), we do have to mention the hot mezzes too. Dishes here are all served sharing-style – just let your server know when you are ready for the next course and voila, it will appear! The veggie hot mezze options included fattayer (delicious spinach filos) and “lubia b’il zeit”, an unusual method of cooking beans (with black pepper and olive oil) that’s definitely a more delicious way of getting one of your five-a-day!
One of the star hot mezze dishes was the kafta, succulent skewers of minced lamb. Normally when we see the words “skewer” and “lamb”, we can guess how it’ll taste – good, but nothing to rave home about. This on the other hand… the meat was tender, juicy and so packed with flavour that there may have been another fight over who got resident vegetarian Sim’s last piece. Sorry ladies, but all’s fair in love and food!
Meanwhile, Viv had declared herself not a fan of waraq’anib (vine leaves stuffed with rice); in her words, “something about eating vines leaves just turns me off, as much as my friends tell me to pretend that it’s a healthy burrito (uh… what?!)”. But Zahrabel’s version is probably the only waraq’anib she wouldn’t mind having again in future (rather than casually flicking off her plate and pretending never existed!). The tender meat accompanying this was absolutely delicious; when our server cleared our plates, we actually spotted Viv looking longingly as it was carried away!
On the other hand, the “elmina” (chicken marinated in a creamy minty sauce) was distinctly more average – but by this time, we were so stuffed that we were contemplating how best to roll our way home (stretchy pants are the way to go here, ladies). Perhaps we would’ve been motivated to think more highly of the dish if we hadn’t gone for that fifth round of pita…
After deciding it would have been best if dinner at Zahrabel also came with stretchers to take us back home, we ended our meal with the best baklava we’ve ever had this side of the ocean! There was also a Lebanese take on mini crepes, which proved a little too sweet for most of our group, before we finished off our meal with traditional Lebanese mint tea (also very sweet) or coffee. Zahrabel also offers a range of Syrian rose wine and Middle Eastern inspired cocktails, which went down a treat.
We loved the friendly, family service and relaxed, intimate and unhurried vibe at Zahrabel – rather than an impulse dinner for two (remember bookings are essential), this would be a perfect secret spot for special occasions or big parties, and the Zahrabel team are excellent hosts. If you’re in need of a Middle Eastern feast – and we really do mean FEAST! – then book a table at Zahrabel now!
Booking is essential; register on Zahrabel’s website here or call 5503 9181 to make a reservation
Zahrabel Dining Club 25/F, 235-239 Hennessy Road Wan Chai
2838 4597 www.zahrabel.com