Restaurant Review: Qbara
As most of you know Qbara is basically the word Arabic backward, as is their approach to food; backward, inside out, upside down and anything but ordinary. I had been hearing buzz about Qbara since I moved to Dubai, so my expectations were quite high when I recently had dinner there. Although I have mixed feelings about the whole experience, Qbara’s menu is bold and has redefined Arabic food in a dramatic way. And I assure you this is the only place in town where you can get gin infused with zaatar, kibbeh stuffed with lobster and pannacotta flavored with sumac.
The menu is only a little less dramatic than the venue itself, which deserves a round of applause. Designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the man behind international Japanese hotspots Zuma and Roka. The space boasts the grandeur that would only be expected of Dubai’s fine dining scene and more importantly, reflects the theatrics of the menu. A giant 600-bulb chandelier illuminates the space accenting plush red and gold hues. A carved wooden wall is draped behind the bar with a small stage for simple performances and 3D video installations. It’s the type of space that will probably makes its debut in an upcoming James Bond flick.
Dressed to the nines and famished, we made our way across town to Wafi. Our waitress spent some time with us deciphering the dishes including a few gluten free options. In true Arab fashion, we opted for a mezza of small and large plates to share. Lemon Preserve Margarita in hand, I sat back to mingle when four speakers surrounding us switched on and a cocktail was spilled on me (more on that later).
I slumped down and surrendered to the sound when the ‘Dawood Basha’ Meatballs with Foie Gras & Baharat arrived saving the day. The meatballs were generously spiced and garnished with buttery foie gras balancing the rich flavors. Then came the Octopus & Zhug, two skewers with thick cuts of octopus on them were grilled to perfection and coated in a pesto of cilantro, garlic and peppers. We were off to a good start.
The Lobster Kibbeh with Fresh Herbs and Avocado Labneh is likely Qbara’s signature dish and was the highlight of the night. The kibbeh arrived looking like a traditional oval shaped croquette with a fried brown outer shell but low and behold the surprise awaiting you upon your first bite. The filling was overflowing with juicy lobster dressed in a variety of herbs and avocado labneh providing a cool and creamy contrast. It was a really beautiful adaptation of the original dish, regular kibbeh will never be the same again.
As the night went on it became more and more difficult to get our waitresses attention, luckily when she reappeared she came bearing the Moroccan Spiced Grilled Quail in Vine Leaves with Pistachio Labneh. Another top contender, at first appearance the stuffed vine leaves look like the popular Arabic dish, normally stuffed with rice and minced meat. I was happy to find the vine leaves stuffed with grilled quail and had a nutty undertone when paired with the pistachio labneh. Unfortunately the quail had a few bones in it so I found myself awkwardly unraveling the vine leaves and deconstructing the entire plate just to gather a bone free bite.
I found a few of the dishes overrated, the Saffron Chicken and Leek Skewer were reminiscent of a mediocre shish tawouk. The Spicy Lamb Cutlets with Rosemary, Oregano & Minted Labneh was quite ordinary as well. The dish was classified as a large plate however the portion size was comparable to that of a small plate and the flavors were nothing to write home about.
I digress, my beef with Qbara is the value for money, for a bill well over 1,000 AED I expect a serious food high and excellent service. When the spilt cocktail wasn’t removed from our bill an apologetic manager explained that the incident wasn’t the restaurants fault and they couldn’t do anything about it. It is such a policy that defies the standards of such a highly rated establishment.
There is no question that the menu at Qbara is clever and creative catering to the taste buds of refined palates and foodies alike. Chef Colin Clague has managed to update and revive classic Arabic meals and infuse Middle Eastern flavors into ordinary dishes (and drinks). Qbara is where old world meals meets new world sophistication for those looking to see and be seen, just be sure not to spill your drink!