OLEA: LEVANTINE FOOD CULTURE
This food blogging bug has exposed me to different cuisines I have to say, many of which have thrown me out of my comfort zone. So when an invitation to a restaurant serving Levantine cuisine flashed on my computer screen, I was intrigued.
So off I went to do a bit of reading up on the region and basically I found that the Levant as per Wikipedia, is described as the “crossroads of western Asia, the eastern Mediterranean and northeast Africa”, and the “northwest of the Arabian plate”. Now that is a huge landmass to cover – but it got me even more intrigued as to what these different countries making up the Leavant would have to offer.
In my limited exposure, the description of Middle Eastern food has generally always found its ways back to Lebanese cuisine. And Olea at the Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates changed that blinkered view for me, forever.
Levantine cuisine is the true traditional cuisine found in the Levant region, known in Arabic as the Bilad ash-Sham or Land of the North, which today spans Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, southern Turkey and Cyprus.
I have always believed that food is culture, and the Levantine cuisine served at Olea seamlessly smudges the border lines to create a food culture which is as similar in its foundation, and yet, as different in its interpretation. Olive oil (Olea derives its name from the Arabic word meaning olive) takes centre stage in almost all Levant dishes however today olive oil is used less for frying (Sunflower oil is usually reserved for frying) and more for other cooking methods.
OK enough of the history class. Now let’s get onto the real reason you are reading this blog. What did I think of Olea and its Levantine cuisine?
First the seating – we were a big table (it was after all a blogger event) and it was easier to seat us indoors and to be fair, the weather was still not what it is today. But if you are planning on visiting Olea anytime in the cooler months, the terrace is where you need to be at (unless you are totally averse to enjoying the few cooler months of the year).
Moving on to the food – the Olea menu has a long list of cold and hot mezzes with each item identified with the Country of its origin. So from the El Homos Beiruti of Lebanon and Nayeh (raw meat) selection of Syria to the Sultan Ibrahim of Cyprus and Soft Kunafa of Palestine, this restaurant will take you on a journey and your taste buds are going to be thanking you for the onslaught of the various spices and textures that they are not used to.
We got to try a lot, and by a lot I mean a whole lot.
So let’s start with the starters (mezzes): you can imagine my plight when it came to taking photos – do I take photos or do I enjoy the food laden table before me? Was not easy considering there were others waiting to eat, so I did what I could (also please forgive how dark some of the photos are, the lighting at the restaurant was not designed keeping manic photo-clicking bloggers in mind ;)).
- El Homos – Beiruti, Musabaha, Homos
- Smoked Mutable – eggplant puree with sesame paste and lemon
- Fatoush – seasonal fresh vegetables marinated with sumac
- Trio of labneh – hanged yogurt with garlic, walnut and chili paste
- Kubbeh Nayeh – raw meat
- Tabouleh quinoa – lemon and olive oil marinated parlsey with quinoa seeds
- Mohammara – mixed nuts with olive oil
- Harraq osbao – lentil stew with pomegranate and olive oil
- Baba ghanoush – fire roasted eggplant with fresh vegetables and pomegranate
- Manaeesh – flat bread with cheese, zaatar and lamb
- Falafel – the original falafel
- Batata harra – fried potato with chili and coriander
- Kebdet Dajaj – chicken livers in pomegranate molasses
- Nakanek – Lamb sausage in pomegranate and parsley
My absolute must trys in the starters are: El Homos, Batata harra, Manaeesh and Fatoush
For the mains we had:
- Hamour in Claypot – white fish with regional vegetables and herbs
- Chicken Maqloub – Palestinian upside down dish with chicken
- The 1.5 metre kebab we had needs a special mention just because of the pomp and ceremony it came out with, the way the Chef and servers laid it on the table – it was something I have never seen or experienced before.
My absolute must try in the mains is: Hamour in Claypot
By this time, I had had way too much and I honestly believed I could eat no more. But miracles do happen – my brain suddenly decided to let my body know that I could in fact have a couple of bites of the dessert. We were served:
- Soft kunafa – signature kunafa from Nablus with sweet cheese
- Fawakeh Mushakaleh – fresh fruit on ice
- Halawet Eljibin – cheese topped with sweet cotton candy
My absolute must try in the sweets is: Soft kunafa (only because that is the only one I tried).
Price wise, I was pleasantly surprised how reasonable they were for a five star hotel restaurant.
So if you are as intrigued about Levantine cuisine as I was, Olea is your chance to experience food from different countries in the Levant region all brought to you at your table.
DISCLOSURE: To be honest and fair I must inform you that I was invited to review Olea in exchange for a complimentary meal. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are truly my own.
Location: Olea, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road (Note: You can access the Hotel from the Mall of the Emirates, so if you park in the Mall parking, make sure its closer to the Ski slopes. The enterance to the Hotel is next to Cheesecake Factory. Also note, parking is free only for the first 4 hours)
Open for lunch from 12:30pm 3:30pm and for dinner from 7:00pm – 11:30pm Tel: +971 4 409 5111.