Al Arish

Hidden spot on the banks of Mina Port... Discuss this article

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As the nights draw in, just how far should you stray from the path? Hidden away on the banks of Mina Port, Al Arish is some way off the usual tourist trail. On Time Out’s visit, customers were outnumbered by staff, and by staff we mean a ragtag bunch of eccentrics that could have forged a fine career in pantomime.

It’s worth setting the scene so that you may appreciate this fully. Al Arish, from the outside, looks like a leftover section of Heritage Village. It is ramshackle but stately – an approximation of the barasti buildings you see on pictures of old Abu Dhabi. To look at it, you’d think you’re about to get down on your knees and eat on straw mats, but the building is something of a Tardis, the front door opening onto vast, air-conditioned lavishness – more Emirates Palace than Emirati past.

Taking a seat, we were served Arabian coffee by a grinning man in Bedu garb before the tuxedoed maître d’ arrived to explain the menu (you can hit the Emirati buffet and dessert table as often as you like, but fresh fish is priced extra by weight). He was a busy fellow; everywhere at once, but charming too. While we waited for our fish to fry, he showed us around the building. It’s a grotto of decadent curios – one room (the Aquarium Lounge) has glass-topped tables with exotic fish swimming beneath; the VIP room is decked out in glistening gold, the walls lined with portraits of royalty, many of whom apparently frequent this place (we were told that the late, great Sheikh Zayed used to turn up unannounced).

Our hammour steaks arrived in a model ship, and the maître d’ lit a flare in its stern. I asked him if it was someone’s birthday. ‘It might be yours,’ he said, hopefully.

‘But it isn’t,’ I replied.

‘Well sir, it will be one day.’

A smiling Bedu fellow shuffled up, a chef’s smock over his dishadasha, and offered to cook pasta in green pesto at our table. I nodded, amazed at how surreal this evening had become. It wasn’t the best pasta I’ve ever had, but the taste barely registered. I was suddenly aware that I could hear Phil Collins’ greatest hits being played on eastern instruments, and I feared that my grip on reality may have been coming dangerously loose.

Al Arish – barasti restaurant or portside twilight zone? Either way, it has to be experienced to be believed.

The bill (for two)
Buffet for two Dhs350
Hammour steaks Dhs51
Two fruit cocktails Dhs18
Large water Dhs5
Total (inc service charge) Dhs464

By Jon Wilks
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

Time Out reviews restaurants anonymously and pays for meals. Of course, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or independence of user reviews.

Details

  • Location: Al Meena, Abu Dhabi
  • Tel: 02 673 2266
  • Travel: Meena Street

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