How many times do those of us living in Sharjah get the urge to have a nice night out but don’t fancy getting into the traffic rush heading into Dubai? Or those who live in Dubai looking for an escape to something a little different.
Well, I think I have found a hidden treasure right in the heart of Sharjah on the banks of the Buheira Corniche. Sitting at the Millennium Hotel Sharjah’s Iranian outlet Shiraz you are first treated to a panoramic view of the city. One can get lost in the magic of the view, which I am told is just as beautiful during the daytime.
The sweet smells inside entice our taste buds as this tranquil setting takes you into the realm of true Iranian cuisine.
The restaurant boasts of a bit of history in its name. Shiraz is a provincial capital of Fars, located in the Zagros Mountains and is well-know for its roses, poets, parks and magnificent tress as well as fine foods. This charm of the little town can be found alive at Shiraz, the restaurant.
The dining area is so well spaced out that at no stage is there a feeling that you are cramped up. The furniture is comfortable and apt for a relaxing evening. The restaurant is broadly divided into three sections. Of these, two are raised up on timber floored areas, while the tables on ground level are placed all along the windows overlooking the corniche.
The colours inside the restaurant are a fabulous blend of oranges, browns and greens, which is becoming more visible in a number of outlets in the country.
An attractive colour combination of beautifully arranged tile pieces comes together to form the ground level flooring and entrance. This along with the dark timbers and warm colour combinations create a majestic setting.
The restaurant’s ambience is accentuated by the floor to ceiling windows on two sides and a striking wall painting depicting an outdoor courtyard setting on the other wall.
No matter where you sit in the restaurant, you almost always have a full view of the open kitchen; it is here you can watch all the action as your food is being prepared.
Once we were greeted with a warm and welcoming smile, we were shown our seats and served a traditional drink called Douk. We learnt that this drink helps soothe the body and encourage digestion. Douk is a blend of fresh milk, salt, fresh mint, soda and lemon. Although the combination sounds a little unusual and is by no means sweet it did have a very soothing feel as well as a cooling effect.
After sipping our drinks and taking in the beauty around us, we were eager to start the gastronomic exploration. The menu was rather extensive and we were happy to take some helpful hints from the staff that knew it so well.
The starters served to our table were a mixture of both hot and cold mezzas. The colours were bright and eye catching and the taste was amazing.
Not being a huge fan of Spinach, I was a little reluctant to order the Borani Esfanaaj, which was fresh spinach, sautéed with a hint of garlic and blended with kashk. Keen to try something that looked delicious, I was pleasantly surprised with the dish and even opted for more helpings of this creamy and very tasty dish. The spinach was not overbearing, and blending with the garlic it sounds like the best way for anyone forced to eat spinach.
Keen to explore the true flavours of Iran, it was suggested that the Soup-E-Adas, which is a creamy Iranian Lentil soup, would be just the thing to try.
A mildly tasty and creamy with just a hint of spice, this deep orange coloured delicacy reminded me of a pumpkin soup minus the sweet flavour. This soup is the perfect dish to warm up with on a cool winter night.
Moving onto the main course, there was a good selection of dishes where were listed into sections like Fish and Seafood, Grilled Kebabs and Shiraz Specialities and side dishes.
The Shiraz Platters which is enough for 3-4persons, combine a vast selection of the main course menu. Eager to try a little of everything but feeling the platter would be a little too much, we decided to order something from different sections.
Our first port of call was the Fish and Seafood. From here, we chose Chelo Kabab-E-Mahi, a dish comprising marinated and chargrilled skewered chunks of Hammour. The fish was very tender and being grilled, the true flavours of the fish had been locked in.
Restaurant manager Oukba Nafai was happy to tell us that the secret to Iranian food is that almost everything is cooked on coal which ensures the flavours are trapped inside.
With the meat Kebabs also cooked on the open fire they were not only luscious but extremely tender as well.
Zereshk Polo-Ba Morgh was a delightfully presented piece of baked chicken accompanied with saffron and Persian Berberry infused Basmati rice. This dish was not only tasty to eat, but very eye-catching too. It was a bright red sauce drizzled over the top of a crispy piece of chicken. The chicken although served on the bone came of it with little effort.
Each main course dish is served with its own special rice which comes in three colours, each boasting of a different flavour.
Red rice or Zereshk Tolow is Basmati rice scented with saffron and Iranian berries. This was a rather sweet rice which when eaten with the marinated meats both dry and with a gravy give a wonderful flavour addition.
Green rice or Baghali Tolow was a more savoury rice consisting of Basmati rice and lima beans, scented with dill.
The white rice although sounding less exciting compared to the others, was a dish to surprise us. Shirin Tolow is Basmati rice infused with orange peals, pistachios, almonds and saffron. This rice was again a little more on the sweeter side but was wonderful to eat even on its own.
After a filling meal, we were a bit unsure about being able to taste the desserts. But with a little persuasion, we decided to opt for a light cooling serve of Makhloud which is Iranian ice cream served on top of thin rice noodles and topped with strawberry sauce. I must say the noodles in ice cream was something different for me, but a went down well with the ice cream.
Shiraz remains open for lunch from 12 noon to 3.30pm and for dinner from 7pm to 11.30pm.
When we entered Shiraz, we were not sure what to expect. When we left, we knew we would have to come again. Not just because there was a lot more on the menu that needed to be tried. The ambience plays such a great role in making the meal so complete. by Kerry Leigh