FOOD REVIEW IBN AL SHAAM, LAHORE REVIEW BY SHAKEEL HAMEED
Ibn Al Shaam, a new Syrian restaurant showing its presence in Lahore. The place has six chefs brought in from Syria so to have authenticity in the cuisine. The place is centrally located in Gulberg. It is beautifully designed with a grand entrance door and a slick sign offering the anticipation of culinary experience to be enjoyed.
The décor of the place has a lot of thought put into it. The hanging lamps with white and dark pink flowers with leaves and jute woven ceiling creates a stylishly comfortable dining experience. The addition of great Arabic music adds a nice flare as one experiences that magical Middle Eastern ambiance one expects to find at a dining spot.
STAFF AND TABLE
The male staff wore those tall red hats with a tassel called Fez and women wore a nice well-dressed brown suit with scarves. The staff was eager to please and very accommodating. The table had napkin cloths and clean cutlery. It was really nice of chef Abed Kassar to come to the table and talk to us about his recipes and was proud to go into the details of his creations which I always appreciate. It shows the confidence in the food they offer and their passion to create fine cuisine.
STAR RATING: 8 out of 10
COST: 8000 – 12,000
Upon seating, a complimentary yogurt drink is served at the table. It is diluted yogurt with lemon and cumin. Thought the drink was okay in taste but it is too heavy of a drink to be offered at the beginning of a meal as it might fill you up as you proceed to eat.
Mix Platter Mezze
This platter had six type of appetizers, three kind of hummus, baba ganouch, mutabbal (also a type of baba ganouch) and muhammra. This is a must have dish.
Classic Hummus – It was creamy and not too dense with great chick pea consistency with lemon, garlic and Syrian olive oil offering a classic flavour we all crave.
Avocado Hummus – This concoction was a pleasant surprise, the classic hummus mixed with avocado had wanting us to eat more but there were four others options which we were really excited to try. It had the classic hummus taste with small hints of creamy avocado and under notes of good olive oil, a superb combination which they got right. Well done.
Beet Hummus - This option was a mixed concoction of hummus with beets. In this combination, the beets were over powering the hummus and made the hummus sweeter in taste. If they can control the beet sweetness and tone it down like the avocado hummus, it will be up to the par.
Baba Ganouch – A classic baba ganouch made with grilled eggplant, tomatoes, grilled chillies. It had all the flavours it needed and the addition of pomegranate molasses enhanced the taste and made a classic chunky baba ganouch out of it. It had lemon notes with grilled eggplant taking over the palate with tomato blend and hints of good olive oil, a nice blend to be enjoyed.
Mutabbal - Also a type of baba ganouch but blended more to make creamy consistency with grilled eggplant, yogurt, tahini and garlic. It had the garlic creamy eggplant goodness with hints of lemon and olive oil and notes of pomegranate molasses. Though it had all the ingredients as classic baba ganouch but yogurt blend with tahini made it slightly different in taste. It was more creamier then sweet and sat on the palate differently. Nonetheless a very nice mezze.
Muhammara – The WOW dish of mezze platter. Syrian Chilli paste, walnuts, tahini and pomegranate molasses with olive oil. This option must be eaten in the last otherwise the spice and flavours will take over the palate and the rest might feel bland in comparison. It was spicy, had bits of walnuts, sweetness of molasses and blend of added spices which brought us to drop everything and focus on the exuberant flavours that took over our palate. Fantastic dish, well done.
A classic Arabic salad offered across the Middle East is basic vegetables with good olive oil, dry mint and lemon juice. It is something to go with dishes or to clean your palate. Always a good starter to get the juices flowing in the anticipation of eating middle eastern food.
A classic fried potato dish blended with fresh coriander, garlic, lemon juice served hot and crispy. The potatoes were crispy from outside and soft and moist from inside. The garlic was slightly over cooked and it was a bit oily but the oil used was Syrian olive oil, so it didn’t off set the dish. A warm cumin infested garlicy goodness in the form of fried potatoes, it’s what everyone wants to eat. A dish everyone can share.
A classic Middle Eastern dish which is never to be missed. Its deep fried crispy ground mutton wrapped in bulgur with spices and pine nuts. You can’t go wrong with it. In this concoction, the chef used pistachios instead of pine nuts which was equivalently good as it offers that sweet nutty under note of pistachio mixed with warm meat and a perfect blend of bulgur and spices. The yogurt it came with was a bit bland and very diluted. They need to fix the yogurt but the rest of the dish is superb.
Chicken Wings Profinsal
I have had my fair share of chicken wings but this concoction offered a completely different Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean blend of spices. The blend of fresh coriander, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and Syrian masala gave slightly spicy flavour which was slithered with good olive oil. The wings were smaller in size which made it even better, because the spice mix seeped well into the meat and all you tasted was this crispy, juicy Syrian spice with flavors seeped into the whole wing. I dipped my bread into the base of the dish so to absorb all the fantastic flavours of the spice blend and olive oil and it was worth it. Again, well done.
A special dish prepared by the chef, steamed mutton with saffron over rice. Mutton steamed over a long period of time served over two kinds of rice. Mandi rice and Arabic biryani. Mandi rice was somewhat plain rice cooked in broth, topped with slivered almonds and Arabic biryani, cooked with cashews, caramelized onions and stewed tomatoes topped with slivered almonds. Both rice complemented well with the falling off the bone mutton. I liked the Arabic biryani better as it had more flavor and caramelized onions and stewed tomatoes added slight sweetness to the taste. The mutton is somewhat bland as it is typical of Middle Eastern cuisines which is fine as you want to eat good steamed meat with other flavours. It came with yogurt mixed with cumin and cucumbers. The yogurt complemented the dish and uplifted the combination, all in all a classic Middle Eastern dish.
We opted to get a smaller version of it. It has BBQ chicken, with three types of Kababs and skewers. The chicken and mutton skewers were over cooked and dry but when asked why they are over cooked, their response was that everyone asks for well done meat here. The kababs are not your typical desi kababs, they all had different blend of spices and were softer with less fat and more Shami kabab consistency. This is typical of Syrian cuisine to make kabab softer and mushier. All kababs are made with Dumba meat so if you are a Dumba fan, this is a delightful entrée. The highlight of the dish was the pita that came dipped in chilli oil and onions. I highly recommend to that the kababs with the pita as it will enhance the flavour.
I avoid very sweet desserts, since kunafa has sweet syrup, so I was quiet skeptical about it. This kunafa was just brilliant. The shredded vermicelli was warm, crispy and cooked to perfection. The cheese held its ground and pistachio added a nutty sweetness to the taste. If you keep the sweet syrup light, it is by far the best kunafa you will eat in Lahore. Fantastic stuff.
This place has such a versatile menu and it really brings out the original flavours of Syrian/Middle Eastern cuisine. There are so many dishes on the menu that you can’t enjoy them in a single meal. We are thankful to our Syrian chefs who under such difficult circumstances in their homeland have come to Pakistan and not only offered their exquisite cuisine but took the cuisine up a notch to another level. The first experience was fantastic so there is no reason why I wouldn’t go again to enjoy the rest of the dishes.
KNOW WHAT YOU EAT, THAT’S HOW YOU EAT WELL