Felicity Glover discovers that Lebanese restaurant Al Mukhtar not only serves up a feast for the eyes, but also the palate.
It’s hard to resist the deliciously simple flavours of Lebanese cuisine. From the lemon to the garlic, olive oil, herbs and spices, which combine to enhance the fresh flavours of the produce; whether it’s lamb or chicken grilled to juicy perfection, the creamy smokiness of the Moutabel or even the simplicity of a Tart Tabbouleh.
And so it was on a recent weekday that Team Y and I headed off to try a relatively new Lebanese restaurant, Al Mukhtar, for lunch. Close to our office, our aim was to enjoy a quick, healthy meal that wouldn’t leave us feeling too full – especially as there was still a lot of work to do in the afternoon.
Located between Al Mouj, Muscat and Markaz Al Bahja Mall in Mawalah North, Al Mukhtar – which translates as “The Chosen” – is easy to spot. Walking up the steps towards the restaurant, there’s a large terrace for diners to enjoy the weather during the cooler months. Inside, it’s a tasteful dining space, enhanced with modern touches and splashes of purple.
We were a little late for lunch and there weren’t any other customers, which meant our pick of tables and a very diligent waiter, who greeted us warmly and had a large bottle of water on the table within minutes.
Thankfully, the menu isn’t huge despite the European influences in the first half, and our party of four – Y’s art director Matt, reporter Alvin and my daughter, Cia – didn’t take long to choose their favourite dishes.
First up, of course, was hummus. Unfortunately, there was no baba ghanoush on the day we were there but we settled for the next best thing: moutabel – a creamy concoction of smoky eggplant. Planning to share the dishes, we also ordered a mixed grill, a cheese manakish and a tabbouleh, while the obligatory bread was included.
We were served complimentary green olives and a small dish of pickled vegetables; always a must when eating Lebanese food. The zingy tart taste of the tiny morsels woke up our palates, preparing us for what turned out to be a delicious meal.
Cia ordered a fresh mango juice, Alvin the watermelon juice and Matt plumped for the lemon with mint drink. All three said their drinks were delicious, while I was happy to stay with water.
Service was very quick and before we knew it, our starters had arrived. Attractively presented, the hummus, moutabel and tabbouleh comprised a delicate feast for the senses while the bread was piping hot and fresh from the oven.
I think it’s safe to say that the basics of Lebanese cuisine usually set the standard for the entire meal – and all three were delicious, with the hummus and moutabel given the thumbs up by everybody.
The sweet pop of pomegranate seeds on the moutabel were a delight to the tastebuds while the hummus was one of the best we’ve ever tried. Cia’s favourite was the moutabel – a dip she has only recently discovered having always preferred the humble hummus over its smoky sister.
Next up was the Al Mukhtar mix, or mixed grill, and the cheese manakish, a favourite comfort food of Cia’s for years now.
The mixed grill was a fragrant mélange of grilled chicken, lamb and arais – stuffed flatbread with lamb, tomato and warm spices.
The chicken was succulent, its juiciness enhanced by a splash of lemon and a small kick of spice. The boys declared the lamb delicious, tender and moreish but the arais was the star of the grill.
The manakish was also a hit. Warm and soft, it’s the ultimate comfort food thanks to the salty cheese that’s enhanced when you add the lemony tabbouleh to the bread.
We were beginning to slow down by now and had no room for dessert, which was probably a good thing.
It has to be said that the freshness of the meal, the stunning flavours and distinct lack of oil, which can be a little overwhelming in Lebanese cooking, combined for a healthy, delicious lunch. And we are already planning our next visit.
Do you have a favourite restaurant that you’d like to see reviewed? Let Y know at email@example.com