Thriving on a delicious Lebanese legend, Leila restaurantis what the Michelin guide would call ‘vaut le détour’
Once upon a time, not too long ago (sometime in the 60s) and in a place not too far away (a tiny village in Lebanon to be precise) there lived a young girl called Leila who had an innate talent for cooking and a grandma with the most magical, authentic Lebanese food recipes and a great penchant for laughter. The girl learnt all there was to be learned from her grandma and when the time was ripe and she was ready, she left for Beirut to make her own destiny and so the first Leila restaurant was born in the Lebanese capital.
At least that’s the story we are told as we arrive at the first Dubai branch of the popular Lebanese restaurant chain that is located in the plush and modern-looking Mirdif City Centre. Inside the restaurant though, time seems to have stopped in the 60s. Furthering
the legend of Leila, the décor is fashioned to resemble a young woman’s bedroom — a gramophone stands on display at the centre of the room, sepia-coloured pictures hang on the walls,
a wooden dresser lines a corner, purple and pink-hued floral wallpapers cover the room and chairs are made of decadent velvet. In fact, the attention to detail is such that one almost expects Leila to be peeping through a crack in the door, smiling as she sees you enjoying the food or step out of the kitchen and join you at the table.
There is a gentle buzz of people being well fed and a hum of conversation as shoppers rest their aching feet and satiate their hunger fuelled by all the shopping. The spread on the menu is impressive with quite a variety to choose from salads, hot and cold mezzes, grills, seafood and desserts. Most of what we eat is far better than OK. The fattoush is sprightly, tangy and, like most shoppers that hit the joint, well dressed. The hammous is just as fresh and much superior than most other places. The stuffed kibbeh is surprisingly light for a dish that is deep-fried but delicious nonetheless. The Leila Light Chicken is a special grilled dish that that speaks of long careful marinating and is all mustard, flavour and punch. The staff makes much of Manci, an Armenian dish and a house specialty: a fine combination of kofta dumplings in a herbed tomato sauce and yoghurt that is slightly bland.
Desserts are undoubtedly the pride of the place. I try the Ghazal Beirut, a Lebanese version of cotton candy stuffed with ice-cream that is sure to take you down memory lane. Osmalliet, a dish made of crispy vermicelli stuffed with rose and pistachio ice cream, is spot on too. The last course turns out to be the best one. We are told by the staff that many customers drop by from across Dubai just to have the desserts. As the Michelin guide would define: vaut le detour!
A new eatery from Beirut comes calling
In seven words:
Lebanese delights to thrill hungry mall shoppers
What we liked:
The attention to detail given to food and décor
What we didn’t like: The blandness of the Armenian dish
Restaurant best for:
Indulging your sweet tooth
Cost for two: Dh200-250
Did you know: The Leila is set to launch three
more branches in Dubai this year
Mirdif City Centre, Dubai