Who among us does not derive a sense of deep satisfaction from a good bowl of hummus? That’s what we thought. But this most ubiquitous of dishes just begins to scratch the surface of all that Middle Eastern cuisine brings to the table. Here’s a guide to finding a feast near you.
When on the East Coast, go to:
162 Upper East Coast Road
6244 9891 | turkishcuisine.com.sg
Menu is mostly: Turkish
Set the scene: Suburban street appeal in a row of shophouses. Turkish owner Selo (Selahattin) is in the house, a Turkish chef is in the kitchen, wife Marilyn’s artwork is on the walls and all’s as it should be. Fairly wide and varied, the menu includes photographs of the items on it
Alcohol: A limited selection; we drank chardonnay at $12 per glass, shiraz at $12.90
This is clean, fresh, rustic cuisine with no pretensions. We were warned at the outset to keep room for Deli Turk’s signature kunefeh ($14.90), “the best dessert you’ll ever have”: oven-baked shredded pastry sandwiching unsalted cheese, topped with pistachios and drizzled with syrup and cream. Starters included kibbeh ($6.90), a shell of crispy bulgur and semolina stuffed with fine-minced lamb and fried to a crisp golden-brown; and shaka shuka ($6.90), eggplant salad served with an olive oil and yoghurt dressing. Mains included an authentic-tasting charcoal-grilled has has lamb kebap ($22.90) and a perfectly light lamb moussaka ($22.90). Lightly charred green chillies add colour and a welcome oomph to various dishes. Chef also delivered something off-menu: two baked zucchini halves, one stuffed with spinach and feta, the other with a creamy aubergine-tomato mix. Had we saved room for the dessert? No, but we polished off the barely sweet, fully buttery confection nevertheless. You will too.
When in Chinatown, go to:
161 Telok Ayer
6327 9460 | urbanbites.com.sg
Menu is mostly: Lebanese
Set the scene: If you’d rather starve than hit up a “see and be seen” spot, this is your place. Fancier than a hawker centre but more casual than Dempsey Hill, this restaurant is the quintessential family or post-hangover spot.
Alcohol: Lebanese wine (from $7 a glass) and beer (Almaza – $8, plus international brands like Tiger), plus the aniseed-flavoured spirit arak
Everybody has a go-to spot for cheap, good, unfussy food. This is mine.
Though it recently moved a few doors down, Urban Bites has been going strong on Telok Ayer since long before the hipster coffee shops and French bakeries crept in. Through the years, I’ve eaten through much of the menu. Items like hummus ($8), moutabal ($8), labneh ($9) and the wonderfully lemony fattoush salad ($8) are what Urban Bites does best. These dishes, when combined with tabbouleh, falafel and warak enab (rice wrapped in grape leaves), make the up the mezza platter ($22), a meal for two in itself.
But I always tack on extras – like zaatar manakeesh (Lebanese bread topped with sesame seeds, olive oil, herbs and spices, $7), a few slices of basturma (cumin-cured beef tenderloin, $10) to use in my own Lebanese cooking at home, an extra order of fattoush (just because) and a few pastries from the dessert counter.
The crowd is strangely unpredictable; on a Friday night, you have equal chances of being the only customer as you are of being unable to find a table. There is almost always space outside though, which makes this spot one of the few exceptions to the rule that reservations are required in every restaurant in Singapore.
When in Robertson Quay, go to:
80 Mohamed Sultan Road
#01-13 Robertson Quay
6836 1270 | shabestan.sg
Menu is mostly: Persian (Iranian)
Set the scene: Watch the world go by from one of the mosaic-topped riverside tables or head inside to the Persian-influenced modern dining room if you prefer the comfort of air-con. The cosy bench seating at the back is ideal for intimate groups of four, while larger groups can choose from two big dining tables set apart from the main dining area. Enjoy a pre- or post-dinner tipple on one of the semi-alfresco sofas
Alcohol: There’s a full drinks menu including spirits, beers, cocktails, and a selection of French, Australian and New Zealand wines starting at $15 a glass or $58 a bottle
The food here is perfect for sharing. From the appetisers menu, the kufte parsi ($12) – a duo of lamb meatballs called kufte-e-anar and kufte tabrizi – is particularly good. The kash-e-bademjan ($12) – a mixture of sautéed aubergine, onion, mint and a secret dressing – and the borani esfanaj ($12) – fresh spinach with fried onion, garnished with sun-dried yoghurt and saffron – are great choices too.
The charcoal-grilled meat and seafood dishes can be ordered as a platter for four people ($165) or individually. The deliciously tender, boneless shah pasand chicken ($39) marinated in yoghurt and herbs, and the tiger prawn kebab ($39), marinated in saffron and lime juice and topped with a bit of yoghurt, are must-tries. Also recommended are the marinated lamb chen jeh kebab ($47) and the minced lamb kubideh ($35). Instead of going for plain rice, fuel your taste buds with the dill-infused paghly polo ($6), or the javaher polo ($7) with jewel-like pomegranate arils, pistachios and raisins.
Baghlava ($10) is often overly sweet, but not the delicious Shabestan version, which is more crunchy than chewy. For an unusual but refreshing end to your meal, try the faludeh shirazi ($12); a traditional frozen Persian dessert dating back to 400BC that’s made with vermicelli noodles, mint and rose water.
When in Holland Village, go to:
23 Lorong Mambong
6464 8488 | ahs.com.sg
Menu is mostly: Lebanese and Middle Eastern
Set the scene: Upscale interiors with a few booth seats. There’s street-side seating too, but be warned, pedestrianised Lorong Mambong sees a competition of blaring beats and excited chatter from neighbouring bars
Alcohol: Yes, there’s Lebanese or Chilean wine by the glass, a full wine menu, cocktails and beer
Popping in to Al Hamra for a midweek mezze is an easy option if you live in the area. If you know what you like you could tuck into large portions of the individual dips and mezze, but for the indecisive there are mezze platters. The cold mezze ($35) included hummus, moutabbal, tabbouleh, garlicky fattoush and two neat warak areesh (rice wrapped in vine leaves) plus two pita breads. The hot mezze ($32) comprised crispy falafels, sambousik, spinach fatayer (pastries), lahem bil ajine (mini Lebanese mince pizzas), kibbey mekli and cheese reqaqs (thin rolls of feta wrapped in filo). This is enough for a girly catch-up over wine, but the men may need to order from the mains menu: shawarmas, kebabs and a selection of charcoal mixed grills.
When in the CBD, go to:
25 Church Street
6438 2975 | kazbar.com
Menu is mostly: Lebanese
Set the scene: Traditional-patterned cushions and wooden tables give it an earthy vibe, while dimmed lighting from overhead lanterns creates a warm and welcoming ambience. You can choose to sit at a table or opt for one of the two or three cosy private alcoves with bench seats
Alcohol: Yes. The bar is a popular watering hole for local CBD workers. On our visit, most people were gathered for a drink on the spacious terrace and tables outside
Hookah: $35 per tobacco head, with flavours including mint, strawberry, apple and double apple
For our first course, we sampled a selection of hot and cold mezzeh. On the cold mezzeh platter ($24), creamy hummus and even creamier babaganoush made the perfect complement to baked pita crisps, while the garlic spinach and traditional fattoush salad had a tangy yet not overpowering taste. The hot mezzeh platter ($24), a combination of lamb falafel, spinach borek, kebbeh and cheese borek, were exceedingly moreish. The pastry was soft and slightly flaky, with not a hint of oiliness.
For our main, the lamb mousaka ($20) with assorted vegetables and flavoured tomato sauce was delicious, but rather rich. The mixed grill sharing platter ($42) was testament to the chefs’ skill – the lamb chops, lamb and chicken kebabs were succulent, juicy and perfectly tender. The pièce de résistance, however, were the grilled fish and prawns ($35) served on a mildly spicy harrah sauce. The marinated fish melted in the mouth, while the prawns were large and sweet. Though the menu is on the pricier side, all the dishes were fresh and delicious, and served in generous sharing portions.
When near Bukit Timah, go to:
8 Greenwood Avenue
8169 3376 | levant.com.sg
Menu is mostly: A mix of Lebanese, Arabic and Persian cuisine, cooked by the restaurant’s Egyptian chef
Set the scene: Taking up residence in the space vacated by the relatively short-lived 8 at Green, Levant is a new addition to Greenwood Avenue’s parade of restaurants. The inside is vibrantly coloured with Middle Eastern-themed paintings and bright lanterns, and has plenty of additional seating in the alfresco area
Alcohol: At the time of writing the wine list was limited, but co-partner Suresh Menon assured us the full cellar was being brought in the following week. We tried a slightly effervescent Casal Garcia Vinho Verde ($12/glass), and a deep, heavy Marani Saperavi Cabernet ($12) – from Georgia, no less
Hookah: No, but there’s a belly dancer on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights
We started with the mixed appetiser platter ($28), consisting of hummus, moutabal, taboula and green salad, scooped up with Lebanese flat bread. The moutabal, a smooth eggplant and tahini dip, and the taboula were of particular note, and the platter a meal in itself. Undeterred, we then tried a lamb biryani ($32, serves two). The shank meat was perfectly cooked and succulent, and the accompanying gravy sweet and thick. Minced lamb ($29), chicken ($27), and fish (dory) kebabs ($29) were delicately and variably spiced, and my companion remarked how hard it must be too cook a fish kebab and keep it so moist. Alongside this we tried a pot of the bidingan ($22), a rich eggplant stew, with tomatoes and spices. Levant also offers a children’s menu, an important addition for any restaurant located on Greenwood Avenue.
When in Bugis, go to:
161 Middle Road
6336 6949 | artichoke.com.sg
Describing itself as serving “deviant Middle Eastern food”, Artichoke has casual mish-mashed interiors that spill out onto a quaint courtyard where herbs are grown. Packed on weekends when they serve brunch (though the Middle Eastern influences are scant here), it’s in the evenings when the real deal Middle Eastern flavours shine. The restaurant’s on-site bakery, Overdoughs, sells hot pastries, pies, baklava and cakes.
When in Buona Vista, go to:
1 Fusionopolis Way
#03-02 Connexis Tower
6466 9918 | arkadascafe.sg
Strangely, we keep hearing that to get the city’s best Turkish food you should head to Fusionopolis. This restaurant, with its humble interior and offbeat location, is becoming known for consistently turning out quality, easy-on-the-wallet food. What the secret? Chef Mustafa was the personal chef to the Turkish ambassador for 22 years.
When in Clarke Quay or Orchard Road, go to:
Block 3A Clarke Quay, #01-06
6334 2282 | shirazfnb.com
Nightly belly dancing shows are just part of the popularity of Shiraz, a restaurant that serves Persian food and all things kebab. Though the original restaurant is still going strong, Shiraz Mazzeh outlets – or baby Shiraz as we like to call them – continue to pop up in the city’s best shopping spots. Look for these shwarma stands outside The Forum, Ngee Ann City, and now Plaza Singapura too.
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