The purple haze of Nay restaurant

Nay Restaurant & Lounge - Dubai restaurantDubai; There are two vital points to get across about Nay, the new licensed Lebanese restaurant in Emirates Financial Towers (DIFC), before we can start discussing the food. The first is that Nay which calls itself a ‘Restaurant & Lounge’ permits smoking inside the restaurant; every table in the restaurant proper (as opposed to the lounge) seemed to have ashtrays. If there is a non-smoking section, it wasn’t offered to us as a seating option.  Perhaps we should have insisted, but it’s realistically the sort of detail staff should immediately highlight; and besides, the smell of cigarette smoke is inescapable the moment you walk in through the front door.  The second point is that the interior design is very purple – similar to the intense blue in La Porte des Indes. Yes, there’s a fair amount of white too, but purple dominates – to the extent that even a 19th-century Second Empire Paris bordello might have paused for thought.  Perhaps the overwhelming use of the colour is a not-so-subtle reference to the origins of Tyrian Purple (the dye used for Roman imperial togas) in what’s now Lebanon. If so, it’s overdone. Between the smoke and the interior design… well, as Jimi Hendrix once sang, “Purple haze all around/ Don’t know if I’m coming up or down/ Am I happy or in misery?”

Thankfully, it’s not all about the smoke and the design; there’s the food too.  Here, Nay does considerably better. It’s just unfortunate my photos are blurred with a purple haze, hence just one food photo here to prove my point. The menu is divided into cold mezzeh, fresh raw meat, hot mezzeh, charcoal grills, seafood, salads and desserts, and we did our best to work through as many categories as two diners could manage.  Mutabel eggplant walnuts (cold mezzeh) has a lovely smokey taste from the grilled eggplant, with good sharpness coming from the accompanying pomegranate sauce.  A particular highlight was the fish makanek (hot mezzeh), small fish sausages in an excellent citrus butter sauce; both myself and Mrs White Hat loved these.  However, the more subtle flavours of lamb raw habra (fresh raw meat) struggled in the restaurant’s nicotine-tinged environment.  The texture of the habra was lovely, but it was only with the final portions that the lamb flavour came through; the accompanying sauce was anonymous.  On all of these dishes, the presentation showed a real aspiration towards offering a fine-dining version of Lebanese cuisine (albeit a very purple one).

We also ordered pickled tuna. Some nicely seasoned flatbread slices were served with what I initially thought might be a mayonnaise containing the tuna (again, the smoke was undermining some of the flavours). However, close inspection of the restaurant bill showed no sign of the the pickled tuna, and occasional communication difficulties impeded clarification.  Looking at the menu again suggests that this dish was simply excluded from our order.

Nay veal brochettes - Dubai restaurantAs with many Eastern Mediterranean cuisines, you could happily make a full meal out of the mezze – but unstinting dedication to you, FooDiva’s readers (at the possible expense of my waistline) pushed me towards the charcoal grill section of the menu.  And here the veal brochettes were excellent, the outside of the meat grilled and seasoned to perfection while the inside of the veal cubes remained tender and moist.  The accompanying french fries were also cooked well.  The dish is served with a couple of flatbread layers containing cooked tomatoes, a skewer of grilled vegetables, and a small bowl of chopped parsley and onion.  Still, at the end of the day, it’s skewers of grilled meat with chips, and the presentation didn’t quite match that of the various mezze.

For dessert I tried the dates osmalieh - khastaliah (cooked milk cream) and dates sandwiched between two thin layers of vermicelli dough.  Here we were back to the fine dining presentation, and the combination of textures between the crunchy vermicelli and soft inner layers made for a fine dessert.  But again some of the subtlety of flavour was lost in the cigarette haze.

So foodwise, Nay does a lot of things right.  It’s also fairly good value for money, with a bill for two (notwithstanding the absence, intentional or otherwise, of the pickled tuna) coming to just AED232 for food (inclusive of 10% service charge).  But there are also some problems.  Service was highly erratic, veering sharply between overt hovering at the next table just in case we had a whim that needed catering to and (when we were trying to pay) total abandonment while tables and chairs were rearranged for the nightly 10:30pm – 3:00am live music. Food was sometimes removed before we’d finished, or had even had time to protest its removal.  There were also two discrepencies between our order and final bill.  In addition to the confusion over the pickled tuna, I ordered a glass of white wine, specifying several times that I wanted a glass of the Lebanese Chateau Ksara as the waiter repeated “so you want white?”; according to the final bill, I was served a glass of Australian chardonnay.  We did not leave a tip on top of the 10% service charge included in the bill.

The restaurant was also virtually empty, the only other cover being a table of two chain smokers at a centre table. From the attention given to the rearrangement of tables towards the end of our meal, it’s possible that the atmosphere improves once the nightly entertainment kicks off at 10:30pm; but mid-evening on a weeknight, it was funereal.  This is not perhaps helped by the location.  There are no obvious signs at Emirates Financial Towers that a licenced Lebanese restaurant can be found inside, and only a very small sign next to the top floor lift button indicates that you’re heading in the right direction.  But for a helpful porter outside the building, we would have been lost.  It’s not a restaurant you’ll just casually stumble past and decide to try; you need to know it’s there.

There are likely several of you who smoke (and who don’t mind dining surrounded by curtains of Tyrian Purple) who’ll enjoy this restaurant if it manages to sort out some of the serving kinks.  But non-smokers can likely find better licensed and unlicensed Lebanese options where the purple haze won’t interfere with the food (and the photos). Because if the smoke is that heavy the minute you walk in the front door on a night when there’s just a single table of two smokers…Well, I’m not sure much of the food would stand up to the smoke on a busy night; which is a shame, because there’s some good cooking taking place here.  So for this non-smoker, it’s a two out of five FooDiva knife rating.

Does whether a restaurant allow smoking or not influence your dining preferences?

Until next time,

The Man in the White Hat.

So who’s our anon guest reviewer, The Man in the White Hat? He has an abiding interest in both history and food; his holidays tend to combine an intriguing local cuisine with a UNESCO World Heritage site, and he’s eaten his way across some 50 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australasia.  He currently lives in Dubai, where he edits a couple of academic publications.

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 2
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    Arabic, DIFC, Dubai, Lebanese, Levantine, Licensed, Middle Eastern, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants

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7 Responses to “The purple haze of Nay restaurant”

  1. Kelly May 6, 2014 at 9:53 am

    My dining choice will of course be influenced if the restaurant allows smoking. I refuse to stay in such a restaurant even if the food is superb. All restaurants /cafes should give a choice on this. In Europe there is a law about non smoking indoors in restaurants . What is the law in Dubai?

    • The Man in the White Hat May 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

      I’m happy to be corrected on this, but I believe the law for restaurants in Dubai is as follows… 1) The restaurant has to be at least 1000 square feet in area in order to be allowed to offer a smoking area; 2) the smoking area can’t be more than 50% of the restaurant; 3) the smoking area should be designed so as not to force non-smoking patrons to walk through the smoking area. I think there are also rules on the minimum area designated for each smoking customer and air pressure control, but those three are the key ones.

      But Nay isn’t ‘just’ a restaurant; it’s also a ‘Lounge’ that has live music every night from 10:30pm to 3:00am. I freely concede that I’m not familiar enough with the specifics of legal requirements in Dubai to know whether that potentially has any impact on the regulations. All I can say is that cigarette smoke could be strongly smelled the minute we walked in the front door, that we weren’t offered the option of “smoking or non-smoking” either when making a reservation or when greeted at the door, that smoking was clearly permitted in the restaurant section, and that you had no choice but to walk through an area where smoking was permitted to get a table.

      I think it’s fairly clear this did impact our enjoyment of the food. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that it was the dishes with strong citrus flavours that tended to be the ones that shone through, while those with subtler flavours struggled.

      • Abu Anis May 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm

        I think the Smoking law in Dubai is smoky in itself as it is not clear enough or not enforced correctly.
        In my opinion diners should be given a choice of 100% smoke free area to dine either indoors and also outdoors.
        Also diners should not have to pass in a smoking area to reach the toilet or any other part of the restaurant.
        The best for Dubai image would be to ban smoking all together.
        Good food and shisha don’t go hand-in-hand.

        • The Man in the White Hat May 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm

          On the subject of what should be offered in restaurants, I broadly agree. I leave open the small possibility that there was some section of the restaurant that was never pointed out to me or which I never saw which was ’100% smoke free’. But it was wholly impossible to reach a table in the restaurant section without passing through cigarette smoke. And that does have an impact.

          But then maybe the owners know that, and I’m simply not the target audience for a restaurant that might well have made a calculated decision to allow smoking, presumably in the assumption that there’s a dining demographic out there that won’t mind.

          Since dining at Nay I’ve been trying to remember the last time I ate in a restaurant (as opposed to a pub/bar which served food) which permitted smoking – and I’m really struggling.

  2. Reem May 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    I think Dubai restaurants are attempting to set a trend with the intense lighting. While I don’t see it taking off, I really hope restaurants realise this before we have to endure dining through all the colours of the rainbow. I’ll take a dimly lit restaurant over that any day.
    To answer your question, yes. My dining experience is highly affected if my senses are being dulled by cigarette, or even worse: shisha, smoke. I’ve walked out of restaurants where the smell was over-whelming as I know it will reflect negatively on my enjoyment of the meal. I like to see, smell and taste my food. Who doesn’t?!

    Thanks for the review!

    Reem

    • The Man in the White Hat May 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

      I think Nay might be taking steps to address some of the issues addressed here. I don’t know specifically _which_ issues – whether the smoking, the colour scheme, the difficulty of finding the restaurant, or all of these – but word is that their new PR company has raised similar concerns.

      If so, then the experience of dining at Nay may change considerably over the next week or so, and it’s only fair to note that.

      But in terms of preferring a dimly lit restaurant over a brightly coloured one… I very much agree, and my newly posted review of Izel makes a similar point (though favourably in Izel’s case!)

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