Em Sherif – a succulent, yet frivolous feast

Em Sherif - Address Downtown Dubai - Dubai restaurantsEm Sherif is Lebanese chef Mireille Hayek’s first restaurant in Dubai, a licensed concept imported from Beirut. Conveniently nestled at the foot of The Address Downtown Dubai and facing Burj Khalifa, the restaurant can either be accessed through the hotel or from the Dubai Mall promenade. Em Sherif, Hayek’s nickname, claims to offer a prestigious fine dining experience based around authentic, traditional Lebanese cuisine.

Stepping inside the restaurant felt like travelling to Beirut. From the somewhat empty terrace (overlooking the fountains), one could hear the echoes of long-forgotten, traditional Lebanese folk songs played by a duo armed with a lute and a small derbakki, a Lebanese percussion instrument, creating an upbeat, cosy ambience. The décor is mesmerising and plush; very shabby chic. Blue walls are wallpapered with Ottoman-style mirrors and oriental porcelain plates; pale blue translucent drapes adorn plush fuchsia banquettes; and a huge metallic firewood oven surrounds large black tables and chairs.

Em Sherif DubaiEm Sherif DubaiEm Sherif - ovenTabbouleh

Em Sherif has no a la carte menu. For AED320 per person, a fixed menu of 32 dishes is offered – yes you read right, that’s the only option. More on that later. Soon after sitting down, our amuse-bouche and salads arrived. A freshly baked and well seasoned thyme man’ousheh (pizzete) was served – the dough is delicious, warm and chewy setting the tone for the feast that awaited us. The tabbouleh, the traditional Levantine salad of parsley, tomatoes and burgul was a little salty but very bright and fresh. The fattoush salad, however, was exquisite. Traditionally, it consists of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, green capsicums and deep-fried pita bread. Here, the bread was replaced with fried julienned aubergines, whilst a dressing of mostly pomegranate molasses offered a sweet and tangy antidote to the fresh vegetables.

Cold mezzeHummosLabnehMoutabbal

The cold mezze followed. The hummus, moutabbal, and labneh were velvety and rich. Our favourite was the moutabbal, an eggplant and tahini paste topped with pomegranate seeds. The labneh, a cheese made of strained yoghurt, was accompanied by a delicious olive tapenade. Pickled wild cucumbers, or kabees mehshi followed, each one stuffed with diced carrots, cauliflower and garlic. They were the perfect acidic accompaniment to the creamy dishes on the menu. Mdardra came next, a cumin-flavoured cold dish of lentils, rice and fried onions on top of a cabbage salad. The rice and the lentils were perfectly cooked, preserving the right crunch of each ingredient. A shakshouka of tomatoes and burgul followed, bearing no resemblance to the traditional North African breakfast dish, so perhaps renaming this dish may help manage expectations. The kebbeh nayyeh then arrived, the creamy Lebanese equivalent of beef tartare with raw meat, crushed wheat, and onions – exquisite. Finally, triangular-shaped rolls of Swiss chard stuffed with rice and tomatoes struck the right balance between sour and tart.

Beef liver in yoghurtFish fillets in tahiniFattehAsian-style shrimp

The next course of warm mezze dishes was delicious and impeccably executed with the exception of one – an Asian-style shrimp. Four small shrimps in an orange sauce topped with black sesame seeds were tasty, but hints of ginger and garlic created a confusing mix. Why would a dish that has nothing to do with Arabic cuisine make it to this menu? On the other hand, mashed potatoes with shredded lamb; beef liver in yoghurt sauce; fish fillets in a smooth tahini sauce; cheese rolls; and the cheese and meat arayess (grilled pita bread sandwiches) were all so flavourful that the only word my friend and I uttered for the next thirty or so minutes was ‘wow’. My favourite was the fatteh which mixed chickpeas in a yogurt and tahini sauce with a drizzle of olive oil, and deep-fried pita chunks. Pine nuts and almonds were added making the dish nutty and smooth. It was one of the most wonderful interpretations that I have ever tasted.

The meats followed. Big cubes of juicy and tender lamb kebab and taouk, marinated chicken arrived, accompanied with grilled onions and tomatoes, and a smooth garlic paste. They were cooked to perfection. The chef’s plat du jour, rezz a’djej, rice and chicken, is a classic Lebanese dish – large and juicy chunks of chicken breast were served with the classic oriental rice which is mixed with minced meat and a good dose of spices, cumin in particular. Excellent.

Grilled meatsDesserts

Our waiter then served five desserts – meghleh, mohalabiyyeh, tamriyyeh, umm Ali, and nashawiyyet remmen. The latter is a kind of pomegranate fruit salad – super fresh and crunchy. The mohalabiyyeh, the Lebanese version of pana cotta, a creamy dessert made of milk, corn flour, sugar, meskeh, and orange blossom water, topped with crushed pistachios, was silky smooth and so rich. It was easily our favourite. Despite being extremely full, we tasted all five and gave our seal of approval to all.

Service was quick and friendly despite a pretty full restaurant (including a few birthday tables) for a Tuesday dinner. Even though, with the exception of the odd dish, we enjoyed the food, I was somewhat puzzled by two issues. Firstly, the inflexible set menu. It is the easiest way to get diners to try a wide variety of dishes with minimal hassle on the serving staff. However, to serve 32 dishes just for two people is excessive, especially when each one could easily feed five hungry diners. Despite our best efforts to eat as much as we could, it was impossible to finish everything and I cringed at the idea of how much food was being wasted. By the time the main courses arrived, we were literally forcing ourselves to eat and did so only for the sake of this review. The experience stopped being enjoyable and felt more like a mission I had to complete. A choice of fixed menus with fewer dishes (at a more reasonable price) would accommodate intimate dinners, generate less waste, and render the whole experience more enjoyable and far more sustainable.

The second issue was the absence of a printed menu. A few minutes into sitting down, our waiter asked if he should start serving the food. Puzzled, I asked if I could see a menu first to which he answered, “There is no menu! You will receive 32 dishes tonight and it’s fixed!” As a Lebanese, I easily recognised the dishes and knew what I was eating. However, if Em Sherif wishes to cater to the non-Arab population of a city as diversely cultural as Dubai, listing the dishes with a short explanation on a menu would help diners recognise what they were eating.

I would still recommend Em Sherif to (very) hungry diners who crave a traditional, authentic and delicious Lebanese feast – it really does live up to its fine dining claim. And by far, it truly is the best Lebanese cuisine I have ever eaten in Dubai. Despite this benchmark though, and the top-notch service, buzzing atmosphere and prime location, I have to mark Em Sherif down for the inflexible, frivolous dining formula and absence of printed menus. So until that’s resolved (I hope), it’s a 3.5 out of 5 FooDiva knife rating.

Until next time,

SJ.

Who is FooDiva’s guest reviewer SJ? By day, she is a professor of Political Science. By night, she shares her cooking, travelling and dining out adventures on Instagram here.

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 3.5
  • The Address Hotel Downtown, Lower Ground, facing Burj Khalifa
  • +971 4 4243000
  • Lebanese, Middle Eastern, Arabic
  • Yes
  • AED 320 per person
  • Open daily 12 - 4pm and 8pm - midnight
  • http://www.emsherif.com/
  • Posted under
    Arabic, Downtown Dubai, Dubai, Hotels, Lebanese, Licensed, Middle Eastern, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants

  • Pin It

25 Responses to “Em Sherif – a succulent, yet frivolous feast”

  1. lama January 11, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I LOVED your review! and I totally agree, there is NO point in serving 32 dishes and waste all that food! Charge the price that you want, BUT serve less food or upon request.

    Will want to try the restaurant after you great review but i need to go there while fasting for 2 continuous days!

    • SJ January 11, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      Thank you, Lama! I recommend trying Em Sherif for sure but make sure you’re wearing the right clothes and that you go there extremely hungry! I hope you’ll enjoy it!

  2. Kelly January 11, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    This reminds me of course of the Greek/Cypriot mezze. I would agree with you re the menu presentation. I would also suggest to perhaps have 2 choices: a big and small meze.

    • SJ January 11, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      I thought about the small/big mezze plates but I think it’s a little inconvenient for the restaurant to have dishes of different sizes and portions. The quickest way would be to just keep the same portion/plate size but to offer less depending on what diners want and their hunger level.

  3. Garry W January 11, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    The food sounds really tasty and appetising – people wanting to learn more about Lebanese cuisine will probably find space for all 32 dishes but why do they not have a printed menu offering less items at a lower price and the full menu at the normal price. This would work very well at lunch when people generally have less time to eat. Nevertheless will put it on my ‘bucket list’

    • SJ January 11, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      I believe Em Sherif has a lunch option with lesser dishes but it’s also a fixed menu with a set price, and no variety in selecting the dishes. We went there for dinner and the dinner option came with 32 dishes! They were all very tasty though and I do agree that it should be on everyone’s bucket list!

  4. Dave Reeder January 11, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    As a non-meat eater, I certainly wouldn’t eat somewhere where I was expected to pay for food that I wouldn’t eat. I think the level of wastage here is without any justification! And I would have questions about quality at an average dish price of Dhs 10 – with a prime location and franchise fees to factor in. An everyday Lebanese restaurant would be charging Dhs 15-8 for a bowl of hummus. How does Em sherif make it so much more cheaply?

    • SJ January 13, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      I think that by charging all diners the same price of AED320, they can manage to make a profit. They also have a wine and spirits list which I’m sure helps with that. But you do raise a valid point and I wonder if they can actually make more money by having more options!

  5. The Cookie Monster January 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Nice work with the photos – the one of the oven is my favourite. I have been subjected to this kind of Lebanese dining experience in Dubai and in other Arab countries. Usually, you get served a tonne of starters which continue to pour in whether you ask for them or not, but come the main course (the grilled meats), these are literally drip-fed and it is usually a struggle to get more than 1-2 pieces of any one meat. Diners seated at the table are not stupid and understand what is going on, and everyone leaves the restaurant feeling that they’d been had! It doesn’t seem based on your description that this is quite what was going on as all courses seem to be equally generous, but I am still suspicious of a restaurant’s intentions when I am force-fed so many carbs (i.e. filler) at the outset. I can eat far more than most people can manage, including family members literally twice my size, so if I struggle with this kind of menu (and I normally do), then you know that something is not quite right 😉 !

    • SJ January 13, 2015 at 6:18 pm

      Thank you! The portions are very generous and our meats platter was quite large. We also got chicken with the plat du jour and we were served large chunks of it. I’m not sure if restaurants try to trick diners with loads of fillers and not a lot of meats! To me, Lebanese cuisine really centers around the mezze (hot and cold) and this is where you see variety, creativity and the deliciousness! The barbecued meats are delicious too but it’s just that: one big meat platter. I’m sure many restaurants try to “cheat” with it but when it comes to Em Sherif, I think they’re really trying to be (very) over generous with all the dishes served!

  6. JayEim January 12, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    A meal made in haven….Samantha, Dave.R and myself going to feast at EmSherif.

    Dave gets all the pulses and vegs and I get all the meat…we split the deserts as long as I get the Meghli.

    Samantha gets to pick up the bill 😉

    and now for some light entertainment

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5GzePATVmQ

  7. NIhal January 19, 2015 at 9:45 am

    I was not impressed at all ! maybe its all the hype around it !!!!

    First: didn’t live up to the original story or the brand positioning – there is nothing traditional about the set menu and the decor is pretentious and has nothing to do with Lebanese traditions! p.s. I am not Lebanese and I can still notice that clearly !

    Second: All the mezza are standard except 1 or 2 that are done with a twist. So again nothing authentic but rather VERY commercial set menu

    Third: lets talk about mains !!! unbelievable ! the 2 skewers of BBQ are below average ! actually way below in terms of taste, I cant comment on the ingredients quality. Then they server after the BBQ an Emm SHERIF dish of the day which is different every day I am guessing … heavy, dry, and tastes very commercial and the sauce tasted like it was made from a can of preservatives !!! EWWW …. it was like a pie of rice, minced lamb and peas with a sauce.

    Fourth: the dessert was a joke ! I actually spat out all 5 of them, couldn’t stomach any, pretty terrible all of it !

    Mind you I’ve had my share of Lebanese food over so many years here and in Lebanon, and I can tell you in comparison with authentic Lebanese food made by my friends’ mothers or the likes of Nafoorah – EM SHERIF IS A DISGRACE

    And what is really upsetting that Lebanese ppl who are trying to associate with the brand don’t really see how commercial, pretentious and far from authentic it is.

    I am very disappointed with the public fuss – that does tell a lot about how brand oriented the society has become!

    My Review:
    = Good quality mezzas – tonnes of it
    = no a la carte to enjoy any authentic cuisine options,
    = the decor is pretentious and doesn’t relate to lebanese culture,
    = the location is just like sitting on the other side of the Fountain
    = the main and dessert are miserable
    = For a Lebanese set menu I would definitely go to the dozen other options in town topped by Nafoorah

    • SJ February 2, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Hi Nihal,

      Thank you for your thorough comment! I am a little surprised to read that your experience at Em Sherif was so disappointing. To be fair, the dishes they propose are traditional and they are executed in a traditional way — a claim they do apply and follow closely. The decor might not be 100% Lebanese and is definitely more lavish than your average Lebanese restaurant but it definitely has oriental tones and hues that you can find when visiting old buildings in Beirut. When I went to review, the BBQ, mains and desserts were actually stellar and really tasty and I’m wondering whether you caught them on a bad night. There is no excuse for serving below-average food, of course, but I’m just trying to understand why our experiences differ so greatly.

      On the upside, we have so many good (and cheaper!) Lebanese restaurants in Dubai so finding an alternative to Em Sherif is easy if diners are not satisfied with what they’re offering.

  8. SJ January 28, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    Hi Nihal,

    Thank you for your thorough comment! I am a little surprised to read that your experience at Em Sherif was so disappointing. To be fair, the dishes they propose are traditional and they are executed in a traditional way — a claim they do apply and follow closely. The decor might not be 100% Lebanese and is definitely more lavish than your average Lebanese restaurant but it definitely has oriental tones and hues that you can find when visiting old buildings in Beirut. When I went to review, the BBQ, mains and desserts were actually stellar and really tasty and I’m wondering whether you caught them on a bad night. There is no excuse for serving below-average food, of course, but I’m just trying to understand why our experiences differ so greatly.

    On the upside, we have so many good (and cheaper!) Lebanese restaurants in Dubai so finding an alternative to Em Sherif is easy if diners are not satisfied with what they’re offering.

  9. expat08 February 1, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    How does it compare to Al Nafoorah @ Emirates Towers? Still cannot find better even after 6 years in Dubai.

    • SJ February 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

      Sadly, I haven’t been to Al Nafoorah but I am now curious to try it! Will post my thoughts when I do to compare both.

  10. Em Sherif March 12, 2015 at 11:57 am

    Dear Samntha Wood,

    We would like to extend our appreciation to you for taking the time to share your review of Em Sherif. We are so pleased that you enjoyed your experience and accepted the challenge of all 32 dishes. In Lebanon meal time is celebrated with variety and excess—this is why we present our guests with a true feast. We recommend that you try our light lunch menu in the future to satisfy a lighter appetite and hope you join us again soon.

    Please contact Celina Aoun (our marketing manager) at celina@thecrystalgroup.net if you have inquiries in the future.

    Best,
    Em Sherif

    • SJ March 16, 2015 at 11:14 am

      Thank you for the comment, Team Em Sherif! Our feast was indeed very varied and presented delicious interpretations of the most famous Lebanese dishes. It was very enjoyable and the food was very fresh. Our only concern is that the 32 dishes for 2 diners option is too much and simply impossible to eat! Since the lunch menu is lighter, we’ll be trying it out for sure. See you soon!

  11. Yves December 8, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    The luxury of not having to read a menu is already a big plus! food is excellent, and the 32 dishes is how it should be!
    Frankly 320 AED, compared to what you pay in Dubai is a reasonable amount.

    If you think of it, and you go to an average/ regular coffee shop, you would pay in Dubai around 180-200 AED per person, while you would have “worker” type of service (not real hospitality professionals) and food with poor row material (vegs/fruits etc..)

    Moreover, if you would go to a “so-called” upscale restaurant in Dubai, i doubt you would go out of the restaurant below 400 AED per person… and frequently you would go out hungry and under-fed (Zuma type of small dishes).. I would rather eat at Em Sherif… at least you get what you have paid for.

    Without hesitation the best Lebanese in town… and probably the only… as many venues would recruit other nationals chefs and just brand the restaurant as being Lebanese…

    • SJ April 27, 2016 at 10:29 am

      I just saw your comment, Yves! Thank you so much for reading the review. I agree that Em Sherif’s food is great and you do get a lot food for what you pay. My only beef is that it’s too much food for small groups or couples — and so most of the food goes to waste… They should keep the prix fixe menu if it’s part of their concept but perhaps offer different options for smaller parties.

  12. Nadine February 20, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Em sharif Dubai, team has such an attitude that never experienced here in Dubai! Been trying to book for a long time the only sentences been hearing is FULLy Booked! Even I tried to walk in at branch of Downtown with over 40 tables totally empty the Manager said we are Sorry FULLY booked. No matter if that the truth of not but what’s matter that the customer got such un welcome answer even with no replacement or other timing proposal, it’s shame such a big name has unpleasant attitude. I have been in many many restaurants around all fine dining one and no matter what there is always another proposal to be set for walk in customer to let him:her feel they are welcomed. I will never bother to go there again or even to try book through phone. Totally not recommend for any. Hope they would read this message

    • SJ April 27, 2016 at 10:31 am

      I just saw your comment, Nadine. Thank you for reading the review and taking time to leave a comment! I didn’t have that experience while booking. We went during the week and easily found a table. But I agree with you: many restaurants in Dubai don’t invest too much in training their staff and overall, service is a letdown at many places. I hope they fix the problem soon!

  13. Maria February 29, 2016 at 11:32 am

    A very good restaurant indeed, but a bit expensive for my taste. There are many other good Lebanese restaurants in the Downtown Dubai area that give you the same quality and Lebanese atmosphere but for a more attractive price. By having said that it doesn’t mean that Em Sherif is not good, but a bit over the top maybe. For all the Lebanese food lovers try the Grand Cafe next to the entrance of the Fashion parking of the Dubai Mall. Food tastes great, place looks amazing, the food presentation is quite original and the Lebanese chef even visited our table. Something I appreciated.

    • SJ April 27, 2016 at 10:32 am

      I just saw your comment, Maria. Thank you for reading the review and taking time to leave a comment! I agree, Em Sherif is on the “fine dining” side. It’s not a restaurant you would go to everyday — it’s not cheap! Compared to other Lebanese restaurants around town, it must be the most expensive one. The food is good though, so perhaps people should go there on very special occasions only!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Is Jean-Georges Dining Room worth the price? - Dubai restaurants | FooDiva - August 12, 2015

    […] seasonal menu. Caviar dishes are also available, at a hefty price. To my delight (read my review of Em Sherif to see why), and in contrast with Jean Georges in NYC, our waitress informs us that an à-la-carte […]

I’d love to receive your feedback, so feel free to comment any time.