No, it’s not Chinese. But the whispers were. I heard about this place from scattered tongues – a friendly food blogger, and then a stranger-neighbour at a shared table, then a celebrity chef who never praises any food but her own (but I love her anyway), and a week later, a friend who had heard from a friend that they must try an Albanian restaurant on the Boulevard. Merik, she thought it was called.
After much googling, despite the obstacle course of indications, I finally discovered Mayrig. An Armenian restaurant (no, not Albanian), that I found by searching for their lauded signature dish, the one everyone was telling me about – Fishnah kebab – barbecued lamb topped with sour cherries. It seemed the restaurant it wasn’t on the Boulevard either – the site’s own map puts it in the back blocks behind Vida Downtown. But it turns out that’s just another ruse. It’s smack in front of the Al Manzil hotel – exactly where my whispers had led me in the first place.
Mayrig is Armenian for ‘Mother’, and the restaurant’s ethos holds to this. Recipes are traditional home-kitchen ones, brought from Armenia to Beirut, affected by the local (Lebanese) culture over the years, then frozen in time when the family set up their first restaurant, below sandstone arcades in a house dedicated to Manouchag (who was actually grandmother, not mother) in the Bohemian quarter of Beirut. Hopefully Grandmother was entrepreneurial, because Mayrig has since franchised to Jeddah, Dubai (of course), and is soon to be in Riyadh and Bucharest.
The venue itself is about as homely as a villa in the shadow of the tallest building in the world could be. The exterior has that lovely rendered faux-old town look of (ahem) ‘Old Town’, and the Gulf two-level expansive villa feel that you’d expect to find in venues along Jumeirah beach rd. The floor is covered in exquisite tesselated tiles, the walls in cabinets that seem to be full of Mum’s best crystal, and there’s a valet-parking service out front, which might almost make you compare it to pulling into the driveway at a mate’s place.
On that day, I didn’t have the cherry kebabs. It’s not my fault. No matter how I try and persuade my white-bread family to try something new, they are sticklers for their own tradition. The fact that they will happily eat shish tawook and stuffed vine leaves is purely accidental – they must have been too hungry to care at some point or another, and discovered that they actually enjoyed something they had previously thought weirdly exotic and filed under ‘untouchable’.
And so, we ordered shish tawook and stuffed vine leaves.
The stuffed vine leaves (Derevav Sarma) were accompanied by some slow cooked lamb chops with some hefty-looking layers of fat. It’s fortunate they tasted better than they looked. The lamb was tender if meat a little sparse, but the great benefit of the combination was the gelatinous nuances infected upon the lightly sour sarma. Do I need to explain the shish tawook? In this city, I think not, suffice to say it was good. Roasted spuddies in preference to frozen chips was a nice surprised. Accompanyments of Armenian salad (too much cucumber) and mhammara (grainy but flavoursome) were reasonable but nothing above the very high bar that has been set here in Dubai.
I managed to sneak in a starter of sempougi kuefteh (eggplant stuffed lamb kofta), which were flavour bombs of the most wonderful order – crunches of pine nuts (I think), zest of labneh and sweet zing of mint combining into a very clever fusion of tastes and textures. The other sneaky dish was the Mante – meat dumplings swimming in a hot yoghurt sauce. I’m a huge fan of cooking meat directly in dairy (one of my recipes here, and another great lamb dish at Khan Murjan), which you can probably tell by the extent of my waistline. It was rich and creamy, sweet-spiced with yoghurt tartness, and layered in texture with crispy dough.
And after all this, I tried something that all the other bloggers seem to have missed out on (stick that in your sour-cherry-lamb-kebabs-pipe and smoke it) – Turkish delight icecream. Oh sure, they called it ‘rose’ icecream, but it was creamy, with touches of elasticky mastic, and chunks of pink rose jelly. It’s seriously the best, the BEST ice cream I have had in Dubai, finally knocking the green tea mochi at Honyaki off it’s pedestal. But this one, the kids enjoyed too (greatly unfortunate, as they ate too much of my share). I also tried some chocolate ice cream (dark, pure and flavoursome, but an unusual grainy/sorbet texture) and meghele sorbet (a spiced pudding flavour that is similar in flavour to a speculoos biscuit – icy but wonderful).
Mayrig also has a reasonable selection of Shisha, which I can imagine smoking out on their terrace in the evening as I watch the Ferraris slink over the speedhumps of the Mohd bin Rashid Boulevard before dying of thirst and popping back to The Palace for a quick beverage (Mayrig is unlicenced and I am after all, Australian).
Pros: Good al-fresco area, nice interior decor, a slight diversion from Dubai’s usual arabic offering, some excellent menu items, valet parking (15AED)
Cons: slightly nonchalant service, some rickety tables outside, some mediocrity on the menu, no shisha restrictions on the terrace (con for non-smokers), silly website with incorrect map
Phone for reservations (advised at busy times) +971(4)4539945
BD-OTCI-GF-08, Sheikh Mohamad Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai. Location is not where they pinpoint it, but here:
*A guide to ratings: These take into account the price, quality, service and the facilities, and in effect are a value rating. A venue with mains at 30AED has just as much chance of getting a 10/10 as a fine dining establishment.
- 0-2/10 = exceptionally overpriced or tremendously awful. Avoid at all costs.
- 3-5/10 = overpriced in respect to quality. Lacklustre. Don’t eat there unless there are no other options.
- 6-7/10 = reasonable value. Check other options in the area just in case, but not a bad choice over-all.
- 8-9/10= worth seeking out. Tremendous food and ambience. One of if not the best restaurant in the area.
- 10/10 = As good as it gets. Stop what you’re doing, book a table now.