“It’s like an Andy Warhol take on a shawarma cafe.” was my tweet to Zaroob. Even now, I’m still trying to get over that little multi-colour cataclysm sitting strangely between the towers on Sheikh Zayed Rd.
They’ve taken cans of “Zwan Big Franks” and made them an artistic feature. Nestle UHT cream tins, with their matching white and blue theme join them in symmetrical pyramid stacks, along with the clashing orange boxes of dozens of bottles of tabasco sauce, and the tempting ooziness of Nutella and Kraft cream cheese held in form by glass. Corrugated iron, graffitied with a manga-style explosion lines the walls. There’s a cabinet-come-bookcase, holding other obscure treasures like worn teapots and Maggi stock cubes in industrial-sized packaging. The stair is brashly painted and has a lovable rickety demeanour, making one believe there might just be a portal upstairs that will take you to deepest, darkest Beirut.
Zaroob is not new. It’s concept was (to Dubai) when it first arrived in 2010, but even now, it still bucks trends by stripping bare all it’s unethical ingredients. Let’s throw around devilish terms like “processed”, “hydrogenated fats”, “MSG”, “Artificial Preservatives”, “Factory food”, “Flavour enhancers”, then let’s forget them all, sit down and swallow our conscience with some quite delicious and unashamedly naughty food. It’s a clever technique, similar to that used by great comics. Simultaniously insult and flatter us, whilst giving us the old razzle dazzle, so we get blinded by the lights and walk away with stars in our eyes and something to think about.
It’s not all fake food though (and I’m not really knocking the multinationals – Fateer will never be quite right for me without Kraft, and there’s something they put in a Maggi cube that I find I just can’t get elsewhere), there’s some gorgeously just-greasy-enough traditional shawarma chicken, zingy fresh salads and some of Dubai’s best hummous (best not to ask for the recipe though – there’s probably some ingredient cheats you really don’t want to know about). In fact, through the modern commercial gauze, you’ll see tradition is always evident. Their breads are where they excel, and with all that fateer slapping and fire stoking going on behind the kitchen barrier, you will be hard pushed to believe you are not sitting on stools in the midst of a dusty souq, but at the edge of the steel and glass DIFC, especially when you pop a mana’oush morsel in your mouth and the steam that puffs out of the bubbly pocket seems almost otherworldly.
Zaroob really is on it’s own in Dubai, and it’s hard to believe that even after four years, nobody has been game enough to copy it. It’s not like it’s a shrinking violet that nobody knows about. It’s sitting there gaudily on the city’s busiest road, with a set of flashing globes, occasionally with a letter out, so you always have to look twice to make sure the sign doesn’t say “boob”. I’m not the only one they’ve won over with their kooky, slap-in-the-face style and their cheeky 20 dirham shawarma. It’s always busy, even at 3 o’clock in the morning. There’s money to be made here… more venues please – and Zaroob, if you don’t do it, someone else eventually will.
Pros: Not expensive (around 60AED/head for a stuffing, with drinks), atmosphere, great for vegetarians, reasonable food, close to public transport (Metro), delivery and take-out available.
Cons: car parking abysmal, service up and down (always brief, rarely with a smile), very busy and a night out may involve waiting of at least 20 minutes for a table.
ph. 800 ZAROOB (927662) or +971 4 327 6060
Jumeirah Tower Building, Shop 1, Sheikh Zayed Rd. Map
*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.