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Friday, 27 June 2014

Ramadan Tents, The Best Loved Activity During Ramadan - Asateer, Atlantis The Palm

Arabic desserts display at Asateer (Atlantis The Palm Ramadan Tent) is to die for!
All the fave desserts are included!

Look, I don't normally do reviews on this blog. I always recommend my personal experiences which I have found outstanding because I really love to share good experiences with you and encourage you to try them. This may sound like a review, and perhaps it is. However only because I found it extremely outstanding, and was very impressed by Chef Ali El Bourji's approach and menu choices; and therefore want to recommend that you make sure to go to Asateer this Ramadan and enjoy the Chefs amazing selection.


Ramadan is a couple of days away! And in spirit I was invited to the launch of Atlantis The Palm's Ramadan Tent 'Asateer'. I was happy I could make it, as I had to miss on so many other launches this year (working on the very special Ramadan Special 2014 videos). So the launch of Asateer came as a much needed break, and am happy it did because the Atlantis Ramadan tent Asateer lives up to its name (literally meaning legends). The tent is just gorgeous as ever, the food was divine and I got a chance to finally meet their Executive Oriental Chef Ali El Bourji, who is in charge of the hotel's all things Arabic and Oriental cuisine.




Executive Oriental Chef Ali El Bourji next to his all edible palm tree creation
which he assembled from 3 types of dates. Most of the dates are stuffed with nuts.
The minute we met, we immediately immersed in a food conversation that felt like we knew each other for years and were just catching up. I had not yet checked the buffet or seen the food, we were just talking about food in general, Arabic cuisine and the chef's and my favourite foods. I could not believe that I had not met chef Ali until then! He was standing in front of a palm tree, which all of a sudden I finally paid attention to and discovered was made out of dates! Then I looked around to find these trees all over the tent, all of which made out of dates! Can you imagine the amount of time, it took him and his team to create these trees, making them look so perfect that you really do not notice at first?!

He smiled at my amazement and explained that they have used over 400 Kg of the best varieties of dates to create these trees. He wanted to incorporate an edible decoration in this year's tent (we all know how I feel about edible decorations and all he said was music to my ears). He then said:

"These are here to decorate, but are also edible, and our guests are welcome to try the dates. We have used the best varieties of dates: Al khalas, Al Loulou, Al Majdoul and we had stuffed most with a variety of nuts to include almonds, walnuts and pistachios..."

Seriously such attention to details, quality and creativity captures all my attention, I was immediately tuned in and wanted to know more about his approach and what else is being offered in terms of food. So I went to check out the buffet. Generally speaking Asateer's Buffet is very rich with so many different varieties of cold and hot appetisers to include the best loved Wara Enab Bil zeit (cold appetiser of rolled vine leaves), Baba Ghanoush another famous cold appetiser, white bean salad, avocado salad, hummus, mutabal... basically all the staples. However what really grabbed my attention is the Tahina fountain!!! Chef Ali's innovation, "never done before" as he describes, and explains he did look it up to see if anyone had done it before, but no one has.

Seeing the fountain, Immediately he is my best friend! I love it when Arabic chefs are pushing the envelope and introducing really interesting new concepts that are original, keeping with the authenticity of flavour and use of a given ingredient, however totally changing the experience adding that touch of new! The glamorous, all-white, pouring fountain of luscious Tahina is next to a live Salad station, where you can go make your own salad and dress it with this pouring heaven (or other dressings). However, my favourite part was the crispy bread covered with zaatar or sumac, which you can drench in this Tahina sauce and it tastes heavenly. Or the perfectly grilled skewers of zucchini, pepper, carrots... which have not been grilled to death but rather warmed back to life. Those with that Tahina, am telling you set my cravings throughout Ramadan!

Chef Ali El Bourji's Tahina Fountain, Sumac/Zaatar Crispy Bread &
Edible Decoration Date palms had me take my hat off for him.

As I continued exploring the huge buffet, I was so happy to find Mughrabiyeh, otherwise known as Maftool (a Levantine dish made with maftool which is similar to couscous yet with larger grains, a type of Arabic pasta, usually made from a mix of semolina and flour), I hardly ever find this dish on any menu in the city, so was really happy to see it there. Another favourite on the buffet is the Freekeh Bil Khodra (A pilaf of smoked green wheat with vegetables), Yakhnet Bamyeh (Okra Stew), and of course oozi (Stuffed whole lamb) and this is just to name a few! I loved finding some of my favourite dishes on that buffet, and you know, the foods of home, which we don't usually find in most Ramadan buffets.

Top left: Oozi (Stuffed whole lamb), Top Right: 36-hour slow smoked leg of beef
Bottom: Freakeh Bil Khodra (Pilaf od smoked green wheat and vegetables)
When I asked Chef Ali how he developed the menu he said:

"Every year, I look for something new. I want to improve and always impress our customers. I take all our customers' feedback, comments and requests into consideration each year when I design the menu. This year for instance we were asked to offer more varieties including western food, such as pasta, and we were asked for some Iranian varieties and more varieties from the Gulf region, and we have done that. We are offering Iranian, Western and Gulf food in varieties as you can see."

And yes, the buffet is very varied, and one particular dish was calling my name as he was talking. The slow smoked whole leg of beef! I had seen lots of foods before, but I had not yet seen a whole leg of beef on a buffet! And that thing was huge, obviously caramelised on the outside, and the massive leg sits on a bed of assorted roasted vegetables that look so well glazed by the smoked juices, the smell of which you cannot miss! With a copper pot filled with demi-glace whose layers of flavour take you to places only legends are capable of! I am definitely going back to Asateer, and if it were not for the Tahina fountain, the lost food of home, then definitely for the 36-hour slow smoked whole leg of beef!

Oh but wait! Because when I saw the Arabic desserts buffet I could not tell what exactly was the 'it thing' that will have me going back again and again to Asateer. Because honestly all sections had me drooling! In the dessert section, there is a variety of wonderful international desserts but then there is a huge section for classic Arabic desserts such as Namoora (also known as hareeseh), which was absolutely marvelous, usmallieh as well was great, Khushaf, Um Ali ... among others but the crown definitely goes to Karabeej Halab with Natif which is a classic Syrian dessert that most people have forgotten, as I had never yet seen it in Dubai and can only have it when I make it! It was there with all its glory, tasting as delicious as it does when bought from the old Syrian markets!

Hats off to Chef Ali, who is bringing back these classics, the flavours of the Levant in all their glory, but still adding his own touch of innovation, while keeping it all real and authentic! Really not an easy task! Respect.

With that said, Chef Ali had also developed an a la carte menu for Suhoor, two items of which grabbed my full attention, and can't wait to try them. The slow cooked tagine of lamb shoulder, with vegetables and oriental rice, and the tagine of lobster. Both of which sound heavenly to my ears and having tried his food, I trust will be outstanding. On that menu there are interesting desserts too, to include Baqlawa ice-cream and Emirati Dates ice-cream! I am telling you the guys is a genius!

Asateer are open throughout Ramadan for Iftar and Suhoor, with live entertainment and games (cards, backgammon and such). The tent is glamorously gorgeous, it is the perfect hang out this Ramadan and on my top recommends list.

Asateer, Ramadan Tent in Atlantis The Palm

Being on a very tight schedule, I was unable to go to any other Ramadan Tent previews, I had to sadly miss out on all of them. However, I have been hearing good stuff from my friends who have been to many other tents and places and I look forward to trying them during the Holy month. Ishita Saha has a round up post, where she tells you all about where to eat during Ramadan (whether you fast or not). She included a list of restaurants open all day long, as well as Ramadan Tents and attractions. Do check out her comprehensive post on this link.


Hope you guys are ready and excited for my Ramadan Special 2014 - On The Path of Food. I will start posting first day of Ramadan and daily until the end of the Holy month. If you are new to this blog and have no idea what I am talking about, then check out this link. If you had missed any of this Ramadan Special trailers, then find them all on this link. While you are at it, don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel, this way you will stay posted with any new videos I upload there too :)

Don't forget to come back on Ramadan 1st, really can't wait to share the posts with you guys!

Yalla, till then...

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