Nestled at the foot of Emirates Hills, tucked in a corner of the Meadows Village Center, lies Niloo’s — one of dubai’s gastronomic secrets.
There’s always a sense of excitement, spiced by a pinch of trepidation, when sampling food from a different culture. At least this is the case with me; a die-hard food adventurer, I must confess, I am not. Hence, Niloo’s in the Meadows Village Center offered a chance to spread those culinary wings and take flight. The cuisine, hailing from the ancient area between the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, offered an alluring trail of mystery.
Stepping inside the establishment, through a pleasingly subtle entrance (a thoughtful departure from the overtly gaudy signage infecting many of Dubai’s recent eateries), visitors are greeted by a small, living room-style waiting area. This being a weekday, my dining companion and I are immediately seated. The inside setting is nice enough, albeit a little unremarkable. We opt for the outdoor area instead, being tempted by the sweet scent and calming bubbling sounds of shisha. Larger groups can also relax on raised majlis-style seating.It is time for the starters. Fresh juice really makes a world of difference when sitting outside on Dubai summer nights. I go with a safe mint lemonade (safe because I’ve yet to have had a poor one at any establishment), while my companion enjoys an orange-carrot mix.
Niloo’s menu may come off as slightly puzzling for newcomers to its cuisine. “Sir, you should really try the mast o khiar” — huh? “Ma’am, the fesenjan bademjan is a great way to start off any meal!” (The what?). We then sheepishly place our orders when the waiter points to the smaller print explaining what each dish comprises of. I go for the zeytoon parvardeh: a bowl of chopped olives basted in a pomegranate sauce and crushed walnuts. A tangy, zesty dish — and I’m not even a big fan of olives. My partner’s mirza ghassemi (a puree of eggplant mixed with tomato, garlic and egg) could be deemed more apt for conservative taste buds — tasty, but not in as exotic a fashion. Both starters, it should be noted, were well portioned enough to stand as individual meals. Particularly when served with massive rotis and the aforementioned mast-o-khiar (yoghurt mixed with cucumber).
My main course of choice was gheymeh bademjan, or, a traditional lamb stew, cooked in tomato sauce and eggplant served with saffron rice. My companion opted for a zereshk polo with chicken, served with the same rice as well as a fruit unique to the Caspian region: barberry. The lamb stew was faultless, but easily enough for two people; a must-try if you’re a fan of its desi counterpart, palak ghosht. My partner enjoyed her chicken, and commented that the barberry “tasted just like cranberry”. (A lesser-known Middle Eastern cousin, no doubt.) Once again, each dish was good for two (or three, if dieting). Portions here aren’t so much generous as gargantuan.
Dessert is Persian tea and traditional falooda. The tea needs no sugar added whatsoever, with an inherent sweetness apparent at the first sip. The falooda differs somewhat from the popular south Asian dessert. For one, it seems to be made from rice noodles. Another point of departure is that it is served with lemon juice and rosewater, in two separate vials. Patrons get to adjust the dessert to their own taste, which is a nice touch. If you’re looking to sweeten the falooda, simply pour loads of rosewater onto it. If you find it too sweet, you can douse everything in a few dollops of lemon juice.
All in all, Niloo’s is a refreshingly different culinary destination. Having been guilty of harbouring certain preconceptions about the Caspian region’s style of food, I am most pleased to have been proved wrong.