Arabian Heights

Text and images by Cathering Ling @ Makansutra

Anar serves up a more polished rendition of Middle Eastern fare

Middle Eastern cuisine in Singapore can be a hit-or-miss affair. Part of the problem is that, while it is in no short supply here, your average Middle Eastern meal tends to be associated with dimly-lit, humdrum-hummus-serving, shisha-after-midnight joints that contribute to the haze in the Arab Street/Kampong Glam area.

Doubtless there are some diamonds in the rough among the kebab clubs in that part of town, but frankly, few Middle Eastern eateries here do much to rise above their literal back-alley locations.

Anar, while sharing the same heritage, could not present a more different experience, drawing you into a culinary casbah with a potent blend of lush decor and more importantly, faithful recreations of some of the world’s oldest fare.

Hot from the oven, flatbreads are the usual starters for an Arabian meal.

It’s common to start with a platter of herbs, vegetables, pickles and goat cheese, eaten with freshly baked flatbreads. It makes a pleasant change from the usual Western bread and butter/olive oil starter. To top it off, Anar has a special Persian oven custom built at its premises, so the breads come really toasty hot, crisp and light – like great pizza crust minus toppings.

A Middle-Eastern restaurant is often judged by how well it does the humble hummus. Hummus is historically known as a “food of the poor” because the chickpea-based dish is cheap, filling and yet nutritious. Anar’s version (S$14) though, is worthy of royalty. It’s dense and yet velvety smooth. The chickpea puree is enhanced with tahini (sesame seed paste) and fresh garlic. The grilled ground beef and extra virgin olive oil also give it a savoury edge. Scoop some up with the warm flatbread and enjoy.

The Hummus is a signature dish of any Middle Eastern restaurant.

Another popular Middle-Eastern dip is the Moutabbal (S$12), a smoky and rich salad of roasted eggplant, tahini, crushed garlic and lemon juice. It’s less heavy than hummus, and very moist. I found it slightly bland but strangely comforting.

Fattoush Salad (S$12) is a salad found everywhere in the Middle East. At first glance, it doesn’t look too impressive. Anyone can make this – just toss radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, peppers, and onions with olive oil and vinegar. And yet the simple greens are incredibly refreshing, and make a great palate cleanser after the creamy dips. The deep-fried pieces of flatbread add bonus crunch.

Here are three types of mashaoui or Middle-Eastern charcoal grill items, from left to right:

Meat lovers rejoice at the sight of the Kebabs.

Joojeh Kebab ($36) – juicily charred chicken breast marinated with saffron, onions and lime juice. Not bad, but for the price, it lacks a bit of punch.

Chelow Kebab Kubide ($38) – practically the national dish of Iran. Chelow means rice and the kebab (“meat”) kubide (“seasoning”) is grilled minced meat (lamb is used here). The aroma and sizzle are gorgeous, but I was not prepared for how soft and almost pasty this kebab was. I prefer meat that I can tear into like a good carnivore, but the taste made up for the texture.

Hammour Fillet Kebab ($38) – grouper fillet, lightly marinated in Iranian saffron and lime juice. Anar gets its produce fresh every day, and this grouper was so tender, it did flake easily. But this fish was still a little fishy in some parts.

The chelow kebab kubide is normally served on a huge bed of basmati rice tinged with yellow saffron, but here the rice is served separately and almost daintily. While the portion is small, the rice is very well-made, soft and fluffy. Besides, you’ll probably be too full already from all the flatbreads you ate earlier.

Interestingly, we learned that French fries have become ridiculously popular in the Middle East replacing or accompanying rice and bread.

The Mohalabieh is an Arabian dessert that is cooling and refreshing.

For dessert, Mohalabieh ($12) – Arabic milk pudding with rice powder and a hint of rosewater. All at once it tastes familiar and yet unusual. The roundly pleasing mouthfeel and coolness of the pudding makes it a godsend in our climate.

Anar also brought in a special machine from Iran just to specially make the dessert Falodeh Shirazi, which is a Persian-styled noodle sorbet with rosewater and lemon.

Mint tea is served after every meal in Morocco. Gunpowder tea leaves are recommended, along with good mint leaves, and sometimes cardamom pods. Moroccans like their tea frothy with bubbles too, so they will pour it from a height to create that. Sounds familiar? Looks like they

Mint tea usually goes with every Middle Eastern meal.

have their own teh tarik too! We enjoyed the tea profoundly. It even came with a cinnamon stick stirrer, which is a delightful touch.

To recreate the romance of the Arabian world, the restaurant uses handmade tiles from Iran, furniture commissioned from the United Arab Emirates, rugs from Arabia, and full-length Dimashq drapes from Syria (see first photo). Oil lamps, table tops, plates and decorative metalwork are from Iran, Morocco, Lebanon and Syria. Finally, a huge chandelier takes centerpiece attention under a silver dome. It all makes for dramatic dining, as befits the allure of the Middle East.

Anar

26 Sentosa Gateway #01-291

Open daily noon to 3pm for lunch, 6-10pm for dinner.

Tel: +65 6884-6989

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