The sounds of abras gliding over the winding waterways turn into music. Over the tent-filled terrace, the full moon casts a silvery light while the majestic Burj Al Arab hotel rising from the Persian Gulf puts on a spectacle of colour and light.
This is not a mirage.
Shoo Fee Ma Fee is a Moroccan restaurant located in Souk Madinat Jumeirah, an elegant complex complete with a hotel, restaurants and a shopping mall designed as a replica of an Arabian market. The name in Arabic is an informal question, meaning “what’s happening”, a testament to the relaxing ambience of this dining establishment.
The restaurant has an indoor dining room with cushion-lined benches, mosaic walls and Moroccan ornaments; a décor you’d want to replicate at home.
Enticing as it may be, it does not compete with terrace dining in an oasis-like setting with tents, palm trees and tiled table tops.
Waiters dressed in traditional Berber garb and float around effortlessly attending to diners’ needs. I breathe in the warm desert air and settle into the cushion-lined bench.
This is our second night in Dubai and I am falling in love with the city.
We start with an apéritif and order Arak, the aniseed-flavoured distillate that turns milky white when water is added. It is a taste I always enjoy and the best accompaniment drink for middle-eastern cuisine.
Marinated olives and a red pepper dip soon follow.
Bread rounds are presented in a silver dish. They remind me of sweeter brioche-style Coptic bread I have eaten at a friend’s home.
I strike a conversation with our waiter and learn that he is a native Moroccan from Marrakesh. We talk travel and food, in as much time as he can spare while attending to other diners. I often hit a common note with strangers when travelling. This is what memories are often all about.
The main courses arrive, served in decorative silver tagines. Once placed on the table, the lid is immediately removed and the aromas float towards the nose.
The Lamb Tagine bil Barkouk is a braised lamb leg with chopped onion and Moroccan spices, raisins topped with toasted almonds and sesame seeds. Much like the night, the lamb is tender and sweet.
I choose Couscous Bil Samak S’ouire, a spicy Moroccan dish made with hammour, the speciality fish of Dubai and served with couscous, carrots, chick peas and cabbage leaves. The fish is tender and moist and the fragrant couscous is ever so light and fluffy.
Both servings are generous and I find it difficult to finish my meal. I can tell that our waiter is hiding his disappointment. I do not wish to insult Arab hospitality so I quickly praise the dish and flavours and thank him for the food, explaining that the heat has somewhat affected my appetite.
To my left, I can’t prise my eyes off Burj Al Arab filling the night sky with shades of jade, indigo and fuchsia.
I am filled with excitement at the thought of our afternoon tea at Burj Al Arab in a couple of days.
Mr G delights in ordering Arabic coffee, “medium sweet”, echoing a favourite line out of James Bond’s From Russia With Love. The coffee is thick and fragrant and brought to the table in a traditional brass coffee pot.
Once the food and coffee are out of the way, we settle into the enjoyment of a Shisha, hubble-bubble, or arghileh as it is also known in other parts of the Middle East. We go by our waiter’s recommendation and order a “double apple shisha”. We may be non-smokers but when in Dubai, puffing on the sweet and fruity flavour is a pleasant pastime.
The night sky is magical. I gaze at the full moon in contemplation enjoying the tranquillity of a shisha and Mr G’s fine company.
We are left to our peaceful enjoyment, with the coals of the shisha replenished when needed. We are in no hurry to leave and we are not urged to vacate our table. We spend the remaining part of the evening sharing our impressions of the city so far and looking forward to the Dubai desert safari we have planned for the next day.
Our evening at Shoo Fee Ma Fee exceeded our expectations. The setting is unparalleled and the restaurant offers a dining experience in spectacular surrounds. The menu is extensive and the food is flavourful. Service is excellent and the waiters are more than happy to explain the dishes or offer their recommendations when asked. The ambience is relaxed and welcoming, the trademark of Arabic hospitality.
Shoo Fee Ma Fee
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
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