After my recent dining escapades, I received a bunch of requests to suggest an affordable place that serves authentic cuisine adapted with a modern twist. Unfortunately in Dubai finding a place with below the average prices and above the average food is a challenge. The majority of fantastic restaurants are not particularly cheap. However my research was quite successful and I’m ready to suggest one: Omnia Baharat.
Omnia Baharat is run by chef Silvena Rowe, a TV personality, traveller, writer and restaurateur who lives between Sofia, London, Dubai and New York. Silvena grew up in the Balkans with a Bulgarian mother and Turkish father, who inspired her to explore their family roots by spreading all across the region. After living and working in multicultural London, Silvena travelled across the Middle East trying new flavours, which resulted in a book of recipes and a collection of Omnia restaurants around Dubai: fine dining Omnia by Silvena in Downtown, healthy Omnia Gourmet in JBR, and the mysterious Omnia Baharat.
The word Omnia was originally adapted to Urdu and Arabic from Latin, transforming its meaning from “everything” to “wish”. Interestingly, local belief holds the lucky number associated with Omnia is 3 (what a coincidence, or is it?). Baharat means spice in Arabic. A wish for spice? I always have one.
Omnia Baharat was opened in the new addition to Mall of the Emirates, right next to the cinema and squeezed between a spread of traditional and modern restaurants. On the one hand it benefits from endless foot traffic of visitors and residents, but the local competition is extensive and merciless. It was a wise business decision to develop a distinctive visual look to make a great first impression possible.
The new look and feel starts right at the entrance when a tall man dressed in a turban, kaftan, trendy shoes and impeccable moustache greets you with a smile. Seeing him immediately brought back memories from the Taj Hotel in busy Mumbai and heart-warming Indian hospitality.
The transformation continues through the restaurant in little details: a storybook-like menu, bright table tops, garlands of flowers hanging off the ceiling, and a masterpiece mural on the left side. The mural, greatly influenced by local and regional folklore, is not only Instagram friendly but sets the mood for the upcoming meal: vibrant, warming, creative and filling.
Prior to ordering I discussed my options with Mohammed, who looked after the table and pointed me to a spread of modern healthy dishes paired with traditional choices, for good balance of calories and spices. I couldn’t agree more! My hummus, spinach pakoras and quinoa salad with crunchy greens proved me right! It was the smoothest creamy hummus I’ve ever tried, with the texture of mascarpone cream sprinkled with sugar crystals. Once on your tongue the crystals turn to fireworks as they start gently exploding in your mouth. What a start! Pakoras served with sweet tamarind and minty coriander sauce had a mix of traditional spice and a lovely kick of heat. The deliciously crunchy quinoa was perfect to clear the palette and keep the appetite going.
Mohammed helped me choose the mutton biryani and savoury shrimp as mains. A big biryani fan, I always keep an eye out for the way it’s presented. I like it in a clay pot, steamed under a dough lid, which I realize is more traditional but it’s the one I crave. Pot and lid in place, Silvena the chef at Omnia Baharat did not disappoint!
The curry shrimp with freshly sliced ginger was sweet and savoury. My deliciously fragrant mutton biryani had a mild spice level and a side serving of raita to cool down the taste buds at any given moment.
For dessert I chose “dessert in a sugar shell”, which required a little cracking action. Armed with a dinner knife I popped it open to discover a light chocolate mouse and immediately dug in. Tempted by the irresistible look, I also got a slice of gluten-free dark chocolate date cake layered with smooth coconut cream on top of hazelnut rich pastry.
Omnia Baharat is positions themselves as Indian street food, however they definitely expand beyond quickly prepared meals with a focus on mildly spiced and fragrant Indian food with a twist.
I’m wearing #Forever21ME outfit