Kahraman Arabic Restaurant - Southern Sun Hotel, Abu Dhabi

There is something quite arresting about Southern Sun Hotel in Abu Dhabi. I have dined there twice before, and on both occasions I was so enthralled by what they did in the kitchen. We live in a city where there is an obsession with 5 star dining, people often equating it with the best on offer simply because the restaurant is housed in a 5 star hotel. Southern Sun Hotel, a 4 star establishment in the city, has challenged that notion. A chance to go to Kahraman, a restaurant already known for having one of the finest Arabic chefs in Sous specialty chef Ahmed Awad Alfakier, was not to be missed.

The restaurant offers an experience with a twist. After looking at the menu, I can see why - they also serve Japanese classics. But for this review, I will focus on the Arabic part of my evening. The restaurant itself is cosy and welcoming. One feels it has a spiritual connection with The Foundry, also in the hotel. There is something I am yet to define, but they both have the same feeling of warmth. Classically elegant is how I would best describe Kahraman.

I peruse the Arabic selection on the menu, and this is where the twist lies for me. I love some of the combinations and marriages on it, something I have only seen at one other restaurant in the city. I think the menu has some bold options, taking one to the edge of Arabic cuisine. While I do not try them, these items suggest a twist!

Fin de Claire oysters, Syrian sumac and tomato ginger sauce
Wagyu nayyieh, basil sauce, pita lavoche
Sour lime lobster salad and eggplant mussaka.
I save these for next time, but all it took was a glance at that menu to stir me.

To get the evening going, we are served olives, truffle labneh and what feels and tastes like toasted Arabic bread. Another twist here. That Arabic bread transforms the nibbles at the start of my meal into something less ordinary. 

Next, we are served two salads. The Fresh rocca provides another twist. Duck confit, halawa sauce and pine nuts complete this evocative salad. It is bound to conjure up strong emotions of love or hate. Why? It is sweet. But I like that it again plays on the idea of taking something well known and turning it on its head. In an Arabic restaurant it works really well because there is such a  strong tradition of sweetness in Arabic cuisine. Next, we try the Fattoush. Of the two salads, this is the more traditional of the two in its interpretation. The generous pomegranate makes this a fantastic dish for me. How can you not like that sweet acidity? 

Following this is probably my dish of the night - Tastings of eggplant moutabel. This is essentially eggplant moutabel prepared three ways. Moutabel is rested on a grilled, mashed and crispy piece of egg plant. It is such a clever dish. This is easily the best moutabel I have had; tasty, inventive and traditional at the same time. 

One of the wines I enjoyed was the Graham Beck 2012 Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has a deep red colour, hints of blackberry and has a bit of the  the intensity associated with  some of my favourite Bordeaux wines. It is one of 10 reds and 10 whites on the wine list -  Kahraman offers  a  wine list that is well priced and caters to everyone. 

A common thread in everything we have had up to now is the typical concept in Arabic dining- sharing. I like that with all the twists, this is a  constant. 

The Meat kibbeh with foie gras  and the Lobster kibbeh with guacamole follow. What I like immediately is the different colour of the two dishes. There is that noticeable difference in the shade of brown of each kibbeh, giving each one  a character that goes beyond the ingredients. They are cooked so as to bring out the character of each. What both of them though is a beautiful crispiness. That is where the similarities end. The rest - well you have to try!

The final dish has to be the Grill of course. The lamb stands out for me; tender inspite of being quite well cooked. Juicy and moist - enjoyable.

Kahraman, in short, serves superb Arabic dishes, and while I enjoyed the Japanese items on the menu, I left the restaurant with memories of the crispy texture of the kibbeh, the creativity employed with  that moutabel and the classic flavours of the fattoush. I have often heard friends say that Arabic dishes are quite predictable and standard. I am one of those. However, when you have the pleasure of dishes by Chef Ahmed, you can appreciate his deft hand in how he interprets Arabic dishes, either subtly or profoundly. There are differences, and at Kahraman, you experience those dishes with a twist. 

The essentials

Southern Sun Hotel,
Abu Dhabi 
+971 8184888

Hot and cold Inspirations 40-95AED
Mains 135-165AED
Grills 185-225AED
Desserts 45 AED

Brandon Stoltenkamp