A new Iraqi experience comes to Abu Dhabi - Layali Baghdad, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi

Layali Baghdad is bound to catch your eye as it did mine a couple weeks before I tried it. On that occasion, the restaurant was quite full as I drove by. But I loved teh vibe I was getting from a distance thanks to large traditional Iraqi windows. Also, a fire encased in a glass room close to the entrance really grabbed my attention. Thus was born my interest in this restaurant, still in soft opening in Khalifa City. It will open fully in September. 

The restaurant is simple and minimalist, with homely tables and chairs used to convey a sense of exactly that - home.  We start off with lentil soup, prepared Iraqi style. The main difference, as I taste it, is the thicker texture it has compared to what one usually has. Very hearty.

We try some cold starters with piping hot tandoori bread - they have a tandoor in the kitchen. I appreciate the fact that bread is routinely replaced with freshly baked bread. The highlight of the salads and highly recommended is the signature Layali Baghdad salad - a mixture of eggplant, walnuts, tomato and pomegranate. Make sure you also try Jajeek, a fresh yogurt salad of cucumber, yogurt and garlic. 

The highlight of the evening is going outside to see our Iraqi  river fish, grilled near an open flame. Well, to satisfy safety authorities, it is not quite open. What is interesting for me is that the fish is not cooked by the direct flame but by heat. Once ready, it is served at the table. The fish is lightly seasoned, so the accompanying amba, a sauce derived from India. It is both spicy and sour, and really adds a bit of zip to the fish. The dish, called Masgouf, is such an integral part of Iraqi cuisine it would be amiss not to have it. Finally, it is treat watching Fouad, our well spoken Iraqi waiter, debone the fish and I see that there are no small bones. 

We also try the Mixed grill. Look no further than the lamb kebab, made from lambs farmed in  Iraq. People often say that a kebab is a kebab - try this and let's see what your response is. Not only is it remarkably tender, the Iraqi spices add something different to it. As is the case with Arabic cuisine as you have come to know it here, you will see that Iraqi cuisine is also very much about abundance as evidenced by some of these pictures. 

While the restaurant is in soft opening, the dessert menu is not yet ready, but I understand it will be a real treat. In the meantime, I discover the importance of tea in Iraqi culture as I try two of the different types of tea. When fully operational, there will be a third added to the menu, something akin to karak chai. Tonight, though, we have a lemon based tea that tastes and feels medicinal - great for digestion. There is also a more traditional black tea that is aromatic and intense. Layali Baghdad has employed Hussain, specially brought in from Iraq to serve tea. He is quite a character and adds so much to the enjoyment of the tea drinking experience. 

As far as prices go, the menu is very reasonable and comparable with many Arabic restaurants I have been to. Salads are 23-27AED while mains average around 60AED. The 1kg fish we had, by the way, is 70AED. A night out for two should not cost between 150-200AED if your main is the Masgouf. 

Finally, on the night I am here, there is a mix of clientele but probably evenly spread I am told between Iraqis, locals and Middle Eastern expats with a  sprinkling of Westerners. All in all, a nice mix of diners.

Layali Baghdad will prove a wonderful addition to the Arabic dining scene. With 60% of the staff here Iraqi and a full Iraqi kitchen, it is also a  chance to get a cultural infusion from one of the oldest cultures in the world. It is an opportunity to sit back and drink tea and talk, have more tea and talk some more while Iraqi music creates a lively atmosphere in the background. It is an evening where food and culture come very close to each other. 


Layali Baghdad
Down the road from the Marriott
+971 2 5859928

Brandon Stoltenkamp
Disclaimer: I was invited to try Layali Baghdad courtesy of the restaurant