Indeed, we have yet to find (and not sure we will…) a nationality that doesn’t adore Lebanese cuisine. So there we were, three friends, at Nay Restaurant & Lounge, perched in DIFC’s Emirates Financial Towers. The establishment is named after the “Nay”, a musical wind instrument of Arab origins, which has the ability to produce Oriental as well as Occidental tunes. That is exactly the character Nay conveys; Lebanese food with a Western twist and an Occidental look with an Oriental feel.
Pink and dark purple curtains adorn the windows, couches and low tables line the welcome area, creating a lounge-like atmosphere, while regular tables and chairs populate the main dining room.
The very pleasant manager Ryan -who in ‘typical Lebanese fashion’ speaks Arabic, English and French- welcomed us warmly and lead us to our table. Upon arriving at 7pm, we were pleased with the lounge music that caught our ear. We later found out that Nay plays famous Lebanese singer Fairuz during the day, before switching to lounge music in the evening, setting the vibe for the nightly ‘live’ Arabic performance as of 11pm.
After asking for the house specials and favorites, dinner started off with a mix of cold on warm to wet our appetites: herby focaccia-like serving bread and a cream cheese with diced veggies dip.
What follows next is a feast of colors and interesting fusions, some we had never experienced before:
A scrumptious Tabbouleh with the perfect blend of spices and burgul, to the delight of our French friend.
Cold Mezzeh (starters):
Delicious Basterma Rolls: air dried beef slices (Armenian origins) stuffed with cheese filling and grilled eggplant with an underlying drizzle of pomegranate, a very unusual yet interesting mix of flavors.
Pickled Tuna -although the name didn’t inspire us at first, we were glad to discover this success Arabic version of the Japanese tuna tataki: succulent tuna slices with a slightly tangy pistachio dressing,
Being a raw meat lover, I was the only one to venture into trying the Raw Habra (also commonly known as “teble”): finely minced raw lamb meat flavored with Lebanese spices and served with garlic dip. The meat was definitely of very good quality, but a tad insipid.
For the most famous and essential starters, hummus and eggplant mutabbal, we preferred not to go for the traditional ones and chose Nay Mutabal Eggplant and Hummos Green Rihan instead. The Nay Mutabal Eggplant, grilled eggplant puree mixed with red radish, vegetables and topped with reduced olive sauce, looked very nice. But the rather bland taste did not do the dish justice. The Hummos Green Rihan, a chickpea puree with pesto, topped with basil sauce, sees its pesto slightly overpowers the taste of the chickpea puree mix. But I’ve always liked mixing unusual flavors with hummus, so I enjoyed the weird green and beige concoction.
Insisting on having one of my favorite Lebanese starters and one of the only dishes our French friend eats very easily, we got excited about vine leaves with a twist: Nay Vine Leaves are stuffed with rice, tomato, parsley, onion and pistachio. The intriguing stuffing of the diamond-shaped parcels unfortunately fails to impress. We chatted with the chef who accepted our opinions with a smile, and agreed that we are perhaps too used to the traditional vine leaves to enjoy this eccentric combination.
Warm Mezzeh (starters):
Another one of our favorites, the Spicy Potatoes -spicy fried potatoes with coriander and chili- are actually served as very mildly-spiced wedges.
The Homemade Makanek, small fried lamb sausages, tasted good, especially with the pomegranate sauce. Having them with some hummus is always a great idea.
Our Egyptian friend had opted for Chicken Liver as one of the warm starter; while I’m usually not a fan of the sautéed chicken liver with pomegranate sauce dish, I was pleasantly surprised by its taste, and confirmed my friend’s very positive feedback.
We were both keen on trying the Fattet Kebab Bil Karaz, and boy were we happy we did! Now, this dish is an usual one: meatballs stuffed with cherries, roasted Arabic bread, eggplants and pine nuts served in yoghurt, that might sound too risky to those who aren’t familiar with this type of food, but believe me, it was by far the best dish I’ve ever had!
The Mixed Grill platter, a must-have whenever dining in a Lebanese restaurant, had an ok mix of lamb cubes, shish taouk, kebab halabi and kofta arayes. The chicken cubes and kebab were the tastiest out of the whole bunch.
Being too full, we dared not order dessert, but the friendly staff insisted on us trying the house favorites:
Dates Osmalieh: crunchy roasted vermicelli dough stuffed with kashtaliah and dates, served with sugar syrup. Nay successfully put a spin on the traditional osmalieh by incorporating dates to it.
The Halawi flavored Cheesecake with molasses sauce was too weird for my taste, but my Egyptian friend appreciated it. As we always say, tastes and colors aren’t a topic for discussion, so to each their own.
The Oriental Chocolate Bars were delicious: a reinvention of the chocolate biscuits all Lebanese moms make (various other names: ‘biscuit au chocolat’, succes or lazy cake), Nay’s version combines chocolate cinnamon, caramel, peanuts, and dates.
Dinner was crowned with a very generous, colorful fruit platter, presenting a wide variety of local and exotic fruits.
Nay has accomplished a difficult task: turning traditional Lebanese cuisine into an East meets West experience. The lovely presentation and unconventional flavors are worth the visit, and the indoors shisha and smoking are a definite convenience to smokers.
For reservations: +971 4 351 6660 or firstname.lastname@example.org