Photo by Patricia Esteve
Arabia - home
What’s not to love about a place that has its own giant camel in the doorway and an electric indoor fountain? The decor at Arabia may be a little kitsch, but at least it leaves you in no doubt about the kind of food you’ll be eating: floor-to-ceiling pan-Arabic overkill with blown-up photos of the Valley of the Kings, the Palestinian flag, Arabic MTV on the various plasma screens, garish paintings of doe-eyed Arab lovelies (one, bizarrely, in a fishnet hijab) or turbanned warriors on horseback, doorways with ogee arches, chairs in wipe-clean tapestry, painted wooden tables, retired shisha pipes used as candle holders... there is literally no cliché left unturned and not an inch of undecorated space anywhere. Even the waiters are decked out in taqiyah (round caps) and embroidered waistcoats.
As referenced by the decor, the cuisine is pan-Arabic, with many well-known dishes from Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon along with an occasional nod to Iraq, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.
The dishes Arabia does best are those centred around big chunks of meat: an excellently crisp lamb and beef shawarma; tender xix taouk; a towering pile of lamb couscous with the meat falling off the bones. With the notable exception of the felafel, vegetarian dishes fared less well: the fattoush salad was blah and needed much more bread, more heavily toasted for greater crunch and texture and to be far heavier on the mint and the lemon juice for anything approaching an authentic Levantine flavour; the warak inab (Lebanese stuffed vine leaves) were teeth-shrivellingly cold, having been served direct from the fridge, and the kousa mahshi (stuffed courgettes) also needed punchier seasoning to avoid the baby-food syndrome.
Finish off with cardamom-flavoured Arabic coffee (€2.50) and good pistachio baklawa; for those with some time to kill, there are even a couple of back rooms where, for €12, you can kick back and smoke a shisha.
Arabia, Sant Pere Més Alt 18 (Metro: Urquinaona—L1 and L4). Tel. 93 319 8793. Open daily, 12.30pm-1.30am. Set lunch €9.50, three courses à la carte with drinks around €28 a head.