Restaurant café hybrids are usually disappointing. They fail to balance both elements, and often are biased towards the “café” end, amounting to little more than a café where you can get subpar French fries and club sandwiches.
Mazaj, an oriental restaurant located in the Mall of Arabia in 6 October, thankfully reverses this trend with its extensive menu of dishes from across the Arab world and Turkey. While yes, you can pop in for a shisha and coffee, which many people do, you can also have a five-course meal from all around the region.
The restaurant boasts dishes from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Turkey and Morocco. You can either try an experimental set meal for EGP 84 (before taxes) or, if you have some money to splurge, freestyle it.
A must-have is the taboulah salad from Lebanon; chopped parsley with tomatoes, onions, and mint combine for an exquisite taste, accentuated with the perfect ratio and size of the onions.
In contrast, we recommend you avoid the traditional Egyptian lentil soup – unless, that is, you like your soup a tad solid. We are told this is an intentional move on the chef’s part because lentils are not fully grinded in the Egyptian countryside, an effect Mazaj tries recreate, but one that we did not fully appreciate, as the final product more closely resembles porridge than soup.
The chefs make up for it though with their mastery of cooking meat. Virtually any beef or chicken based appetiser or dish at Mazaj is worth ordering, making the prospect of making a choice all too daunting.
For appetisers we went with Alexandrian sausages and liver; we were not disappointed. The sausages were crunchy and delicious, while the liver avoided the pitfall most restaurants fall into of an overly indulgent sauce-to-meat ratio. When added with a side of tahina and the complementary Shami pita bread, these generous appetiser portions made for a scrumptious meal on their own.
When it comes to main dishes, we can confidently recommend the kofta with tahina and potatoes, which is not kofta with a side of French fries, something we were happy to be mistaken about.
Instead we were rewarded with a large piece of kofta, almost steak-like, covered with a layer of potato with rice and a bowl of tahina on the side, making for a truly delectable combination of flavours.
Another excellently executed dish was the traditional Egyptian molokheya with roasted chicken. The density of the molokheya was perfect, not too viscous or liquid, and the chicken was tender and cooked to perfection.
Although we didn’t try it ourselves, Mazaj offers msakhan, a Palestinian style dish composed of chicken with onion, sumac, olive oil, and special spices. The menu also houses Circassian chicken – Turkish style chicken served with a creamy walnut sauce.
At that point we were too stuffed to go on, but Mazaj does offer a limited desert menu for those who have some space left, including: rice pudding with nuts and raisins, regular pudding with the same, or Om Ali with milk, nuts and cream.
If you happen to be in the Mall of Arabia and feel in the mood for a fancy Middle Eastern dinner however, Mazaj is worth a visit. Other branches are expected to open soon.