Turkish Delight!

City Walk
Al Safa Street, Al Wasl Area,
United Arab Emirates

26th October, 2018

Istanbul was Constantinople;
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople;
Been a long time gone, Oh Constantinople;
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night
” – They Might Be Giants

Sometimes, and by sometimes I mean often, I find myself clicking and flicking my laptop trackpad on a zoomed out three-dimensional image of Mother Earth on Google Maps. (Cue ‘Lonely’ by Akon) Sounds strange, right? Believe it or not, it’s proven to be quite an effective way of planning my travels abroad. Well, my solo trips at least! It becomes a whole lot more complicated when others get involved. Picture a virtual game of ‘Pin the tail on the Donkey’ – the pin/tail being the cursor, the donkey being the 3D rotating image of Earth, and my blindfold being the rapid flicking of my trackpad.

One donkey…I’m sorry, country, that has for unexplainable reasons evaded me (and the tail) is – no second guesses – Turkey. I don’t think it would be presumptuous of me to say that most travel enthusiasts would agree that certain countries call out to you more than others. And that varies from person to person. For instance, if given a choice of holiday destination, say between Spain and the United States of America, I wouldn’t think twice before choosing the former. To some, money could be a deciding factor, to others, the culture, and to the rest, the fact that the country isn’t run by an overripe orange. That’s not to say that Turkey hasn’t been a country I’ve always wanted to visit; it’s just that when the time came to choose a holiday destination, it always came up second. Always the best man, never the groom!

The Anıtkabir in Ankara, the Temple of Apollo in Antalya, Cappadocia’s hot air balloon adventure, and Istanbul’s famous tourist attractions – Blue Mosque, Sophia Hagia, Topkapi Palace. Wait a minute, there’s something missing! Oh wait, that’s right! The food! How can you discuss about Turkey without even talking about the food?! The lamb köfte, çılbır, baklava, bulgur pilavı, turkish delight, and so much more!

Even as I typed out the list, I thought to myself “How have I not yet visited this place?”. Perhaps it’s the (relatively) close proximity to home, or the extremity of the weather, or the questionable safety from time to time, or the crippling anxiety that will overcome me once I step into the ever claustrophobic Grand Bazaar. Who knows? Hopefully, it isn’t too long before I find myself pinning the tail on that ancient donkey!

For the time being, however, I had to make do with dining at Babaji.

The weather was quite pleasant for a change, enough to entice my family and I out of our air-conditioned home, and right into a fully air-conditioned Dubai Mall. Fortunately, we didn’t hand about inside for too long! Half an hour later, we found ourselves standing under the sun in the central atrium of the open-aired City Walk. It was quarter past one in the afternoon, and my stomach began to hint (quite aggressively) at requiring urgent nourishment. Deciding it was as good a time as any to have lunch, we quickly scanned the area for a suitable restaurant. And lo behold! There it was, right in front of us – the words gleaming, white on midnight blue – Babaji.

We made our way across the courtyard. When approached by one of the waiters, we requested for a seat outside – to enjoy the weather. Also because food pictures tend to be much better in a more al fresco setting (fact!…nope!). Our request was immediately accepted and we were soon seated at a bench (with a table) outside. The waiter arrived, promptly, with menu cards for each one of us. I’m not going to lie, given that we were dining at a Turkish/Middle-Eastern restaurant, I was more than slightly sceptical of the vegetarian options available for my mother. Fortunately, the more I read through the menu, the more I realized that even though the vegetarian options were limited, there were still enough for her to choose from.

 ( From top left to bottom right ): Çılbır; Chicken Köfte; Chicken Shish; Pide Patates; Fıstıklı Havuç Dilim
(From top left to bottom right): Çılbır; Chicken Köfte; Chicken Shish; Pide Patates; Fıstıklı Havuç Dilim

It wasn’t too long before the waiter arrived at our table, eager to take our order. We duly obliged, and placed our order for the drinks and starters. When prompted to place our order for the mains, we told him that we needed a few more minutes to decide, which he acknowledged with a smile. Our drinks arrived just as we felt the heat from the overhead sun become more and more pronounced. The Passion-fruit Mojito was the perfect solution to what was slowly becoming a really sweaty afternoon. The drink was the perfect blend of sweet (from the syrup) and sour (from the fruit). We placed our order for the mains before the waiter could go back inside to bring us our starter.

Our starter arrived a few minutes later. Çılbır – a classic Turkish appetizer of poached eggs submerged in room temperature spiced yogurt – was served in a white ceramic bowl, accompanied by a plate of freshly baked Khubz. This was the first time I’ve ever had Çılbır, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. The eggs were poached well-done (not congratulatory), which I believe is the best preparation of poached eggs for such a dish. The yogurt was neither runny nor solid and perfectly balanced the spiced oil drizzled over the eggs. It was certainly a dish I could envision people savouring over for breakfast or during the cold, rainy winters in Turkey. The only problem, if you can call it that, I had with the dish was the ratio of yogurt to eggs. We found ourselves with quite a bit of the yogurt dip by the end. Thankfully, there was enough bread to go around and we managed to scrape every last bit of yogurt from inside the bowl.

We had plenty of time to digest our appetizer and sip on our drinks before the mains arrived. Three dishes arrived at our table – the Chicken Köfte, the Chicken Shish, and the Pide Patates. There was no doubting that either of the dishes was anything but Turkish. The Pide Patates – a Turkish potato pizza – was definitely the dish that first caught my eye, not for it’s unusual shape, but for the visually pleasing mosaic plate on which it was served. The vegetarian option – as chosen by mother, the only vegetarian at the table – justified its place on our table as well as on the restaurant’s menu. The dish – which was more flatbread than pizza – was heavy and hearty, enough for two to share if you don’t find yourself having a giant appetite. Having potato in a “pizza” is as controversial as it comes – possibly second to pineapple. But it works! Especially when seasoned with the right spices. The cheese did not overwhelm nor did it completely dominate the flavour; and the slices of red chilli weren’t overly fiery.

The Chicken Köfte – the dish that I had ordered – was another one that pleased the visual senses. From the grill marks on the köftes to the bulgur pilav mould. Before I can get to the actual köfte, I just think the bulgur pilav deserves a moment in the sun; that is, recognition. Like the Çılbır, the bulgur pilav wasn’t a dish that I had ever tasted before in my life. And just like the Turkish poached egg, the broken wheat rice soon became a favourite of mine. Honestly, I actually prefer it to rice, especially when had with kebabs. Its bulbous nature might indicate a fatty and heavy intake, but it is quite the opposite. In fact, it was the perfect accompaniment to the köfte. I didn’t feel the need to unbutton my jeans to make room for my enlarging tummy. Speaking of the köfte, while the “Turkish meatball” was full of flavour (courtesy the spices), I did feel that a few pieces were slightly overcooked, as the meat inside was a little dry and chewy. Fortunately, I had my mojito to smooth things down in my oesophagus, but a few bites did make for some tough chewing.

The last main dish on the table was the Chicken Shish. Not much needs to be said about the chicken shish. Unlike the köfte, the shish kebabs were moist and spiced appropriately. As always, the naan below the kebabs had soaked up enough of the juice from the chicken, and made for an appetising post-kebab meal. With our mains at an end, it was time to contemplate dessert. In the end (it did matter!) there were two major factors that influenced by decision to order dessert – confidence in my appetite, and the curiosity that overcame me when I read about the restaurant’s Carrot Baklava! The Fıstıklı Havuç Dilim – translation: Carrot Slice with Pistachio. That, in a nutshell, is what arrived at our table – a slice of carrot baklava, with a layer of fresh cream down the middle, in the shape of a near perfect isosceles triangle. Garnished with crushed pistachios, of course! It’s a pity that we decided to order only the one slice, because it was all over in minutes. Granted, I did have majority of the dessert, but it was so good that it left me wanting more. The perfectly flaky pastry dough, the sweetness from the carrots and the sugar syrup, reaching saturation only to be dumbed down by the flavourless fresh cream, and the garnish of pistachio crumbs that added a crunchy texture to the whole affair. Not to mention, the plating of the baklava, which was served on yet another visually pleasing intricate mosaic oval plate.

Normally, this is where I would tell you what I did after the meal, but I think I can make an exception here. As you may have realized, my first visit to Babaji was extremely enjoyable and culinarily satisfying. Here’s what you ought to know. Since that lunch, I’ve had the opportunity to dine at the restaurant twice – once with friends and the second with friends and family. Both of these subsequent visits have been equally pleasing and delightful. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling other dishes, such as the Lamb Köfte, the Sucuk, the Topkapi Chicken, the Four Cheese Pide, and the Homemade Hummus. Each dish was executed to perfection and the quality of service has remained top-notch throughout. The biggest surprise was when I learnt, quite recently, that the restaurant is actually owned by Mr. Alan Yau – founder of Wagamama, Hakkasan, and Yauatcha. Babaji was his first venture into the realm of Middle Eastern cuisine, and the restaurant first began operations in SoHo, London, before finding its way to Dubai. While I’ve heard that the London branch recently shut its doors, I have no doubt in my mind that, should everything remain the same (status quo), it’ll be awhile before we even get to talking about the beginning of the end of Babaji in Dubai.

Babaji Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *