Does the sea breeze make food taste better? Probably not if we're talking about gravel burgers with stale cardboard fries, but if the food is three-fourths of Good, a gentle whiff of salty air might just make it whole.
This is the story of Al Nasmah, a sea-side Lebanese restaurant along the Sharjah corniche. The menu features exactly that genre of standard mezze and mixed grills that completely extinguishes my flames of blogging inspiration. Even if the mezze and mixed grill platter ends up blowing your brains away, what more is there left to say in this world about creamy hummous and crispy pita chips dangling out of farm-fresh fattoush that hasn’t been written to death before?
So I won’t wax poetic about how we sat by the open window facing out to the fishing boats and nets, the saltiness of the coastal air only matched by the Aleppo chillies ground up into a coarse fiery paste and buttered generously between folds of toasty grilled khubz. Nor will I sing praises about the bowls of warm cloudy chicken soup, astonishingly reminiscent of the one made my hometown Indian community and if possible, doubly improved by a squeeze of lemon and a few drops of hot sauce. All I know was I landed up ‘not hungry at all, no really, I won’t eat much,’ and walked out like a plump rotisserie chicken, sweating and heaving after having consumed far more than my stomach had budgeted for the day.
I blame it on the sea breeze.
It helped that Mustafa, the warm-hearted host at Al Nasmah, had the sort of fatherly understanding face that might overlook insolent acts of peering into the kitchen and distracting the cook at the grills. It was no different than walking into someone’s home by the beach and sinking down at the lunch table, a table laden with fresh dips that may not stare back at you with the perfectly sculpted stare of a practiced restaurant chef, but rather gaze at you lovingly like a kind aunt whose misshapen homely cookies won’t judge you for indulging. Even if you’re compelled to shove them in two at a time.
Simple things that I barely ever touch stealthily landed up on my plate and slipped their way into my tummy even though I had snobbishly refused to fill my stomach with ‘standard fare.’ I was having seconds of dishes that I wouldn’t normally have given a second glance, like the yellow Machboos rice simmered in chicken stock and a distinctly familiar but unidentifiable palette-warming spice. Or the inconsequential hockey sticks that often claim to be lamb chops, which at Al Nasmah had been flattened down with a mallet, predictably overcooked, and rendered surprisingly palatable because the battered meat had transformed into jerky, or meat chips, or something in between that I’d rather not admit I gnawed on all the way till the bone. Or those boneless mutton kababs – ‘dead meat’ buried into the depths of almost every mediocre mixed grill platter, only to be resurrected into ghastly stringy ghouls between your jaws. At Al Nasmah, they were refreshingly flavourful and hinted of charcoal smoke, just the kind you’d make at your own BBQ party at home.
For a mixed grill hater like myself, I’d venture to say that Al Nasmah put out a plate that wasn’t half as offensive as the overcooked flavourless nubs that might often be inflicted on your jaws. And even if Al Nasmah's grills aren't up to the mark, then do what we end up doing at so many overrated joints in Dubai: let your fingers travel back to the bread basket and take comfort in the ambiance. But save your tears because the platter is stupidly cheaper than anything we’d get on the high street.
The next time I need to let my hair down, run away from work and pretend like I’m holidaying at a remote fisherman’s village that’s far, far away from an imploding inbox of emails, I might just break my mixed platter rule and head back with family to Al Nasmah. The food is unassumingly simple, fresh, and seasoned generously with one of the most invigorating ingredients you can sprinkle over your kababs: all-you-can-inhale sea breeze.
Al Nasmah Restaurant
Facing the Sharjah corniche, Al Fisht Sharjah
Phone: 06-5225100 / 06-5225150
Link to Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/0za1B