The first time I saw Cabrito was last November. It didn’t have a name at the time. It was all boarded up and under construction. And it lay on the head-smackingly dismal and dusty road near Mall of the Emirates in Barsha.
The next time I saw Cabrito was standing right under their blatantly non-vegetarian signboard, all ready to step in and finally get a taste.
(Didi and Varshik, thanks for being my Barsha-eyes.)
Cabrito, contrary to its name, is not Mexican or Argentinian. The origins of the place are grounded in the Arabian peninsula. The concept first opened up branches in Saudi, and it serves up the usual Yemeni/Bedouin suspects including Mandi, Madhbi and Madfoon. And some incredible cumin-crusted lamb shoulder that deserves serious tummy lust from any lamb-lover who finds themselves hungry within 50 kilometres of Barsha.
What chicken Mandi is to Crêpe, my Haneeth lamb was to Baklava. Multi-layered, texturally intriguing, deeply flavourful, sigh-inducing. This meaty baby had been baked up in what the hostess claimed was a 'special oven,' and it emerged with caramelized finesse. The burnished cumin crust on the outside was stretched taut in places, folded up thickly in others, and then tore apart right around the oval swells of muscular meat right around the shoulder joint. As we dug past the crust and into the meaty innards, we came away with spoonfuls (fistfuls) of tender lamb that were fleshy, savoury, and deeply reminiscent of a sheep farm in a down-to-earth, elemental way.
I could have sworn that there was a layer of freshly ground black pepper on top, but turns out, it was just a mono-spiced crust of fragrant cumin. It was the sort of minimalist approach that you’d expect from a chef who’s confident about his technique and quality of lamb. No pile-on of spices to confuse the diner, this lamb was daringly simple.
The massive shoulder was swaddled in a subcutaneous layer of fat that had done good things for the meat, including: (1) plugging away all those tricky spots where meaty juices could stealthily creep out, (2) acting as the natural base to caramelize and crisp up the outer skin that was draped over it, and (3) rendering itself soft and buttery so that you could either savour it or peel it away discreetly and just enjoy the fleshy contents beneath.
Now read this next line very, very closely. The menu only mentions haneeth (priced at AED 60), and gives you the option of choosing either the shoulder or the ribs. This is actually Mutton haneeth. What the menu will not tell you is that for an additional AED 15, you can sub out mutton with tender young lamb instead – and this is exactly what you should do. In the words of Russell Peter, Be a Man. DO THE RIGHT THING.
Source: Schema Magazine
If you can look past the haneeth, the restaurant also does credit to its intro soup, a clear stock soup that tastes almost exactly like home-style bone soup. It’s got the sort of soul-curing depths of clear meaty broth flavour that can make you smile, sing, purr. Whatever rocks your boat.
The side tomato sauce was a fresh tomato salsa that seemed like the whizz kid of a food processor. It was a light, refreshing splash-on to the rice and meat meal, a hearty rib-sticking meal that is effectively going to stare in the face at any post-lunch attempt to work productively, and laugh so hysterically that the attempt will feel sheepish and run away.
Testament to lack of productivity after face-stuffing at Cabrito: Disturbing behaviours that involve giggling (without appropriate cause), stretching (multiple successive times in repeated sleepy yet spastic movements), and uncontrollably excessive tummy-patting.
Here's a little head-nod to the chicken mandi that was brought out on the table.
And with that, I'm done talking about it.
Cabrito will also serve…well, Cabrito—a whole roasted goat kid which is actually a Mexican or Argentinian speciality (Cabrito means ‘kid,’ as in goatling, in Spanish). But given that goats are Old World animals and that the Americas only got their hands on the bleating babies after Christopher Columbus shuttled the lot across the oceans (in 1493)*, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arabia had this kid-roasting technique down way before the South Americans did. And since we're on the topic of South Americans, I reckon it would be quite interesting to do a totally unfair and over-simplified comparison between Cabrito's 60-dirham Cabrito and Asado's 210-dirham Cabrito served at The Palace near the Burj Khalifa.
If the Haneeth is anything to go by, the Cabrito might turn out to be quite a superstar too. We were told that the restaurant is awaiting their special Cabrito chef, a simple fact that has left my hopes unrealistically high for a dish I’ve yet to taste.
I’m not sure I’d drive out all the way for the mandi, and the cabrito jury is out for now. But that haneeth is a different story. That right there is a dish that's definitely worth hunting down in the most dismal, dozer-overrun, dusty parts of Barsha.
*Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People: Linda Civitello.
Telephone: +971 (4) 452-0255
Umm Suqueim Road, going towards Al Khail. Cross the Lulu Hypermarket to your right, pass the first traffic light after Lulu, then take your second right into the side lane and drive around in weird unhelpful circles until you finally get frustrated, curse all the construction, and dredge out the last vestige of energy you’ve got left to start hunting all over again. At some point, you will emerge out on the lane facing Cabrito, and the cumin lamb haneeth will make your life good again.
Here’s my google map for directions – subject to change based on construction.