A few of you might have suffered through my obsessive Iskendar kabab ramblings in the past—and this is definitely going to be another one of them. Because Iskendar kabab is that attention-grabber of Turkish kabab dishes that I will never stop loving. How can you not fall in love with shawarma-thin, crisp-juicy slivers of lamb and beef sprawled out on toasty cushions of pide bread, dripping wet with tomato sauce and cool yogurt, exhaling the soft seductive breath of melted butter all over your face as you lean in for a bite?
(I guess you can’t if you’re vegetarian. But moving on…)
I thought I’d tasted many a version of Iskendar Kabab in the city. Despite the many versions I've tasted across Dubai (Harput, Bosphorus, Kosebasi, Ankara, the now defunct Shikidim, and my fav, Istanbul Flower), I have never tasted one like the one I’ve had at Yildiz Saray, the new Turkish restaurant in Deira. It was like a gourmet French version of the very rustic, elemental dish that I’ve greedily inhaled at other places. This good-looking hunk of a kabab plate just...blew me away.
The kabab slices were soft, chewy, drenched in this incredibly creamy tomato gravy that coats and massages your tongue in ways I haven't previously experienced with Iskendar Kabab. Thick strained yogurt was sculpted on top in an ivory-white dollop, a subtly sour restraining order on all the other rich elements of the dish. Of course there was melted butter, the key element of any Iskendar Kabab creation. Butter on the pide bread chunks lining the bottom of the plate, butter seeping through the cracks between the kabab slices, butter in the air, butter here, butter there, butter blissfully EVERYWHERE.
I’m still mulling over how the chef got his tomatoes to assume that luscious, pasta sauce-like texture that was drizzled all over the dish, that too without any cream (to my credit, I did pester the chef for what went into that dreamy sauce after the meal). I doubt the tomatoes in my apartment could ever be elevated to that magical league.
If and when I can manage to look past the Iskendar Kabab, everything else at Yildiz Saray was spot on. The bread was fresh bouncy pide dotted with sesame seeds, but beware—eat in moderation or kill your appetite for the kababs to follow.
What made it even harder to keep my fingers away from the darned bread basket was this bright tomato-red pepper paste, Ezme, which was tasty not just because it was complementary but because it was born tasty to begin with. Like everything else at Yildiz Saray, it had been thoughtfully composed and balanced—the sweetness of the red peppers, a surprising olive-ish undertone, and a tartness from the shallow maroon rivulet of pomegranate sauce that had been trickled over it. I mean, hear me will you—I can’t even use my usual klutzy words and moronic expressions to describe the meal. Just thinking of the dinner wipes all the resident clowns out of my mind and replaces them with…pretty fluttering butterflies and singing nightingales. And unicorns, there are definitely unicorns.
Two baby eggplants emerged as our Imam Bayildi. Each one was a little Noah's arc anchored in a shallow lake of cherry tomatoes and tomato pulp, with sweet fried eggplant flesh, caramelized onions and an unexpected patch of cheese on board.
The lahmacun might have been the least of my favourites. The Turkish Pizza had an applaudable char under its crispy base, but the crunch was louder than the quietly thin layer of minced meat sprinkled scantily on top. Give us more meat chef, that’s almost always the answer: MORE MEAT.
We ended the meal with dessert and cups of Turkish tea. They serve you one pot of concentrated tea, and one pot of hot water, and you make your own optimally strong cup of tea by combining the two at the table. I'm totally using that strategy if a barrage of fussy Indian aunties every visits me for tea in the future.
Kunafa made the dessert cut, only because they don’t have the right baklava supplier yet nor did they have the Turkish (dondurma) ice cream mentioned on the menu. Which was not a terrible thing, because kunafa is a perfectly acceptable way of ending a Turkish meal. Much lighter than the Palestinian and Lebanese/Syrian versions that I’ve tried, the Turkish kunafa at Yildiz Saray was more like a crunchy nest of angel-light pastry strands. If there was cheese within, I didn’t really notice it (as opposed to the in-your-face mattress of sweet melty gooey cheese that I’m used to bedding with when I do a Lebanese/Syrian kunafa run.) What’s critical to notice on the plate is not the ice cream – skip it if you’re rationing tummy space for the final dessert run – but the insignificant looking swirl of tahini on the side. DO NOT WASTE IT. Dot your kunafa with it, and ascend to a new level called “Hallelujah Chef. You are a Genius.”
This place is a real revelation inside, and you can be sure that I'll be dragging every guest who visits me in Dubai till I’ve tried every last thing on the menu (yeah okay, who am I fooling. I’m just going to end up ordering the Iskendar kabab everytime. So if you go, be an angel and try something else…and report back, will ya?)