It’s fun visiting a restaurant with someone who has never tried that cuisine, someone open to being pleased and surprised, not hell-bent on nitpicking. So I fixed a date at Rrala’s Habibi with a mezze virgin.
This new Lebanese-themed restaurant, occupying a massive part – practically one whole floor, it seemed – of MGF Metropolitan Mall in south Delhi, has cleverly split up its expanse into several different sitting areas. The outdoor seating includes a lounge-type space with wicker furniture, a larger space for private parties and a bonfire; inside there are low sofas, more formal dining tables, a small ‘VIP area’ one level above, and in the middle of the room, seats arranged around the dance floor. Arabic-style visuals and motifs dominated the decor. Pools of light here and there provided just enough illumination.
We made a plan to start with something small from the mezze selection, and then be more adventurous as the evening progressed. The item chosen had a lilting name, mohamara, and this was a deciding factor for my dining companion – when everything is unfamiliar, go for the one that sounds the nicest.
But for people of the Levant, the idea of eating just one item of mezze is plain ridiculous. This I had discovered on a recent trip to Dubai where our city guide, a Lebanese gent, ordered about 20 varieties of mezze for just the five of us – the names rolled off his tongue until our eyes glazed over.
At Rrala’s Habibi, too, our host, a gentleman of Arab origin, must have secretly scoffed at our choice, though he was too polite to show it. So what appeared on our table was not just mohamara, but the best part of the mezze menu – falafel, fatayer, sambousek, fatoush, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, moutable and hummus, all served with pita. The marvellous thing about mezze is that the dishes don’t need to be eaten in any particular order and the dips don’t need to be separated. Everything goes with everything, and you can easily swing back and forth between the various starters without losing an iota of taste. I knew this, of course, but it never ceases to amaze me how such a variety of dishes can perfectly complement each other. It’s what also makes eating mezze a very social affair, because everyone shares.
We had decided to be adventurous from the main course, but that would obviously have to be scrapped. The mezze at Rrala’s Habibi wasn’t just good, but great. To call it awesome wouldn’t be an exaggeration. We were going to eat all of it, or try at least. We could come back for the main course another day. While my friend waxed lyrical over the lamb sambousek, I put myself outside an entire plate of spinach-filled fatayer. All the other mezze dishes were also mostly mopped up, and our original choice, mohamara, was quite as nice as the name had suggested, a tangy dip of nuts, olive oil, tomato paste, bread crumbs and pomegranate molasses. The drink to go with all this was a Rrala’s Habibi signature cocktail, Layali Tangier, for me and a glass of French sauvignon blanc for my friend.
The evening could have ended happily here, but there’s one little treat at Rrala’s Habibi that we wouldn’t miss. The place has a belly dance performance from about 9.30pm daily. And the front row seats are those arranged around the central floor.
We took a walk and returned to the restaurant around 10pm. The front row was already taken, and the dancer had settled into her sensuous rhythmic motions. It was time for one more cocktail and some people-watching. We picked a different signature drink, Jannat Lebanon, and the fish tagine, served on couscous.
The belly dancer wasn’t the most energetic I’ve seen, but she was a sight for sore eyes and evidently a big hit with the front row occupants. Many of the men rose to dance with her; she gracefully kept pace with their unpractised moves. A little later, the women joined in as well, and phone cameras flashed as selfies were taken. Our fish tagine, meanwhile, was wonderful, and the portion so generous that the two of us couldn’t finish it. Blame the mezze. Or praise the mezze.
Finishing the meal with some lovely baklava, we exchanged notes and agreed: Rrala’s is our new habibi.
Cost for two: Rs 2,500 plus tax without alcohol
Address: 3rd Floor, MGF Metropolitan Mall, Saket, New Delhi, Tel: +91 99588 97157 / 99588 97158