Sun, 12 May 2019
A white tree trunk sprouts from the middle of this restaurant in Riffa, from which the rest of its neutral-hued décor seems to branch out. Muted hues are punctuated with earthy tones like burnt orange, shades of sepia and live, vibrant greens from the herb-lined walls. The ambience is a paean to nature; with minute details echoing the wonderous outdoors. For example in the patterns on the plates that mimic those of the inner rings of a tree trunk, or the small rocks at the table, which are actually the salt and pepper cruet.
The seating options at Oak are quite unusual too. Besides regular chairs and soft, comfy sofas, there’s wicker swings suspended from the lofty ceiling with little side tables to put your coffee or snack on while you stretch your legs and unwind on your slightly oscillating seat. A large, round shared table fitted out with charging sockets and encircled with swinging seats is the favoured space for students from the adjacent university, I’m told. I can well understand why.
Oak offers a special Ramadan menu that I was eager to try, although the regular menu stands by with an array of pickings as well. Although not extensive, the Ramadan repertoire is cleverly curated to effectively quell the hunger at Iftar or appease the taste buds later in the evening.
From the appetisers, first arrived the Halloumi skewer. Lightly breaded cheese alternated on a bamboo spear with grilled cherry tomatoes, which are home-grown on Oak’s farms, as are many other vegetables and a variety of herbs such as baby basil, coriander cress, spearmint, chilli peppers and the local mashmoom. The bright green pesto was a perfect friend to the halloumi, and we polished it off quickly.
Next came Lamb Pita Pockets. The hollows of beetroot-infused bread were filled with mildly-spiced mince interspersed with the unmistakable taste of pine nuts. The flavoursome parcels were topped with a dollop of minty yogurt and razor-cut slivers of spring onion greens.
The tasty Chicken Muskhan Flatbread was a cross between an open shawarma and a mini pizza – crispy bread topped with sumac-sprinkled chicken, caramelised onions, leafy greens and pomegranate jewels. The accompanying garlic yogurt took each morsel to another flavour level. Highly recommended.
The menu also offers diners a beef and barley soup and a tomato and labneh salad, which we skipped because our greedy eyes wanted to hit the mains already.
As the Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance, and is good for six people, we made a mental note to come back for it with a reinforced troop another time. So, Zaatar Marinated Baby Chicken and Lamb with Lentil Rice it was, for us. The chicken was the real deal – on the bone and with the skin on, so one can imagine the flavour and juiciness it afforded. The tender meat contrasted well with its side of uber crispy fried potatoes. That’s what you get when the kitchen goes the extra mile to cook the potatoes not once or twice, but thrice. Can you hear that crunch already?
Served in a tagine, the shreds of lamb sitting on lentil rice needed no accompaniment, and we needed no nudging to dig in. The rice gave off a faint tang, that was a perfect base for the salty meatiness of the lamb. Comforting and gratifying for all the senses, I’d say.
A small breather later, I was savouring Saffron and Vanilla Panna Cotta. The top layer of vanilla cream was pleasant to taste, but, like with most things in life, dig a little deeper and you’ll get to the gold; saffron-infused in this case. To look at, the dish is far from ostentatious, but its subtle colour and flavours do pack a strong punch, underlined by a moreish date compote on the side. My partner’s Date Pudding was not so standard either. Soft, warm, melt-in-the-mouth pudding cups were drizzled with a caramel sauce, all to be eaten with a small serving of ice cream loaded with nuts and dried fruit. It was a perfect round-off to a lovely meal.
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