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Friday, 30 October 2015

[Media Invite] Dinner at Al Hamra at Holland Village

23 Lorong Mambong (Holland Village), Singapore 277682
Tel: 6464 8488

Al Hamra is an award-winning Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurant in existence for around a decade, situated at none other than Holland Village - chillout and food haven.  We were part of a media invited tasting attended by representatives of Hungrygowhere and other familiar faces such as Ivanteh and ChubbyBotakKoala as well.

The ambience is dim and intimate, with authentic decor that thrusts one into an exotic, Middle-Eastern realm. Faux-flaming lamps hang from the ceiling, and the walls are adorned with exquisite Middle Eastern antiques and artifacts (ancient Shisha pipes and compasses, etc), and there's a mural depicting a beautiful city wall set in the earlier eras. This place is set to enchant.

I started with a Moroccan Mint Tea (SGD$6.00). Not sure if it was because of the use of Dilmah teabags, but there was no hint of the usual fragrance that this drink is associated with, even though we discovered springs of (mint?) leaves inside the teapot itself.

Then I had a Labaan (SGD$5.00), cold sweet plain yogurt, a good balance for the heavier-flavoured food we were having for dinner that evening.

We started with a Hot Mezza Platter (SGD$35.00) consisting of several individual items. There was Falafel  - fritters of a mixture of chickpeas, broad beans, onion, garlic, coriander and exotic spices - deliciously coarse and soft in texture, the flavour was an exotic blend of spices enhancing the chickpeas' natural milder taste.

Then there were Meat Sambousik (minced meat, pine seeds and onion in a soft dough and deep-fried), looking suspiciously like our "curry puffs".  Crispy exterior, especially the braided area, filled in with meat tinged with sweetness. There were also Spinach Fatayer (sauteed spinach with onions, tomatoes, pine nut seeds, and sumac powder filled in with dough), Kibbey Mekli (ball-shaped minced meat and cracked wheat stuffed with minced lamb, pine seeds and oriental spices and Cheese Reqaq (spring roll folio with feta cheese, onion and parsley). The latter was a favorite of the group as well, with its tasty cheesey flavour and crackling body.

The Zatar Bread with Cheese (SGD$8.00) is basic pita dough filled with cheese. The base was thin and soft, even a little chewy with the grainy tastiness of the dough - great as a side to go with gravy or broth.

In contrast to the hot mezza platter, we also has the Cold Mezza Platter, consisting of a few favorites as well. The Hommos Beyrouty (chickpea paste, sesame paste, fresh lemon juice with extra virgin olive oil) was a beautiful spread for the pita or Lahem Bil Ajine. The Moutabbal (roasted eggplant mixed with fresh herbs, sesame paste, fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil) was more bland in flavour.

I loved the Warak Areesh (selected grape leaves rolled stuffed with cooked Egyptian rice, parsley drymint, onions, garlic, fresh lemon juice, and tomatoes cooked with extra virgin olive oil). The aromatic grape leaves were so soft, embracing even softer cooked grains cooked to a deliciousness that was hunger-inducing. Final item was the Tabbouleh (salad of fresh chopped parsley, onion, tomatoes, cracked wheat, fresh mint leaves topped with fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil) - a refreshing and palatable side to be had.

This was the basket of Pita Bread (SGD$6.00) that we ate with the various dips and spread. Loved the puffy texture that was easily flattened into a delicious, coarse-textured bread that melted in the mouth easily.

Next, Chicken Shawarma (SGD$25.00) - sliced chicken marinated with vinegar, sesame paste, cardamom powder and Lebanese spices served in a boat-shaped Lebanese bread. This was another flavourful dish that tasted best when served piping hot - chicken tender and redolent of the spices that it was cooked with.

Lamb Cous Cous (SGD$29.00) was up next, comprising boneless lamb chunks cooked with vegetables and tomato stew, served in a pretty Tajine. The stew was thick and tasty, luscious with the slightest hint of tartiness - appetite whetting for sure.

It was served with Cous Cous Rice (SGD$5.00), a melty and tiny grain type that reminded me of quinoa immediately, infused with the sweetness of raisins and crunch of nuts.  This is a healthy type of grain so we felt free to indulge.

And also, with Arabic Rice with Dried Fruits and Nuts (SGD$7.50), long grains with a chewy texture, also beautifully infused with sweetness of raisins and the nuts gave it a good bite.

Al Hamza Mixed Grill (SGD$35.00) made its way to our table, consisting of grilled lamb cubes, minced lamb kebab and grilled chicken cubes.  The meat was smokey but tender; the lamb cubes held a gamey whiff but meat was sufficiently moistened.

Time for desserts! We started with Muhallabia (SGD$6.00), a cold almond cream pudding that was a little dilted in texture IMHO, but utterly silky in texture, gently seeping into the throat with the lingering fragrance of almond. The chopped almond grains atop added crunch and a further touch of aroma to it.

Umali (SGD$7.50), also spelt as "Oum Ali" in some instances - a soft puff pastry dessert served warm (more commonly bread pudding), with milk, cream and nuts. I enjoyed the subtle aroma and creaminess of this dessert; feeling the fluffiness of the puff pastry gradually melting lusciously upon the tongue.

Finally, Beklawa (SGD$6.00) - a rich and sweet traditional Arabic pastry filled with dried nuts, pistachio fillings flavoured with honey. Sweetness was the name of the game - a little on the cloying side; and the cookie-like crust was moistened. It was my first time trying this dessert.

Overall, the food and ambience of this place is rather decent, and the service is polite and professional.  Thank you Al Hamza for the hosting and thank you Hungrygowhere for the invite.

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