Delicately prepared and full of fresh flavors, I was immediately enlightened by Armenian cuisine from the first time I ate at Mayrig’s charming Beirut restaurant. While similar in many ways to Lebanese fare, what was so memorable about Mayrig’s dishes were their distinct flavors – tastes like I’d never experienced before. That first experience stayed clearly in my mind for many years, until I recently was able to try the restaurant’s new Dubai restaurant.
Dubai is Mayrig’s second venue after its launch in 2003 in Beirut. Owned by cousins Aline Kamakian and Serge Maacaron, the restaurant was founded out of their shared passion for cooking and preserving the tradition of Armenian cuisine. Mayrig, which means “little mother”, a common Armenian term to refer to grandmother, celebrates the cousins’ mutual grandmother Manouchag through a menu rife of her special recipes passed down across generations as well as portraits that are found aligning the walls of the restaurant’s two floors.
While opening a restaurant satisfied Aline’s childhood dream, her journey to withhold the standards of Armenian cuisine didn’t stop there. In 2011, she published her first book Armenian Cuisine, a stunning tome replete with wonderful photographs and recipes of some of the culture’s greatest dishes.
The warm ambiance decorated with traditional Armenian patterns boasts an inviting and comfortable ambiance – similar to someone’s home. The menu, which is decorated in traditional Armenian patchwork, is full of countless tasty dishes. Without much background knowledge as per the preparation and philosophy behind Armenian cuisine, except for my one meal at the Mayrig in Beirut, from among the range of dishes I didn’t know what to select. Energetic and bubbly, Aline came over to explain the various options.
Starters came in a great assortment of dishes with the colorful ingredients Armenian food is renowned for. We were served a mix of cold appetizers including Itch, Armenian tabouleh; Sempougav Salad, made with eggplant; Zeitoun Salad with olives; Vospis Salad featuring a delicious mix of lentils and several hommos dishes such as Hommos Soujouk topped with Armenian sausage. Everything was incredibly fresh and fragrant boasting the vibrant tastes that I had loved when I first ate at Mayrig’s in Beirut. We were also served several salads including one with wild oregano, which Aline advised was a specialty because of the season. Among my favorites were the Sempougui Keufteh, stuffed kebbe with marinated eggplant, the Potato Kebbe and the Mouhammara, a delicious and highly addictive hot red pepper and walnut sauce that went perfectly with the variety of Armenian breads we were served. These included Lavash, a traditional thin flatbread that unlike other breads, doesn’t contain any yeast.
A selection of hot starters were also provided among which were the Sou Beureg, layered pastry with three cheeses and the Gdzou Patates, spicy fried potatoes. Presented with such delicacy and attention to detail, it is clear that much time and labor had gone into the preparation of each dish – countless hours in the kitchen to recreate these much loved specialties.
While the appetizers alone can easily constitute a meal, we openly welcomed a few main dishes. The Spanakhou Mante, a dish resembling the intricacy of Italian Ravioli, presented spinach dumplings with tomato sauce and yogurt. Armenian cuisine is big on meat so we also opted for the Mante of minced meat dumplings also accompanied by tomato sauce and yogurt.
The desserts couldn’t have impressed us more by their authenticity and special flavors. We were served an interesting sweet eggplant filled with sugar and walnuts inside. There was also a selection of Armenian biscuits that we could dip in rosewater jam. To top it off and aid our digestion, we were offered Armenian tea prepared with cinnamon and black tea anise.
Armenian cuisine is a journey in itself – one which requires much investigation to the history and nature of this ancient school of cooking. Mayrig does it superbly well. Such an Armenian venue was needed in Dubai to balance out the majority of Arabic and Lebanese venues with something of the same region, but offering different tastes and a fascinating history. While Aline mentioned the challenges to procure the freshest produce as possible in the UAE, the food itself was no less in taste and presentation than the brand’s first venue in Beirut. This is a place that merits many returns.
Mayrig is located in Downtown Dubai on Tel: +971 56 3649794 www.mayrigdubai.com