Al-Marhabani is one of the more upmarket Mandi restaurants in Dubai. It’s well-appointed interior is in stark contrast to the best-eaten-by-hand nature of the originally Yemeni cuisine it serves. Reservations are recommended as the place does tend to get busy on weekends and at peak hours. Parking can also be a problem but there is a little known service road just ahead of the restaurant which take you around the back where sometimes the odd space available. It is worth a try when desperate: drive by the restaurant for no more than 50 meters and you’ll find the easy to miss entrance.
For some reason al-Marhabani does not serve the default lamb’s broth all other Mandi restaurants serve as a complementary starter. It is my litmus test for things to come: flavoursome soup, flavoursome Mandi. If you want soup, you have to order it from the menu. We ordered the regional classic, lentils soup which turned out to be quite nice.
The Mandi is usually good at al-Marhabani but on this occasion both the lamb Mandi and Madfoon we ordered were overcooked and dry, prompting liberal use of their tangy, frothy tomato salsa. It was one of two bowls of salsa served with the meal, the second a more fiery variant for those who like a little more kick. The fluffy, auburn coloured rice however was fragrant and flavoursome, very nice
Al-Marhabani has a fresh fruit juice section which is always welcome. However, if you have a sugar condition or are on a sugar-free diet, make sure to tell them to go easy on whatever sweetener they’re using. My watermelon juice arrived so spiked with sugar I saved it for last and had it as a dessert.
I’ve always found service at this restaurant to be stubbornly biased towards locals and Arabic speakers in general. Walk in with anything other than an Icelandic complexion and flaxen blond hair and they will speak in Arabic until you literally convince them you can’t. That slightly annoying point aside, service is good if a little indifferent.
I’ve been to al-Marhabani several times but this was my worst experience by far. The food really was not anywhere close to the mark. Bring the considerable premium you pay into the equation and al-Marhabani makes no sense. We paid a whopping AED250 for basically a Mandi and Madfoon – unbelievable. It doesn’t even make sense as a place to take guests from out-of-town to sample regional cuisine. There are far better places on the same strip which serve much better food in the same upmarket ambiance with much better service, Turath al-Mandi being just one of the better option.