Al Bait Baghdadi is a newly opened Iraqi restaurant on Jumeirah Road. Located in the same building which once housed Emirgan Sütiş, its interior is very much a carry-over of the Turkish restaurant it replaces. And that’s a good thing because the owner of the Emirgan Sütiş franchise spared no expense when decking out the original. Actually, there is one very obvious addition and it’s staring at you at the entrance of the restaurant – it’s the fire alter room where the famous Semeç Masgûf is slow cooked around a wood fire. Masgûf is freshwater carp, an oily fish indigenous to the Tigris-Euphrates and the de facto national food of Iraq. Done right, it is one of the most delicious dishes on the planet – a fish lovers wet dream.
Although I am not nearly an expert on Iraqi cuisine, I have sampled a fair share of Iraqi food on travels which have taken me from the hills of Sulaymaniyah through the backstreets of Baghdad to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, to the port city of Basra (and many smaller cities, towns and villages in-between). Common to all has been Masgûf. I have made it a point to try the Masgûf at every Iraqi restaurant in Dubai too. So, it was with some excitement that I called ahead to order a fish for lunch.
A kilo per person is madness. Four to three is a good ratio if you’re only eating fish (challenging in an Iraqi restaurant where you will be tempted with kebabs, quzi, etc.); four people to three kilos of fish. We were expecting four or five in our group, so I ordered a 3½ kilo fish. Only three turned up and gorge as we did, we could only finish two thirds (may God forgive our unashamed gluttony). I’ve blah-blah-blah’ed about my adventures in Iraqi, etc. in order to give credibility to my next statement – the Masgûf at Al Bait Baghdadi was amazing – fresh fish, well-seasoned and cooked to dribbly, juicy, flaky, smoky perfection.
My son and a local friend rolled their sleeves up and joined my urgent, almost frantic assault on the tray of fish. I was fed with impatient fingers which strayed from the tray only to scoop some tangy Amba (mango) sauce to mix in with the fish. Although tempted by the red rice, also known as (Assyrian) riza smookah, I stayed faithful to the fleshy, slightly oily Masgûf mixed with a little amba and the occasional bite of a green chilli – heaven. The three of us ate like it was our last meal, none wanting to stop, none able to stop – oof!
I’ve been so excited with telling you about the Masgûf that I forgot to mention the starter platter which came before it. I loved the eggplant salad. Nothing else was authentically Iraqi. It’s arguable whether or not one should order starters with such a lot of fish as a main anyway. The starters themselves are not the problem, it’s that delicious, straight from the oven-hot bread which does the damage. We enjoyed it all. As did we the istikans of dark Iraqi style sweet tea we were served in the outdoor area along with dates drizzled with tahini – the perfect ending to an amazing meal. There are a number of Iraqi restaurants on the Jumeirah strip, I can say with some conviction that Al Bait Baghdadi is definitely one of the best of them.
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Xerxes physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join his culinary journey on Instagram: @ravenousxerxes or reach out to him via email on email@example.com.