What hits you, and hits you hard when you enter the newly opened restaurant, Shebestan at Sterling Mac’s hotel is the exotic decor, which is right out of an Arabian Nights extravaganza. The restaurant serves authentic Arabic specialties and you feel like you are wandering around a dimly lit Sheikh’s palace. The wall of colourful glass lamps behind the bar (since the open display of liquor is frowned upon in the Middle-east) is just stunning. Row upon row of ornate picture frames houses everything from hand-painted tiles to antique guns. Genies in kitschy costumes, over-the-top figurines, shiny pitchers, they’ve got it all and more!
We were a group of food bloggers, invited to the restaurant for an experiential dinner. Once we had been shown around the restaurant and refreshed with warm towelettes, we were offered potent Arabic coffee in small glasses. The coffee tasted strong and cinnamon-y and we were instructed to just sip at it, and then take a bite of a date. This combination is most definitely an acquired taste and we were happy to just try a sip and then munch on the other delicacies arriving at the table.
The appetizers were all vegetarian, beginning with a huge, on-the-house platter of over-sized crudites served with a tahini dip. This was followed by a basket of steaming hot Arabic bread, yeasty and delicious. To go with the bread were two excellent dips – Hummus and Mouttabel, an eggplant based concoction. The salad was super-fresh and tangy, the chunks of haloumi providing a nice contrast to the crunchy vegetables. Crispy falafel and delicate pastries filled with spinach and cheese rounded off the lavish starter spread. We would have been happy to make a meal of these but it looked like the chef had other plans for us.
The next course was a meat-lover’s delight. We had grilled chicken, lamb chops, beef chunks and sheesh kababs. The meat was excellent and cooked to perfection. Each of the kebabs were placed on a hunk of bread spread with a tomatoey condiment and accompanied by onion salad, roasted tomatoes, a pickled chili and fries! Altogether it was a feast for the eyes and the taste-buds.
Two kinds of Arabic rice were served, one with chunks of beef and the other with pieces of richly glazed chicken. We loved both and the rice was just so rich, flavourful, and enriched with tiny bites of vegetables and crunchy pine nuts. Perfectly delectable with a little cup of raita.
There were no real winners in the desserts that were served. If pressed we’d pick the semolina cake and bread pudding stuffed with nuts. The rice pudding topped with ice cream was very ordinary and so was the coconut pudding. We had high expectations from the baklava but could not like this one – it had a lot of crystallised sugar and an overwhelming flavour of shortening.
So..what’s the verdict? Great food – the appetizers and mains were outstanding. Dessert – not so impressive. Among the cocktails that we tried there wasn’t anything that we’d go back for. The shocker, however was seeing the princely, five-star pricing. To avoid burning a hole in your pocket, you could, perhaps, have your drinks at home, then head to Shebestan for their specialties, and go elsewhere for dessert if you’re up for it.Sterling’s Mac Hotel, 134, HAL Airport Road, Near Manipal Hospital, Off Domlur Flyover, Bengaluru – 560017