Let it be known that it was the lamb briyani at Imara Mediterranean Cuisine that pushed me to break my no-rice policy. The policy lasted a whole week, and I don’t regret breaking it one bit. In fact, I regret not taking more mouthfuls of the fragrant briyani, made with Basmati rice.
When the plate of Mandy Lamb arrived – rice, cuts of roasted lamb and fried onion slices on the side – the Malaysian in me was looking around for some sort of gravy to go with the dish. But after my first bite, I felt foolish for even thinking about it.
The tender, succulent lamb had so much flavour, and when paired with the warm rice and sweet fried onions, it really was something else. The strong smell of spices might be a bit off-putting for some, but to me, it was very inviting. The Mandy Lamb (RM35.90) is also one of the most requested dishes at Imara – just look at the restaurant’s official Facebook page for testimonies.
Located on the ground floor of Glo Damansara Mall in Kuala Lumpur, Imara opened its doors about four months ago. The restaurant is chef Kouteiba Fakih’s first solo venture into the F&B industry; originally from Beirut, the chef nonetheless decided that his first restaurant should be in Malaysia, which has been his home for over eight years.
“I’ve always wanted to open a Mediterranean restaurant in Malaysia, because I feel that this cuisine is still underrepresented here,” said Fakih, who worked in hotels and restaurants in Lebanon and Qatar before moving to Kuala Lumpur.
Mediterranean cuisine takes its influence from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea – such as Greece, France, Spain and Lebanon – but is nevertheless popular in other parts of the world today. You’ll find a lot of legumes, vegetables and olive oil in the cuisine, also fish and some dairy, but comparatively less meat. In 2013, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) added the Mediterranean diet to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Greece, Cyprus, and Croatia.
To realise his dream, Fakih roped in fellow Lebanese chef Muhammad Arzouni to help run the kitchen, as it gets quite busy at lunch and dinner time.
“We are thinking about opening the restaurant for breakfast – provided that our clients ask for it – but right now, we are just focusing on serving the lunch and dinner crowds,” added Fakih.
He was whirling around the newly-renovated restaurant like a spinning top, playing the gracious host and deft cook at the same time. One of the few times Fakih stood still long enough to talk was when making Lebanese bread in the tunnel oven.
“You must try the honey hummus. It was an experimental dip and we really didn’t expect our customers to love it so much,” he said. The Bee Hummus (RM16.90) was sweet and had a floral scent, thanks to the generous amount of Indian honey in it. It was also mixed with garlic, cumin and bee pollen. However, I preferred to sink my bread into the Moutabal (RM14.90), the dip of roasted aubergine with tahini and lemon, creamier and made sweet with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. Or you can just keep it savoury with the Hummus Beiruti (RM16.90), thick with fava beans, garlic, chilli and parsley, and topped with cucumber cubes.
Two Instagram-worthy salads – there are five items to choose from in the Natural Detox Load section on the menu – made their way to us. I really fancied the Imara Salad (RM35.90), with its generous helping of baby spinach, pomegranate seeds, sun-dried tomatoes and grilled haloumi drizzled in a molasses-rich dressing. Even the non-salad lover at the table enjoyed each refreshing bite. The crisp, zaatar-scented pieces of pita bread gave a satisfying crunch to the Fattouch (RM23.90), which was also loaded with avocado chunks.
Fakih then brought out Imara’s latest creation, the Seafood En Papillote (RM49.90); there are also lamb and chicken versions of the dish, if you’re interested. Google enlightened me that “en papillote” is French for “in parchment”. It describes the method of baking food wrapped in a (usually paper) parcel. Fakih came bearing a flat wooden plate with an aluminium foil parcel that seemed to hold a secret; we cut the foil open to reveal grouper fillets on top of cherry tomatoes, French beans and potatoes.
“The fillets are marinated with bay leaves, white pepper and oregano, then lightly fried. We put them together with the vegetables, wrap them in foil and bake the parcel in the oven,” said Arzouni. There is no particular reason for frying the fish before baking it – he just wanted to give the good ol’ baked fish recipe a twist.
The fish was a little salty for me, but then, that’s often what Mediterranean food is like. “We want our customers to experience the true Mediterranean taste, but we have had to reduce the level of saltiness in our food... not too much, however!” said Arzouni.
Another of Arzouni’s offerings is the Lamb Steak (RM54.20), which he swore would be the most succulent piece of lamb I ever tasted in my lifetime. “Lamb is usually chewy, right? But this isn’t. The chef has found a way to make it really tender,” added Fakih, without revealing the chef’s secret.
Well, the proof is in the pudding – or in this case, lamb. To be fair, the meat was not melt-in-the-mouth, but didn’t require too much rigorous jaw work either. It must be eaten while still warm for maximum tenderness. We also sampled the Chicken Wing Provençal (RM16.90), golden fried chicken topped with garlic, coriander and lemon butter. The force of garlic is strong in this crispy and tender creation, so keep some mints handy if you have some human-to-human interaction after your meal. Or you can freshen your breath with the wide selection of desserts, tea and coffee that Imara provides.
Fakih had over 14 years of experience as a pastry chef before opening Imara, so pastries and desserts are of import at this restaurant. “There will be 31 dessert items on display and eight plated ones. As much as I love to cook, I cannot forget my background in pastry,” he said.
At the time of the review, the selection of desserts was limited... but delicious. We tried the Peach Tart, Tiramisu, Banana and Coconut Mousse Cake and Custard Pie (priced from RM15.90 to RM16.90 each), and loved each one. Imara currently has over 65 types of tea – from fruit to traditional Chinese to flower teas available, and with the staff members’ careful suggestions, you will definitely find one that suits your mood.
All in all, Fakih wants Malaysians to come to Imara to get a taste of the famed Mediterranean cuisine. “It is a great place for newbies to experience our cuisine and for old-timers to feel at home,” he said.
Imara Mediterranean Cuisine
Unit G.25, Ground Level
Glo Damansara Mall
Jalan Damansara, KL
Tel: 03-7733 8635
Open daily from 10am to midnight[/vc_column][vc_column width="2/3"][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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