Monday, May 5, 2014

Corniche's Arabian Delights at Diamond Hotel

Growing up in the Middle East, Arabic food here can be hard to come by. No one seems to be able to figure out what shawarma really tastes like, I have yet to see a real cup of strong Turkish coffee in my entire 16 years of living here, and a tiny square of baklava costs an arm and a leg. Seriously, what gives? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only kid who grew up in the dessert and enjoyed the cuisine, and with a big chunk of our OFWs living in the KSA, the UAE, Omman, Quatar, and Iran, there doesn't seem to be enough Middle Eastern restaurants here to cater to us who have come back from said country.

Enter the Corniche at Diamond Hotel that embarks on an Arabian Delights culinary adventure every Tuesday, seeking to perfect those much-loved Arabic dishes, trying to achieve the authentic taste of the Middle East. At just P1,980 per person, this was a themed buffet dinner I definitely did not miss out on!

If Arabic food really isn't your thing, you needn't worry, since the Corniche still has it's super sexy seafood set up with all manners of fresh offerings from the sea. They have big shrimp, hefty looking mussels, and delectable oysters and crabs all up for grabs.

To start my Arabian buffet, there was the very simple Cucumber and Spiced Yogurt. The Turks call this cacik while the Greeks call this tzatziki. Composed of mostly the same thing, give or take a few spices, it's fresh and clean on the palate, with a touch of sourness and tartness from the yogurt.

I love myself some good old Hummus, and I got just that along with Babaganoush, an eggplant dip that both go very well with pita bread. And vegetarians. Since I'm not big on the rice scene, this was my carb of choice for most of the evening, along with the Fragrant Couscous.

One of my favorite things on the buffet table that night was this amazing Baked Salmon. Rich, firm, with its meat tasting almost buttery on the tongue, I completely dissed the Japanese station and its shake for this and that creamy sauce it came with that wanted me to pour everything into my bag to sneak off home and pour on toast, eggs benny, maybe a medium rare steak.

The big llaneras of Arabic food was simmering away under the watchful eye of one of the cooks. I wish you could smell the spices that were wafting around the station. I felt like a cartoon half the time I was there, with the scent of all the food that reminded me of home tickling my nose and dragging me by the nostrils to one of the stations.

I appreciated Corniche's effort to also have a Shawarma station. This housed the chunks of Spiced Free Land Chicken marinated in Middle Eastern Spices. The cook on duty artfully hacks a few chunks off for you to put into a homemade pita sammie and can be served with onions, cucumber, tomatoes and shredded lettuce with as much tahini-garlic sauce and spicy herb sauce as your devilish heart desires.

Unknown to a lot of people, most Arab countries have big fishing communities, with the popular dhow boats traversing much of the Arabian Gulf in search for fresh catch. The llanera of Whole Steamed Fish seemed to be an ode to that, served with preserved lemons and other exotic herbs on a bed of seafood rice.

The Garithes Yiouvesti was another favorite of mine, although it was such a bitch to peel with a knife and fork! The baked prawns are de-veined and cut open, the spine covered with a generous amount of Feta cheese and Ruccola.

On my quest to find something a little more game-y, I came across a bowl of  Lamb Stew with Smoked Onions. This was tender with just the right balance of gaminess and spice that I was looking for, reminding me of a time when I was young, where our Sundays consisted of a lot of sweet tea, buttered rice, and lamb chops on the barbie.

Another dish that had be craving for Iranian buttered rice and potatoes was the Arabic Style Steak! All this spiced tenderloin needed was some of that cucumber-yogurt on the side as well as a side of long-grain rice - with cashews and raisins thrown in for texture.

If all the Arabian food at Diamond Hotel's buffet is making you look for some of the Indian classics, don't worry - they're way ahead of you. This station was packed with Indian goodies like the Fish Curry, Paneer Tikka Masala, Bombay Chicken, Dhal Chana, and Rosewater Basmati Rice. If you want to add some extra oomph to the nicely spiced dishes on your plate, play around with the mango chutney, cucumber raita, mixed pickles chutney, or mint chutney! The mint is especially good with lamb, naturally.

The prettiest buffet station that night was definitely the dessert station. There was something very Arabian nights about the way all the little stands were draped with purple and gold cloth and the Arabian-inspired candle holders, showing off the special desserts for guests to partake of that night. Oh, how I wish the Diamond Hotel served sweet, Moroccan tea or strong, thick Turkish coffee.

I had a little bit of the Nunnmoora, Baklava, and Lokum - more popularly known as Turkish Delight - but alas, they fell a little short of my expectations. Arabic sweets are sticky sweet, and all the desserts were lacking in that regard. That didn't stop me from enjoying my fill of Olive Oil Macarons and ice cream.

A huge thank you to Chefs Mike and Ana for putting together such a wonderful feast! I think I had eaten enough Arabic food to feed the 40 thieves that night, and that fixed my Middle Eastern craving - at least for the next two weeks.

When mucking around Manila in search for Arabian delights, come through and check out the Corniche at Diamond Hotel every Tuesday, for just P1,980 per person. I'll probably even see you there!

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+63 2 528 3000
Lobby, Diamond Hotel Philippines
Roxas Boulevard, cor. Dr. J. Quintos Street,