Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Holy Land Foods (مطعم الأرض المقدسة) *CLOSED*

[Added 10 January 2013: I was excited to see that they had a new sign above their restaurant when I returned from Europe in October, but when I checked the other day, it was gone and the windows were plastered with newspapers...]

We've just come back from Holy Land.  No, we haven't made a pilgrimage overseas or done anything religious.  We've actually just had lunch at an Arab restaurant on K'Rd, a couple of doors down from the Lebanese Cafe and across the road from Coco's Cantina and Mister Morning.

Yam Yam Holy Land Foods doesn't look as classy or inviting as its neighbours.  Had it not been recommended by a workmate, we would probably a) never have found it, and b) not have had the courage to enter.  Run by two Jordanian brothers who worked as chefs in the Middle East, this eatery offers Arab food as well as Western meals such as pizza and pasta.  I'm afraid we've never tried the latter, as it just doesn't feel right to walk into an establishment with Arabic script everywhere and order something like a chicken and mushroom penne.  The rest of the menu was definitely exciting though.

Some dishes, like the hummus and vine leaves, are already familiar from the more numerous Turkish restaurants in Auckland.  The hummus at Holy Land was thick, with a strong tahini flavour and served with a drizzle of olive oil, the way I like it.  Other menu items included things I had never heard of before, such as the "foul medames" (فول مدمّس), a bean dish.

The hummus with beans came with a pita bread (half eaten before I could take a picture, sorry).
We didn't realise that the hummus dishes came with a round of Lebanese bread, though perhaps we should have guessed.  We ordered a garlic bread as well, and we were glad that we did, because this flat naan-like bread arrived hot and fresh, tastier than the drier and thinner pita bread.

While we are on the subject of bread, Holy Land has a "Mini Pizza" section on their latest menu, which isn't necessarily what you might imagine at all.  As the pictures show, some are bread rounds with toppings, while others are more like filling wrapped in bread.  This is what the spinach and onion one looked like:

Spinach and onion "mini pizza".
The menu has been revised since we first came here late last year.  I was glad to see that they managed to find a newer and less scratched non-stick dish for serving their kofta kebabs and shakshokah (شكشوكة, eggs poached in a sauce of tomates and spices) too. Nothing kills the appetite quite like the thought that you could be eating something toxic.

Lamb Kofta Kebab with tomato & bread.
Also on both the old and new menus was the kabsa rice served with chicken or lamb.  The meat looked like it had simply been boiled, but apparently it was actually very flavourful.  You might want to get a salad as well to help with your 5+ a day though.

Slow-cooked Lamb on kabsa rice.
New on the menu was the Barbeque section, offering a selection of skewers and grilled meats, served with rice, bread, hummus and salad.  We ordered the Mixed Grill so we could try a bit of everything.  The chicken and kofta skewers were very tasty, though the lamb chops were too salty and the coloured rice was more or less like plain basmati.  Overall a good choice.

Holy Land Mixed Grill.
Also new was the very tempting Desserts section, including the Turkish Coffee, which arrived sweet and strong in a little metal pot next to a tiny silver-gilded tea cup.  One of our group burnt his hand on the metal handle of the pot and gingerly tried to wrap a serviette around it.  The chef watched in amusement before removing the napkin and just picking up the pot and pouring.  Ah, the true mark of a chef, as proven by the thickness of the skin on his palms.

After stuffing ourselves with the delicious dishes and over-abundance of bread, we were ready to leave, but we couldn't help asking about the knafe on a poster on the wall, which was previously only on catering menu (like the whole or half lamb on rice).  It turns out this is the same as the konafa (كنافة) on the new menu, a creamy dessert sprinkled with vermicelli-like strands and rose water syrup, and served hot.  The chef insisted we try it for free, and we demolished the thing before I could get a picture.  This in itself is worth coming to the restaurant for.
More than half-eaten rose water konafa, a warm creamy dessert with syrup.
The new Barbeque and Dessert options are great additions to the menu, and the grouping of the dishes into sections works well, but I can't help wishing that we'd managed to try some of the items that have now been removed, things like lentil soup and Jordanian mansaf (منسف أردني).  [Added 8 August 2012: there items are currently available again on the ramadan menu.]  Maybe I shouldn't have raised my eyebrows at their "French Fries Sandwich" in my previous post, because all the sandwiches have now disappeared too.

I don't have much of a benchmark for Arab cuisine, but Holy Land serves varied food at reasonable prices.  I don't know too many other places that offer pan-fried lamb liver, and I still need to find out if their "hotdog" is really something other than expected, just as what is translated as "sour cream" is actually the lower-fat strained yoghurt cheese, labneh (لبنة).  In any case, we will be coming back for more.

Panda Recommends

Mezze: Hummus, with or without toppings ($5.50 - $11.00).  These are only appetisers if you share them with others.  The hummus fateh comes with bits of pita bread mixed in, whose soft squishiness may not appeal to everyone.
Mains: Holy Land Mixed Grill ($18.50), Slow-cooked Lamb on Kabsa rice ($15.00)
Dessert: Rose Water Konafa ($6.00)

Vegie Pandas
The Shakshokah ($9.00) is nice if a little underseasoned.  You can also have a range of salads and dips ($5.50 - $6.00), pizzas ($10.50 - $12), mini pizzas or pastries ($4.00 - $5.00) and desserts ($4.50 - $7.50).

Menu - page 1 (ignore the delivery part)

Menu - page 2
Restaurant Details

Holy Land Foods (مطعم الأرض المقدسة)
347 Karangahape Road, Auckland Central
(09) 379 9325

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 10am - midnight
[Added 8 August 2012: See updated hours in my more recent post]

Holy Land is on K'Rd, close to the Lebanese Cafe, Coco's Cantina and Mister Morning.

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1 comment:

  1. As I understand it, foul medames is generally eaten as breakfast.

    The difference between foul medames and whatever came out of that box for your breakfast this morning is the reason for all of our society's ills.


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