Gavin Havery unravels the geographical confusion of a UAE-named Lebanese restaurant run by Syrians

NOT long ago I was lamenting the apparent lack of Middle Eastern restaurants in the area.

Well, no sooner had I found a cracking Turkish restaurant in Durham city centre a friend announced on Facebook they were trying a new Lebanese restaurant in Chester-le-Street.

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Curiously called Dubai Restaurant, the owner and manager, Hussien and Abdullahtif Hatem, who are from Syria, appear to be going for something chic, sleek and unique.

Perhaps they are tapping into the perceived luxury associated with the ostentatious UAE city, and from my visit to the former nightclub, they are doing a pretty awesome job.

Inside, as you might imagine given its previous life as Studio nightclub, the dining room is cavernous, with tasteful smart décor along with a few ornaments, like the odd hookah pipe, to make one feel somewhere other than a north Durham market town.

The loud, but not intrusive, Middle Eastern music was a welcome and authentic soundtrack while enjoying foreign cuisine – always important for making you feel somewhere distant and exotic.

Metro Radio would have ruined it.

They could have cranked up the heating though, because on a chilly November lunchtime, it certainly didn’t feel like Dubai.

We were, however, given a warm welcome by a friendly young waiter who, given the fact we were his only customers, invited us to sit anywhere.

Lis and I chose a large table with giant-backed round sofa style seat near the window so we could watch the world go by as we ate.

The menu is set, with a good range of soups, salads, hot and cold mezze, or small dishes, like tapas, pastries, mains, sides and wraps.

We decided to start by sharing a few hot and cold mezze dishes.

The grilled haloumi (£4.70) came served with lettuce, cucumber, dry mint and tomato and was cooked to perfection with chargrill marks across the delightful, tasty meaty chunks of cheese.

Possibly the most attractive was the hummus beiruty (£4), which was served with slices of lemon on plate with decorative swirls, and although the first taste is with the eye, the second is most certainly with the tongue.

Be warned this dish comes with some heat and if you are a chilli wuss like me then go for the ordinary hummus.

The parts without green chilli were amazing, but the odd unexpected tang was a bit eye-watering for my delicate palate. Lesson learned.

It was served with an incredible soft Lebanese flatbread, which is more tortilla wrap than crispy flat bread, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

We tried the kallaj mouhamara (£3.50), baked Lebanese bread filled with tomato, red pepper, onion and sesame seed, and a Dubai salad, (£4.40) which includes lettuce, tomato, cucumber, parsley, mixed peppers, onion and sumac.

Rather than a main, Lis had lentil soup (£3.50) describing it as ‘delicious, tasty, and warming with a hint of spice’.

I went for the Dubai mixed grill (£15), a must for barbecue enthusiasts, which consisted of large cubes of barbecued lamb chicken and chicken wings with a chicken kofta kebab and adana kebab with salad.

No real complaints here either, everything was beautifully chargrilled, though I would have taken the wings off a moment or two sooner.

The restaurant does not serve alcoholic drinks but customers are welcome to bring their own if they wish, though we just washed our meals down with a couple of cans of Coke. Other fizzy pop is available.

To finish off we had a fragrant strong Turkish coffee each and an incredible baklava, (£3.50) which is sticky sweet pastries with pistachio nuts.

Dubai Restaurant is a real find and looks ideal for a quiet meal for a couple, a get together for few friends or a big group.

It was very quiet when we visited, a little after noon on a Friday, and service throughout was impeccable.

If they can produce food of this high standard during busy period they are on a winner. This place is well worth a visit.

Dubai Restaurant

191 Front Street , Chester-le-Street, DH3 3AX

0191 447 7460

Opening times:

Monday to Sunday: noon to 11pm

Food: 4/5

Value for money: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Surroundings: 4/5