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Qartuli review: Georgian restaurant in Dubai serves hearty dishes with a homely ambience

Jessica Morgan

There’s nothing quite like the international culinary options for foodies in Dubai.

That’s why it comes as no surprise that Mariam Shevardnadze, co-founder of Qartuli, found a home for authentic Georgian cuisine in the heart of Downtown Dubai.

Its name – meaning leisure – perfectly encapsulates the experience of savouring each flavourful dish in a setting akin to a cosy Georgian home. And while there is no dearth of Georgian venues in the UAE, Qartuli stands out for its approach to preserving heritage, flavours and traditions, as I discover on a visit to the restaurant on Burj Khalifa Boulevard behind Dubai Mall.

Where to sit and what to expect

Diners are presented with two seating options – an open-plan yet cosy interior dining area with vintage decor reminiscent of the 19th and 20th centuries, and an outdoor terrace decorated with an abundance of greenery and ambient lighting.

Each table features vintage cutlery, glasses and mismatched plates curated to create a nostalgic feel, as though you’ve been transported to a traditional Georgian home. On trips to the bathroom, black-and-white photographs of a bygone era make you feel like you’ve walked into a time machine.

Since the humidity is still bearable, my dining partner and I opt for the outdoor option. Despite directly facing the bright lights of the Address Residences opposite the restaurant, the space feels cosy and enclosed, and we soon forget we’re in the heart of the city.

The menu

With the scene set, we’re greeted with a welcome bread basket accompanied by a delicious adjika dip that I sheepishly ask the waiter to top up.

For drinks, I opt for a juicy pear mocktail (Dh35) and my dining partner orders the traditional Natakhtari pear lemonade (Dh35), which is so tasty that we take photos of the label, planning to buy a lifetime supply from the distributor in Al Quoz.

Our starters comprise the Georgian-style Olivier salad (Dh45) and freshly made, warm sulguni cheese (Dh130), both of which come as surprisingly generous portions – a sign we needed to slow down if we want space for the mains.

Next we choose the lamb and beef khinkali (Dh39) and mushroom khinkali (Dh39), delicious twisted dumplings made of knots of dough and stuffed with meat, vegetables and spices. Again, they are much larger than they appear on the menu, and the generous filling bursts with comforting flavours.

The khinkalis are larger than they appear on the menu. Photo: Qartuli
The khinkalis are larger than they appear on the menu. Photo: Qartuli

As we pick up our cutlery, the server instructs us how to eat khinkali “the Georgian way” – holding the crown and tipping the dumpling upside down, slowly and gentling biting a hole in it before drinking the juices inside. We also learn that the crown is not designed to be eaten; rather, it is intended to be left on the plate.

We move on to a palate cleanser, cheese chebureki (Dh47), a decadent crispy deep-fried turnover, before diving right into mains, which include lamb chops (Dh110) served with Georgian tomato satsebeli sauce and seasoned onions.

The real star of our meal is the veal chakhapuli with tarragon (Dh85), a traditional meat stew that is hearty, filling and feels like one of those meals your grandmother fills your plate with to fatten you up.

We leave dessert up to our waiter’s recommendation. Pelamushi (Dh48), a traditional pudding served with walnuts, is an acquired texture – one that my partner does not enjoy but I devour. It has the perfect balance of sweet and savoury, with a velvety, gooey texture that melts on the tongue.

Our meal concludes with one of Qartuli’s warming signature teas – we opt for the currants and lavender tea (Dh50), a delicious blend of Assam black tea, currants puree, lavender syrup and mint.

During our visit, we enjoy a folk music performance by Ana Bujiashvili, Lia Khuntsaria, and UCHA on the outdoor terrace. We are particularly impressed by the warm Georgian hospitality, delightful entertainment and the homely dining experience.

Standout dish
The hearty veal chakhapuli stew is the star of the show. Photo: Qartuli
The hearty veal chakhapuli stew is the star of the show. Photo: Qartuli

The first whiff of the aromatic veal chakhapuli causes my dining partner and I to gasp in unison, followed by a happy food dance. Similar to ghormeh sabzi, a traditional Iranian dish that my partner grew up on, the veal chakhapuli is packed full of fresh herbs and tender pieces of meat.

The dish celebrates the comforts of homestyle cooking, reminiscent of the hearty meals you’d crave after a day of hiking in the cool Georgian mountains – a far cry from the warmer climate we’re sitting in. But it still works.

A chat with the founder

Shevardnadze, co-founder of Qartuli, is no stranger to food and hospitality. When she was nine, she asked for her father’s permission to assist in the family’s food production business in Tbilsi.

“My early involvement in food preparation sparked a lifelong passion for culinary arts,” she says. “By the age of 19, I ventured abroad to study and subsequently work in various countries, collaborating with chefs from diverse backgrounds in places such as the Alps in Switzerland, southern France, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, and my beloved home country of Georgia.”

After launching a delivery concept to test the demand for authentic Georgian cuisine last year, Shevardnadze opened Qartuli in Downtown Dubai four months later.

She says her favourite ingredient to cook with is Kakhetian oil, which is exclusively produced in the eastern Georgian region of Kakheti by local residents. “Unlike other oils, it is unfiltered and thick with a strong sunflower aroma, offering an authentic taste of Georgia,” she says. “This oil adds a distinct flavour and depth to my dishes, infusing them with the essence of the region.”

Prioritising high-quality and locally sourced ingredients from Georgia is also one of Qartuli’s unique selling points. “My approach is innovative yet respectful of tradition, ensuring each dish offers a memorable and authentic dining experience,” she adds.

Price point and contact information

Starters are priced between Dh45 and Dh145; salads cost from Dh45 to Dh75; mains from Dh65 to Dh275; and desserts from Dh35 to Dh50.

Qartuli is open daily from noon to midnight. Reservations can be made by contacting 058 120 9347.

Courtesy: thenationalnews