Published: Tuesday, November 01, 2016    

There are a number of signs to look out for to know whether your night at a restaurant will end with a satisfying pat of your newly acquired food baby, or with a vow to curb your adventurous taste buds from here on in. And so, as my dining companions and I strolled into Ayla Bawadi’s Sedra Restaurant on a Tuesday to try out their recently launched Mongolian Night, I immediately began searching for the cues.

Eager line of patrons building up at the start of the buffet table? Check. Promising sound of meat sizzling on a pan? Check. And an enamouring smell of good food to come wafting through the restaurant? Check! Eastern music drifted through the venue as we took our seats a little ways from the buffet, which was surrounded by a multitude of oriental lanterns, banners, and fans adorning the walls – all working together to encase patrons in a Mongolian bubble, making us forget we were sitting in a restaurant in Al Ain.

Mongolia is a landlocked region with an extremely continental climate and little arable land, meaning that seafood rarely features in its cuisine. Meat is prominent though, seeing how livestock outnumber people six to one.

The buffet, set in a U-formation, lies at the far end of the restaurant, past tables decked out in black and red tablecloths, each sporting the Mongolian flag. Before digging into the appetisers – featuring a range of Asian salads, a small collection of sushi and shrimp, as well as crunchy spring rolls and seafood bundles - it's best to place your order at the live cooking station so your meal is prepared while you indulge in the spread of sweet and spicy starters.

A tower of steel bowls stand at the start of the live cooking station, waiting to be flled with each diner’s choice of meats and vegetables, which are laid out in 27 dishes. The mixture is then stir-fried along with your choice of either rice or noodles. “Mongolian dishes used to be featured under Seafood Night every Thursday, however due to its popular demand, we decided to dedicate a night especially to this cuisine,” said Senior Sous Chef Jeejo Thomas as we handed our bowls to Chef Nirman Singh, the one who heads this particular theme night due to his experience with Mongolian cuisine. “Another reason was to add something new to Al Ain’s evolving food scene,” added Chef Singh.

Back at the table, when we were fnishing off our starters, the indescribable yet enticing smell of rice seasoned with garlic, and noodles flavoured with green pepper, became stronger as one of the many attentive staff brought forth our meals. Presented in a leaf-shaped bowl atop a black tray, and accompanied with vinegar and soy sauce, the food was presented similarly for each patron, and came with a set of chopsticks for those adept or brave enough to give it a go.

I passed on the chopsticks and tucked into my portion of rice which featured chicken and beef, along with a peppering of vegetables like ginger, parsley, and onions. Choices of adding calamari, hammour, shrimp, salmon, and tuna are also available, to name fve. Overall, the meal was well cooked, and each bite offered a different taste due to the mixture of ingredients added in.

The noodles fared just as well in comparison, where I'd chosen to indulge exclusively in seafood for my meat such as squid, tuna, and shrimp along with an assortment of vegetables including broccoli and carrots – all topped off with a spoonful of vinegar to add a bit of zest to the largely mild taste.

While the live cooking station, the crowning jewel of the buffet, remains the same, the pre-prepared meals - seasoned with cinnamon, star anise and Mongolian chilies - rotate weekly. The week of our visit featured Mongolian Sesame Crispy Beef, a seafood hotpot, noodle soup and steamed dumplings stuffed with meat, known in Mongolia as buuz.

The seafood hotpot, while uncommon in Mongolian cuisine, was unanimously voted as the top contender in our second round of main courses as the taste was heightened due to the seafood stock it was stewing in. The hotpot featured crab, lobster, and mussels, all of which I managed to deshell without having it fly off to another table.

Dessert, while not Mongolian themed, was fully designed for a sweet ending with the table flled with dishes like peach cobbler, banana Nutella crepes, cakes, sweet jam dumplings, and passion fruit – the only sour dish, though when coupled with the jam dumplings it created an extremely palatable taste.

Needless to say, we were all contently patting our tummies as the last dishes were promptly taken away
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