Zerzura, the ancient land that lay hidden deep in the sands of the Sahara, was a city of pristine pools, palms, springs and yes – unimaginable treasures. So alluring was the charm that it was elusive, almost like a mirage. But the Zerzura we would like you to check out is more like a veritable oasis bursting with gastronomic delights that will soothe and seduce at the same time.
In the heart of the national capital of Delhi, the mythical paradise takes the form of a Middle Eastern and North African lounge that seems to vow to indulge its guests with more from the region.
Along with traditional offerings such as the three basic Moroccan tagines, Lebanese kibbeh, ankara lamb tarts, cold mezze – hummus, muhammara and more, they have added more to their menu. There is the Turkish lahmecun inspired by the ‘western’ pizza, tostu from Izmir, besides various Kebabs – orfali, patlican and beyati from the streets of Turkey, Syria and Lebanon respectively.
Moroccan tagines now include spiced keftas, yam, aromatic prawns, Greek honey cake and Egyptian basbousa giving company to the famous Arabian baklava.
Historical writings from Libya tell the tale of a camel driver Hamid Keila who was tended to by the Zerzurians or ‘El Suris’ after he braved a storm and days of thirst that killed all others travelling with him in a caravan. We had no such adventures to boast about whilst reaching our Zerzura, but the welcome received in the form of their signature drink – the Mezzitini was incredible. For those unfamiliar, it comes in multiple flavours (Cranberry Rosé, Melon, Green Apple, Pineapple) but is served, most dramatically, in ice bombs.
To begin with, I dug deep into the cold mezze platter and found myself diving headlong into the dips – hummus, moutabbal, muhammara, red hummus and so on. The muhammara, a spicy roasted red pepper and walnut dip is worthy of special mention as being particularly enticing in a tangy as well as nutty flavour. The hummus with beetroot and pistachio was also a revelation and a perfect marriage of sweet-sour and smoked wooden flavours, so characteristic of Morocco.
Next came the kebab course. Orfali kebab is a Turkish spicy char-grilled mince lamb and bell pepper kebab served with black pepper dip. I found these to be a little dry but the dip certainly lifted them to another level. I was pleasantly surprised with the Beyati kebab. This is essentially phyllo-wrapped minced lamb kebab marinated in onion, garlic, roasted cumin and coriander seeds, served with saffron rice, garlic yogurt and tomato sauce. Particularly filling, they are tender and do melt in your mouth.
I was completely stuffed by now but decided to opt for a dessert sampler to round-up my culinary journey. A homemade cinnamon ice-cream, Greek honey cake, baklavas and M’hanncha transported me to a veritable dream, much like the city coveted by all but reached by few.
Legend has it that Hamid fled from Zerzura, stealing with him a ruby set in a gold ring, but when the Libyan leader and his army from Benghazi went finding this city, they came across none.
I did not flee, but literally had to push myself to get up and leave after spending a languorous afternoon in Zerzura. And unlike the Libyan leader, this Zerzura is right there waiting for you to discover culinary treasures of the middle-eastern desserts.
Address: Qutub Hotel – The Clarion Collection | Shaheed Jeet Singh Marg, Near Katwariya Sarai, New Delhi 110016.
Phone Number: 9999100814
Price: Approximately Rs 4000 for two, inclusive of alcohol
Review by Aarti Kapur Singh