Sherman's Food Adventures: Sanafir


*Restaurant is now closed*

Another Glowbal Group restaurant? Yah, I know. To many, the Glowbal Group is not exactly the first choice for incredible food. You have to understand 2 things though. First, the Glowbal Group is a chain restaurant that isn't. You see, all of their restaurants are "different", as they focus on different cuisines (except for Italian Kitchen and Trattoria). But at the same time, these restaurants do what most chain restaurants do, such as offer generally safe food in a predictable environment. That environment would be one of an attractive staff within a trendy, chic, youthful, modern, club-like or whatever you call it atmosphere. Secondly, Glowbal offers different methods of acquiring a discount which makes its restaurants accessible. For me, I'm just curious and want to try them all, which has finally brought me to Sanafir - the last one I had not been to. Coincidentally, I wasn't aware of their Tuesday 50% special, which was a pleasant surprise when I got the bill at the end.

Another common theme with all of the Glowbal restaurants is the art of sharing. There are generally a large selection of menu items which can be had in one large platter to be enjoyed with others at a per person price. With that in mind, Viv and I got the Mezze Platter. Starting on the bottom going clockwise, we have the Tuna Confit Crostini, Tandoori Prawn, Black Pepper Calamari, Vegetable Pakora, Braised Shortrib Crostini, Mediterranean Ribs, Lamb Kofta and in the centre, Watermelon & Valdeon Salad. As simple as a Tuna Crostini can be, we didn't mind this one. There was plenty of tuna with zing provided by the capers and the tapenade underneath. There was good flavour from the olive oil and the fried onions on top. Furthermore, the crostini was nice and crunchy. Nothing amazing; yet pleasant nonetheless. Next, we tried the Tandoori Prawn and for us, this was disappointing. What looked to be a plate full of flavour was actually quite bland. We could see the tandoori spices and the flavourful charred parts; but it all came out flat. Moreover, the most problematic thing was that the prawns were undercooked. It was especially noticeable in the head portion. The chickpea and arugula salad underneath was okay in my books; but Viv felt it was lacking in punch.

Moving clockwise around the platter, the Black Pepper Calamari was really tender and cooked perfectly. I liked the ample use of black pepper on most pieces. It really upped the flavour quotient. The lime aioli had a good zing and was a nice compliment while the peppers and red onion added another layer of spice. The one issue I had with this was the level of grease. Particularly with the pieces on the bottom, the grease was literally dripping off them. And on the topic of greasy, we had the Vegetable Pakora topped with sweet chili sauce next. No matter though, it is made with deep-fried chickpea flour, so it's not health food for sure. These were decent. Lots of cumin, very crisp and full of potato, peppers and chickpeas. Although we didn't mind the sweet chili sauce, it would've been preferable to have it on the side since it only served to moisten the perfectly crisp exterior of the pakora.

Onto our second crostini which was the Braised Shortrib Crostini. Similarly to the tuna, the shortrib was served cold. With the combination of dates and pequillo peppers, the flavour profile was distinctively sweet. I liked the grated egg on top, it looked nice. Not that I noticed it much while eating the crostini though. The shortrib itself was moist and tender. Normally, we gernerally like shortrib served hot; but this was alright in our opinion. Back to fried food, we had the Mediterranean Ribs with olive oil, Parmesan, espelette lime and fried herbs. The positive was that the ribs were very moist, fall-off-the-bone tender with a crisp exterior. Furthermore, there was great flavour from the Parmesan, black pepper and the herbs. However, once again, we found it to be quite greasy. One bite or one squeeze of the meat and the grease was quite visible.

The last savoury item that we tried was the Lamb Kofta which I ended up eating it all (Viv is not a huge fan of lamb). She gave it a shot; but it was indeed very gamy. For me, that was no problem at all since it just meant more flavour. I found that there was more than enough seasoning from the spices (particularly cumin) to compliment the lamb. The lamb was moist and the kofta was not overcooked. It rested on a bed of mint & parsley couscous, which I could've had more of. At the centre of the platter was a Watermelon and Valdeon with olive oil and pumpkin seeds. With sweet watermelon combined with the salty ingredients, it made for a nice refreshing treat from all the fried food. Strangely, the valdeon didn't look the part, it tasted more like Parmesan. Didn't matter though, it went well with the watermelon.

As if there wasn't enough food already (the 2 men sitting beside us shared this platter and didn't finish), we got a side of Fried Brussel Sprouts and Cauliflower. As it arrived, the aroma from being fried and tossed in chili, Parmesan and lime was intoxicating. I particularly liked the colour of the dish even though Viv had the opposite reaction. Similarly, she didn't like the dish while I did. I thought that the brussel sprouts were pretty good despite the fact I don't really like them. They were fried until crisp and there was just enough flavour from the cheese. As for the cauliflower, I still prefer the one from Nuba; but this was alright too. It was not mushy and again, had just enough seasoning on it.

Okay, we weren't finished yet. We had also ordered the Paella Valencia consisting of grilled tiger prawn, mussels, chicken and chorizo. Now, if you are familiar with an authentic paella valencia, I'm sure you'll notice that this paella is more of a hybrid of different types of paella minus the snails. For me, authenticity is not an issue if the food tastes good. After all, who are we to tell people what they should like. If it tastes good to someone, nothing else matters really. Okay, for those who want to whine about the paella not being served in the pan it was cooked in and yada yada yada... Yes, we noticed that too. No big deal in this case as we weren't expecting as much. Bottom line was that the rice was not overcooked and there was plenty of seafood flavour. We could see the saffron; but it was quite mild (it could be the quality of saffron). As for the seafood, the clams and mussels were very good; however, the prawn were really underdone, especially the heads. In fact, the heads were predominantly still dark gray, which indicates that it was not cooked all the way through. We liked the big chunks of chicken and chorizo, except there was only like 2 pieces of chorizo though. Yah, the paella had its issues; yet at the same time, we didn't dislike it. We'll filed it under "not bad".

Lastly, we actually had room to share a dessert after all this food. We opted for the Rice Pudding which arrived steaming hot. The temperature of the dessert actually helped activate some really nice aroma that hit our noses before we even put a spoon in our mouths. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves was very appealing. However, once it hit our tongues, the overwhelming sugar rush from the brown sugar was overpowering. It was too bad really. If it had been less sweet, this would've been a really good end to the meal. Now, many would expect or assume that I would now dismiss Sanafir as another Glowbal restaurant that is merely interested in style and little substance. Okay, that is not necessarily untrue. Yes, Sanafir does have style. It has attractive staff and a beautiful decor. Is that enough to make a restaurant? Well, no. As much as the food had its issues, Viv and I didn't mind it. With all the money-saving opportunities that the Glowbal Group offers, it is a decent alternative to some of the really overpriced chain restaurants out there. At the very least, they are trying to be different. Now would it be our first option for eats at this price point? Not really. But for the half-price Tuesday, we considered it a good value.

The Good:
- Consistent with other Glowbal restaurants, great decor and atmosphere
- Service we got was good

The Bad:
- Some items sound better on the menu than in reality
- The ottoman-like stool we were sitting on was very uncomfortable

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