Muneer's restaurant brings flavours stretching length of Mediterranean
A NEW restaurant has become the first in the city to bring together the flavours of Lebanese and Moroccan cuisine under one roof – while promising to cater extensively to vegetarians.
Palm Island, in London Road, specialises in the kind of North African and Middle Eastern cuisine that is difficult to find in the East Midlands.
And the restaurant is about to invest heavily in creating a shisha smoking area at the back of the establishment.
Shisha is flavoured tobacco, smoked through an ornate pipe – known as a hookah. The practice is popular in the Middle East, where it originated, North Africa, Pakistan and India.
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In the restaurant, there is space for about 40 diners – with a further 100 seats in the shisha smoking area which, in contrast to most shisha bars, will feature private booths for visitors.
Muneer Ashqar, who runs the restaurant, said: "There are very few Lebanese people in Derby, so this cuisine is rarely available.
"Lebanese food is mainly vegetarian, is very healthy and is all cooked fresh on the premises – with many delicious herbs and spices. In the Middle East, Lebanese food is thought of as the best and most varied in the region.
"Although there is a good choice of halal meat and seafood, a lot of Lebanese cuisine features just vegetables and couscous – so it will be heaven for vegetarians."
Lebanese cuisine includes mezze – a variety of small dishes served in a style akin to Spanish tapas; tabbouleh – finely chopped vegetables, parsley and mint; and falafel – made of ground chickpeas and herbs which are formed into a ball and deep fried.
The North African influence at Palm Island can be seen in the variety of tagine dishes, which are cooked and served in earthenware bowls, with conical lids.
Mr Ashqar said: "I expect the tagines to be the most popular Moroccan dishes on the menu. The freshness of the food will be our signature."
Mr Ashqar, originally from the Middle East, worked as a head chef in Ireland before moving to the East Midlands.
He came to Derby to work as a chef at Jee-Ja-Jee's restaurants, where he learned how to prepare Indian cuisine.
Palm Island is the first time he has returned to his Middle Eastern culinary roots.
The restaurant is open now, although work on the shisha area is yet to begin.
Mr Ashqar said: "We will start with about 35 pipes. The intention is to make this luxurious and relaxing as possible, which is why we will be having private areas.
"This will make for a more pleasant atmosphere for everyone. A lot of people are going to like the combination of the shisha area and the restaurant."