There are few places in Dubai where you can walk into in the middle of the day and feel completely relaxed. The kind of place where waiters and bar staff remember your face, remember what you like to eat on the menu, and greet you like you’re part of the family; Nola Eatery & Social House happens to be one of these rare dining gems as FACT’s Shabana Adam finds out…

Located in JLT at the Armada BlueBay Hotel, Nola is a breath of fresh air in a culinary scene that is highly saturated with gimmicks and theatrics. At Nola, you’ll find the genuine; a venue that has its own soul, one that is instantly captivating from the moment you step in. Inspired by the jazz clubs of New Orleans, Nola dishes up Southern American comfort food with a healthier, more modern take in a convivial setting, complemented by a diverse and colourful beverage list. Speakeasy vibes reign supreme as vintage tiles pattern the floor, wooden stools line the bar and cosy, laid-back characteristics of the Big Easy’s music scene are communicated through a vibrant design aesthetic.

Mismatched seating, intimate booths, living-room-style dining tables and even a rustic, classy book shelf all pay homage to everywhere from the French Quarter to the Marigny, the Treme, uptown on Oak Street and onto St. Claude Avenue – the most thriving districts for live music and hearty food in New Orleans. In fact, we spot a sheer curtain to the right which is concealing the stage at Nola – where artists play to the evening crowds.

We’re here for lunch, and there’s a more chilled out ambience. The doors out into the new Nola Garden are wide open, letting the cool winter breeze flow into the restaurant with the sun shining bright. For a moment, we forget that we’re in Dubai.

Much like the atmosphere and the great service, the food at Nola is definitely one of the biggest talking points for diners. What unites people in New Orleans is the city’s love affair with its traditional fare. Nola is an ode to this romance, conducted over large tables graced with jambalaya, po-boy sandwiches stuffed with meat and everything from Creole to Cajun bringing comfort to the taste buds.

Our food journey starts with Louisiana Crab Cakes – pan fried with spring onion and cilantro and served with remoulade sauce (AED81) – they’re exquisite. The Hot Spinach Cheese Dip (AED44) is a complete revelation. Oven baked and served with sour dough crostini; we scoop up mouthfuls rapidly – you will too.

It was, however, the Empanadas (AED51) stuffed with spicy black-eyed peas and mozzarella cheese that stopped us in our tracks. UNREAL. The crescent pockets are perfectly flaky and packed with a generous amount of delicious filling. There’s enough in one portion for at least three diners to share (although you might want to eat them all for yourself). We move on with a New Orleans staple – the Po-Boy; essentially, a stuffed sandwich on French bread, topped off with fixin’s of your choice. At Nola, they shake things up with their Po-Boy offerings. We dive into the Chickie Wah Wah (AED64) – a trio of sliders overflowing with pulled chicken, spicy corn, coleslaw, cheddar and pickles. A stunning combination of flavours that will surely please those who want classic grub with a savoury twist.

The Dirty Shrimps (AED82) will no doubt leave you wanting more. You’ll get two potato buns stuffed with smoky Cajun shrimp, topped with lettuce, roasted tomato and lime mayo. A true Southern dish with all the good food feels.

Another standout was the colourful Vegan Jambalaya (AED61). This is one for the epicurious amongst us. The dish has represented New Orleans since Colonial Spanish settlers tried reconstructing their native paella from locally-sourced ingredients. At Nola, they do a seafood option and a vegan version which is teeming with smoked bell peppers, mushrooms and corn, cooked with spicy Creole rice. Served hot, this is the ideal winter warmer that you need to fire up your afternoon with a tasty kick. The Braised Short Rib (AED106), slow cooked in black ale and served with mashed potatoes is also a winner. The meat is tender and filling with the creamy mash being a lovely accompaniment. And if you want to try something from the sides, we would highly recommend the mac ‘n’ cheese.

Dessert is one big tribute to N’Awlins. Take a bite into the New Orleans Famous Beignets (AED37) and fall in love with the deep-fried doughnut dessert. Beignets were first introduced to the city by the French-Creole colonists in the 18th century. The concept is simple – dough is fried then covered with mounds of powdered sugar – but the result is extraordinary. At Nola, they’re served with a side of hot chocolate sauce.

The Nola Banana Fosters (AED37) is another historically-relevant dessert born in the 1950s when New Orleans was the major point of entry for bananas shipped from central and south America. It’s a delightful concoction of caramelised bananas served with vegan ice cream on a skillet – endless “mmmhs” and “aaahs” from us. The Sizzling Brownie (AED37) is not only a yummy choice, but also an Instagram-worthy pick. It’s no wonder that Nola picked up the award for Best North American and Caribbean Restaurant in Dubai 2019 at the recent FACT Dining Awards Dubai. There are no tricks here. Just honest food, authentic service and the true soul of the deep south. ✤


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