Right in the heart of KL, stood Halab, a Middle-Eastern restaurant that offered a whole host of Syrian, Yemeni, and Arabian-inspired dishes. We visited Halab during the afternoon, and given the long queues, we had seen just a while away, for Halab KL’s famous shawarma, it was clear we were at the right place.
In terms of access, I’d say that location wise, Halab was on a pretty deserted street, propped up on a slanted hill, that made it hard to find, and navigate to. Furthermore, because of Halab’s notoriety, there were numerous branches in the area, dedicated to different things, like a dedicated street for serving Halab shawarmas, and another restaurant for fulfilling deliveries, so locating the main restaurant in the midst of it all proved challenging.
The restaurant was bustling with people, and the interior—heavily inspired by Middle-Eastern culture— fit with bright, patterns, framed pictures that decorated the walls. The restaurant followed a two-toned black and white approach in their interior design, which exuded a modern, yet fine-dining experience. Most notably was the semi-cut out behind a glass partition that allowed patrons to view the chefs at their craft—be it carving meat on the rotisserie, or tossing kebabs on the grill.
After being seated, we took a look at their extensive menu, and no that is not an understatement. We knew we couldn’t try everything, even if they all looked mouth-watering good, so we settled on ordering crowd favourites, and dishes that seemed unique to Halab. With that being said, here’s what we ordered:
- Adani Teapot- RM 15 (Size Small)
- Hummus- RM 17
- Daoud Basha- RM 35
- Grilled Chicken- RM 32 (With Cheese)
As stated before, we unfortunately arrived at one of Halab’s busiest hours, which meant the staff were incredibly occupied fulfilling existing orders, to the point that there was a backlog of orders for a specific dish—their shawarmas.
One thing surprising about the restaurant was that they simultaneously made shawarmas for the secondary Halab corner down the street, which created a massive backlog as the restaurant was juggling orders from two restaurants. I’d argue this was a poor organisational structure, as it really limited the ability for the staff to fulfil most of the main restaurant orders. As a result, we weren’t able to order any shawarma options, which was incredibly disappointing, as the shawarma was regarded as the restaurant’s selling point.
Adani Teapot (RM 15)
Not too long after placing our orders, the wait-staff served us our tea in an exquisite Arabic pot, covered in brass and metal. Along with the pot came three small cups, just a tad bigger than your average shot glass. Now Adani tea is a spiced milk tea that gets its origins from Aden, Yemen. It’s known for its rich, sweet taste and was often had by people on cold winter days. Given its strong aromatic blend, it was made to be drunk in small amounts, which explained why our cups were smaller than average.
As the tea was poured into our cups, the fragrance of the blend of spices wafted in the air. The tea itself was warm to the touch (not scalding which was a plus), and had a creamy golden look to it. It was rather unfortunate that our first sip of the drink elicited a lacklustre response from all of us. We were expecting to be hit by the sweetness, and spices of the tea, however Halab fell short on delivering just that. While the taste of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves were present, the drink felt watered down, as it lacked any form of the syrupiness from the sweetened condensed milk.
I do personally think that Halab has the potential to improve upon their tea, by sweetening it a little bit more, and aerating the flavour for a more cohesive taste experience.
Hummus (RM 17)
The hummus came in a lovely bowl, with a basket of bread. Where Halab differed from other Middle-Eastern restaurants was in how the bread was presented. Halab had individually packaged their bread, which meant that we could decide how much bread we wanted to use, so we wouldn’t end up with leftovers. I think that was a pretty smart decision on their part, as it limits the amount of food-waste generated.
Hummus to put it plainly, is a spread or dip with strong Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern roots. It’s essentially made up of mashed chickpeas, tahini, and a generous seasoning of garlic and lemon. Hummus is often whipped and then spread on a platter or bowl, with a heavy drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika and spices. Special flatbread, which was fluffy, warm and soft, would help dip into and soak up the hummus.
The bread served by Halab however was slightly stale, and not at all warm. This did slightly lessen the experience of enjoying the hummus, however our first taste of the hummus was truly magnificent. The spread was smooth, creamy and packed with flavour, yet it was just the right balance, as the taste of the tahini and garlic was not overpowering at all, which was often a problem at most restaurants. I’d go as far as to say, it was probably one of the best hummus spreads I’ve tasted.
Although the hummus was one of the stars of the show, my overall rating was sadly undermined by the bread served alongside the hummus as it failed to meet our expectations.
Doud Basha (RM 35)
Next up was Doud Basha, and this was something I’ve not had before, which meant I had no frame of reference for what the dish could offer, and needless to say I was excited. Doud Basha was essentially the Lebanese and Middle-East’s version of meatballs that are braised in a decadent tomato sauce and simmered for hours. These tender, juicy meatballs are made up of ground beef, lamb, or sometimes, a combination of both. The name comes from a famous basha (the title given to a high-ranking officer during the Ottoman Empire), called Dawood, who supposedly ruled over Iraq and Lebanon, and had this dish created and named after him by one of his chefs.
Just as we were finishing up on our hummus, a small metal pot with handles on both sides was placed on our table, followed by a plate housing a heaping bed of fragrant white rice. We were met with a symphony of flavour on our first bite. The tartness coming from the tomatoes, enhanced the subtle flavour of the meatballs, that seemed to fall apart in your mouth. The pillowy rice helped marinade the sauce even further, adding just a bit of contrast to the sauce. It was absolutely divine in every way possible.
We couldn’t stop ourselves from devouring the entire dish, and craved for more. I definitely see myself coming here just to have this again.
Grilled Chicken w/ Cheese (RM 32)
Last on our list was the grilled chicken. We opted to pay extra for cheese as it was a crowd favourite choice, and who could say no to cheese? Most Middle-Eastern restaurants serve their rendition or take on Grilled Chicken, however I think Halab did something different by offering an ‘add-cheese’ option. I was skeptical that the cheese might not go well with the dish, but I was glad to be proven wrong.
The grilled chicken came on a silver platter, with a generous dollop of garlic sauce, flat bread and char-grilled vegetables. The chicken was juicy, and had a delicious smoky touch as it had been on the charcoal grill. The melted cheese only helped brighten notes of lemon, and garlic that were used to season the chicken, by cutting through the acidity. Paired with the aromatic rice that came with the Daoud Basha, the chicken was yet again another highlight of the meal. One thing to note however was that the chicken was not served with any other pairing of a side dish aside from veggies, which felt incomplete, and not really worth the high price as other restaurants often served their Grilled Chicken alongside a side-dish. Apart from that however, it was a fantastic end to the meal.
It’s clear that Halab KL was an amazing restaurant that served an incredible variety of authentic middle-eastern cuisine, that was just bursting with flavour. It stood on the pricier side, but given that most of the meat options included lamb or beef, it is understandable, moreover the interior of the restaurant demands it be priced on the high-end side.
Would I say it’s worth the price? Yes, I would; the food itself was delicious, the waitstaff were friendly even though they were dealing with multiple orders, and if you can afford to sit through some traffic, it really is an enjoyable place to visit at least once just for that amazing Daoud Basha.
Price (How worth it was the price?): 8.5/10
Written by Shaura Naeem
Photos by Timothy Wee and Irdina Ghazali