With its funky signage and village-inspired décor, Baladina is one of the latest additions to Arkan Mall in Sheikh Zayed. Its earthy artwork, galabeya-clad waiters and colourful seating certainly capture the rural spirit, although the service doesn’t quite live up to village hospitality.

A narrow path down the centre of the outdoor seating area leads to an old wooden door located just inside a pair of glass doors. While original, the lack of functionality made the door a bit of an obstacle. Complete with plasma screens, we found nothing special about the grey-blue interiors on the ground floor. Upstairs, however, the bright oranges and blues are funky, complete with a traditional oven for fiteer and bread. Mashrabeya shutters and lanterns add a touch of authenticity, as do the traditional ‘ahwa’ chairs used for seating.

The ambiance is pleasant and the staff are friendly; at the time of our visit, however, the service was slow and our dishes were served haphazardly. A group of four, we opted to share the appetisers and main dishes.

We ordered the chicken liver (24.95LE), vine leaves (19.95LE), kishk (24.95LE), yoghurt salad (9.95LE) and green salad (10.95LE) instead of the balady salad they surprisingly didn’t serve. We were served balady bread first, which came a bit cold, although obviously fresh. The chicken liver was probably the highlight of all the dishes, served with onions and a rich, creamy brown sauce. The yoghurt we found a bit bland and the kishk didn’t quite cut it; with a strong floury after taste with each bite. The green salad was very good, although relatively simple. Tightly rolled and scrumptiously soft to the bite, the vine leaves came served with yoghurt.

As mains, we ordered an okra tagine (49.95LE), oven-cooked rice with meat (59.95LE), fatta with meat (54.95LE), and shawerma fatta (54.95LE). Our jumpy waiter promised our dishes would be ready in “14 minutes”. The okra arrived first, served with a side dish of white rice. An average-sized portion served in a clay bowl, the tagine comes with a large piece of lamb roasted in the okra sauce. We were pleased to find that it was perfectly cooked and tasted like an honest home-cooked meal. After waiting another 5-7 minutes, we were served the fatta and the rice. Although the fatta was a bit on the heavy side, with more bread than sauce, it was still delicious and well seasoned. The oven-cooked rice was well seasoned and the meat was tender.

After another 7-8 minutes, our shawerma fatta arrived. Having had to wait so long for it, we were already frustrated with the inconsistency of serving each order separately. Although the meat shawerma was tehina-laden and cooked just right, some of the bread was a bit too hard and seemed stale.

Baladina is a good place to go for a night of shisha and mezza. Although the food is homey, it’s a bit on the heavy side and the jumpy service didn’t exactly add to the experience.