Situated on the fourth floor of a
restaurant complex dominated by a large Pizza Hut and
sandwiched between two other eateries, newcomer Donya
Restaurant seems a bit overwhelmed by its surroundings.
Once you step inside there is little
to separate it stylistically from a hotel caf? much
less identify it with a high-class restaurant. The decor
is sparse, the colors subdued, and it lacks an in-your-face
quality. But if you think that any of this is bad, then
you haven't been in China very long.
In a land where too many restaurants
suffer from overbearing atmosphere, music played too
loud, and surreal decorative motifs, Donya is a shimmering
oasis. Not only does it offer authentic Middle Eastern
and Xinjiang cuisine, but it does so with subdued, unpretentious
class and a high standard of quality.
With a slightly faded carpet under
your feet and four walls of wood paneling surrounding
you, there's a certain cozy feeling to Donya. The only
touch of the exotic is a photo mural mounted behind
a slightly raised stage depicting camels trudging down
the Silk Road.
A duo playing keyboard and a guitar
alternate between soothing tunes and Islamic music throughout
the evening. Periodically, two women dancers cajole
the audience to dance with them in the open area in
front of the stage. This sort of activity always has
a high annoyance potential, but it is done in such a
low-key manner that conversation is still possible.
If you're lucky you might just catch
a VIP or two on the dance floor. We arrive to find the
Palestinian ambassador the life of the party, and everyone
clapping along with the music. In fact, the ambassadors
from almost every Middle Eastern country are here tonight.
Although we play second fiddle to this diplomatic entourage,
it is a very reassuring sight to see the crowd eating
and enjoying fare from their native lands.
"We're all very pleased with
the food here," says H.E. Saleh Abdulla Saleh Al
Bouanin, the Qatar ambassador. "The grilled meats,
fresh bread and presentation of the vegetables are all
top notch." The hot crusty flatbreads in particular
are noteworthy. Donya bakes its own bread, which is
a delicious pita-like version served piping hot.
The traditional combination with the
bread is humus, a creamy dip made of mashed, cooked
chick peas with a touch of lemon on top, and tabbuleh,
a meat/vegetable concoction with a tangy bite. Beware
though, dipping your pita in the humus will quickly
become an addictive habit.
For those of you with a rice fetish,
Donya does not disappoint. The simplicity of grilled
lamb served over fried rice belies a rich flavor and
a harmony that would make a Taoist priest grin with
inscrutable pleasure. On the menu you'll find it listed
under Stuffed Lamb (Oriental Rice) along with other
variations on the same theme.
An especially delightful dish for
both the eyes and the taste buds is listed in the menu
under the mundane Chicken with Tomato Sauce. Don't let
this fool you. It's not a chicken patty swathed in ketchup.
Instead what appears on your table is a roasted chicken
stuffed with rice, stewing in a shallow bath of tomato
broth. It is immediately satisfying on several levels.
From the crunchy burst of flavor that comes from taking
a bite of the chicken skin, to the velvet smooth meat
and then finally to the rice soaked in tomato and meat
juices, there will be few who leave the table unsatisfied.
For those less interested in meat,
a good alternative is the Arabian Salad, which at first
glance looks like any other salad until you take a bite.
The lemon-based dressing clearly sets it apart and the
freshness of the vegetables is immediately apparent.
Ordering all of these dishes is greatly
facilitated by an English menu. However, the descriptions
tend to be sparse, so be prepared to make a liberal
interpretation of the text. Also, the waitstaff don't
speak English, although the floor managers do.
All told, Donya has plenty to offer
and repeat visits will definitely be in order. It's
a wonderful addition to Beijing's crowded restaurant
market in that it offers something new and authentic
as well as delicious.