naranj, better known as bitter orange, is a new restaurant that opened recently at the olympia mall in salmiya - the location is pretty good as you can access it from gulf road - naranj has a nice authentic syrian touch that you can feel as soon as you walk up the stairs through this beautiful traditional fountain.
the interior set-up is quite spacious, the tables are set in such a way you can enjoy privacy without crowding the place, and the shisha tables are set in isolation right at the entrance of the restaurant which drives the smoke out and away from the main tables - great for the kids! you don't really worry about second hand smoking.
the interior decoration is superb, hanging down the the ceilings a variety of beautiful traditional syrian chandeliers - the walls are framed with syrian book covers like "the real existence" written by abdul ghani alnabulsi, photos of syrian historical sites and buildings like alhijaz station, photos of zenobia a 3rd century syrian queen of the palmyrene empire who led a famous revolt against the roman empire. in addition to syrian political figures like adib ibn hasan shishakli, syria's military leader and president (1953–54).
even the menus are nicely done, the covers are well designed with a modern, yet traditional arabic touch with nice calligraphy and color combination.
the food was great in general with sporadic subjective comments here and there - the meza or entrees were very good, though i would have preferred the batenjen biltahina to have a stronger garlic taste, my wife on the other hand liked the subtle taste of garlic - my tabboula was very dry, i had to mix it to get the sauce out but once that was done it tasted great, just the way i like it with a strong lemon pinch - the presentation of the dishes looked good and the fatayer had original shapes.
we don't remember ordering lahem bil3ajin bidebs elremman (meat pizzas), but we were so glad they landed on our table, they were absolutely delicious!
what you see above was our biggest surprise - we thought that these dishes would come in small plates and we ordered them just to have a taste of the main dishes, but what landed on the table was colossal, truly gigantic portions! both bourghol bitfine and bourghol bil banadora were succulent! just like home-made food and the meat was so tender it melts in your mouth like marshmallows.
what strikes you most at naranj is the generosity of the owners - both the fruits and the sweet basket were on the house and let me tell you that the sweets were heavenly! and that's not the end, kenafah was also offered for free! can you imagine that? this restaurant's generosity is unbelievable.
as for the service, it was great! the waiters are so friendly, running around the tables serving you food... fantastic team, really, they were so nice the kids, who hate arabic restaurants, wanted to come back! - the background music played george wassouf, well this goes without saying..
the acid test for any restaurant are the washrooms - we were positively and pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the washrooms - not only they smell nice and feel clean, but a cleaning boy stands there permanently making sure everything looks neat - the tissue dispenser has a sensor, all you need to do is pass your hand across that red light and the tissue will roll out automatically! wicked!
cleanliness doesn't stop at the toilets, there's a dedicated cleaning boy wearing orange wandering the restaurant picking up stuff and tidying up the place - these guys are really good!!
as for the check it was a bit expensive at first glance, a total of 41 kd for 2 adults and 2 kids - but i must admit that we ordered a lot and the food was good enough for 6 people so that's ok.
i am sure you're waiting for the bad stuff, so here it is but very subjectively - on my way to the washroom, i spotted this nice poster showing an old map of syria, however looking at the legend, it read: "damascus, urbs nobilissima ad libanum montem, totius syria metropolis" meaning "damascus and mount lebanon, total syrian metropolis" - well as a lebanese this must piss you off!! it's like a kuwaiti walking into this great iraqi restaurant only to spot a map of iraq that includes kuwait!
nevertheless, a very strong recommendation to visit naranj, regardless of that map...
well done naranj!