Choosing a place to eat among the Nana neighbourhood's many Middle Eastern and North African restaurants can be an intimidating task. They all seem to serve basically the same fair, sport the same thick menus, and serve a predominantly Middle Eastern crowd, but Nefertiti, just as its name for the Egyptian queen, famous for her beauty, indicates, is a diamond among gemstones.
And it shines like one, too. On the corner of Soi 3/1, the restaurant's silver facade, man-sized golden hookahs, and bubbling fountains make it hard to miss along the ever-crowded soi. Charcoal-fired hooka smoke blends with the smell of fresh naan and kebabs as families and friends gather to pass an evening. It is this atmosphere, as well as the fantastic food, that sets Nefertiti apart from the competition. The outdoor seating and multiple screens playing Arabic music videos is reminiscent of the outdoor cafes and restaurants around Al-Hussein, Cairo or Place de l'Etoile, Beirut.
Despite the large Middle Eastern and African community, when the restaurant opened six years ago, it was one of only three Arabic restaurants in the area, says general manager Walid Elsebaey. Nefertiti began catering to the local Arab community, as well as travellers from the Gulf States who come to Bangkok for shopping and hospital visits. But, the restaurant also provides Bangkokians a chance to expand their dining horizons at a reasonable price.
The menu features an extensive array of Middle Eastern cuisine created by chefs from across the Arab world, including Egypt, Yemen and the Persian Gulf. It includes classics like baba ganoush (Bt80), feta cheese (Bt80), mixed kebab platters (Bt200), and falafel sandwiches (Bt90), but alongside those are specialities like the Magloub lamb, rice with eggplant and stewed lamb (Bt300), and Egyptian-style rice with lamb stew (Bt250).
Dining at Nefertiti is a social event with everyone sharing all the dishes. The food is brought out piece by piece, with each dish accented by its predecessor, the table slowly fills with plate upon plate of food, and it is the whole combination of these many flavours that make the meal.
We started off with fresh naan, baked in a brick oven, sprinkled with sesame seeds (Bt20) and hummus (Bt80). Hummus, although a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, is often disappointing, with either too much garlic, too little lime, or too chunky a texture. Nefertiti's hummus achieves a perfect balance of tart lime and rich chickpea flavour.
We tried several other Middle Eastern classics. The falafel (Bt100), made of chickpea flour and herbs, was served in flat disks opposed to round balls, making it easier to eat. The tabouleh (Bt70) was full of fresh herbs, parsley and scallions, and light on salt, which other places may use to hide a shortage of fresh herbs.
Served alongside every meal is a plate of greens, colourful pickles, peppers, and limes to add some zing to the kebabs and humus that are best eaten by hand using the warm bread as utensil.
Lamb, a rarity in Thailand, features extensively throughout the menu, and surprisingly, it is not imported. The hallal lamb is produced locally meaning it is always fresh, and the chefs ensure that flavour comes out using traditional recipes to create homey classics.
The mixed grill (Bt200) features ground lamb and steak kebabs, and succulent grilled chicken served with potent garlic sauce - signature of any true kebab platter or sandwich.
The Egyptian-style rice with lamb (Bt300) is a four-layer dish served in a casserole with a base of stew soaked bread, topped by buttery basmati rice, followed by pieces of lamb so succulent they fall off the bone, all of which is then drizzled to taste with the subtly tart tomato sauce.
For after-dinner sweets, Nefertiti has many custards and puddings to choose from. We tried the classic Um-Ali (Bt100), a milky pita bread pudding with toasted coconut and sugary white raisins.
But, dinner does not stop when you finish your food. Hookah is an after-dinner tradition, and a perfect way to cleanse the palate and relax after a heavy meal. Neferetiti's hookahs (Bt150) feature apple, strawberry, grape and mint flavours. The long, elegant pipes are served alongside sweetened mint tea, and restaurant patrons sit for hours smoking, chatting, listening to music, or simply watching the street scenes pass.
Nefertiti Egyptian Restaurant
4/8 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1
Daily, noon to midnight
(02) 655 3043