What is Gambas al Ajillo and Why You Must Try It

In Dining to Tell 

Gambas – the Spanish dish that tapas nights should be all about

Garlic shrimp is always a winner. Served with a crisp white wine it is the loveliest way to “tapas” your way through an evening. Served everywhere in Spain, if you have ever had the luck to visit the country, there is no doubt you would have come across this standout dish. I make it for friends and family and it is always a hit. Although super simple and rustic, all the butter and garlic along with a touch of heat will make sure that this always a crowd-pleaser; the perfect accompaniment to a decent evening of wine and rambling conversations with friends.

Overwhelmingly simple to make, yet packed with loads of flavour, the key to a good gambas is too season well and get the balance of flavours from the chilli, lemon and cayenne pepper just right. Often made in an earthenware pot called a cazuela which is heated up, heaps of olive oil and butter and tons of crushed and sliced garlic are added. Sizzled to perfection and then the shrimp are added along with cayenne pepper, chilli flakes and some white wine or sherry or a dash of brandy – depending on your taste preferences. I usually get shrimp that have the heads off but keep the skins on as this maximizes the sweet flavour of their flesh which contrasts nicely with the saltiness spiciness of the sauce. You then serve it with some thick white bread to sop up the sauce and some decent white wine. Perfection. Although, to be honest, even if you having an off day in the kitchen, this is bound to come out well. Even a mediocre gambas is better than none. That is the beauty of this dish. All that garlic and butter guarantees you a winner.

Follow this recipe here if you want to try it at home yourself but with the Dubai days getting longer as we approach equinox you might feel like treating yourself to some sundowners and tapas nibbles. Here are the places that I recommend that you try around Dubai for some decent gambas.


Al Hambra

Situated at Al Qasr, Al Hambra is a lovely Spanish restaurant that does good nosh. It has made its way into my heart and although it is not the fanciest place in Dubai, it just seems to have something special in its vibe. If you hankering after a decent paella and some gambas, I have tried both here and will return if given half the chance. The laid back and relaxed atmosphere coupled with decent service and is the type of restaurant with any pretensions. The staff here are attentive and really just want you to have a good time. Besides the squid-ink paella, the other dish I would order here time and time again is the gambas al ajillo. Highly recommended.

El Sur

Located at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, the beautiful terrace here is intimate and perfect for a romantic night out for two or a group of friends to share a bottle of three of vino. This rather sophisticated bar and restaurant is vibrant and lively and packed to the hilt with elegance. The gorgeous backlit bar area is always good to grab a drink on the way in before heading to your table but then once seated, be sure to check out the menu under Clasicos you will find gambas al ajillo y guindilla. A bit of heat from the chilies makes this a little treat tantalizingly moreish and I’m sure you will find yourself going back for more. 

Leopold’s of London

Perhaps you have done a lap or two around the Marina and are in search of somewhere low-key to kick back and chill with some good grub, then look no further than Leopold’s of London. Under appetizers you will find gambas which is a perfect way to fill the gap after a bit of fresh air and walking. The dish is done the traditional way and sprinkled with parsley to give it a bit of nice counterpoint to the richness of the butter and garlic.

So, there you have it, 3 grand locales in which to try an old favourite or perhaps something new.

Happy Dining!

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