I love food. I love trying new food, cooking food, and generally just enjoying various food related experiences. I realized recently that I don’t have a food section on this blog, so I decided to add one. I’ve decided to attend every restaurant in Dubai that’s opened by a Michelin starred chef and see what all the ruckus is about. There isn’t a Michelin guide for Dubai, so none of the restaurants themselves are actually Michelin starred, but I hope that the chefs will try to maintain comparable standards at all their vehicles.
The first establishment I tried was Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar at the JW Marriott Marquis hotel. The review is below. Enjoy!
Rating : 4/5
Overall: The experience was excellent. The food was some of the best I’ve had, and the service was exceptional. This would have a five star review if not for the oppressively intimate decor and some slight inconsistencies with the food quality.
Entrance and Happy Hour Specials
My companion and I arrived at the hotel and made our way to the restaurant where we were warmly greeted and escorted inside. The entrance way was a long dimly red-lit corridor with cushion adorned booths on one side and artwork on the other. It really didn’t feel like a restaurant, but more like a massage parlor or gentlemen’s club. While not off putting, it was still peculiar, but I suppose that could be attributed to the cultural disconnect. Most people in Dubai probably wouldn’t make that association.
We were informed of a new Happy Hour special the restaurant was conducting for which we were offered special South Asian flavored cocktails and a selection of appetizers. The price point was actually quite cheap, so we ordered all the appetizers listed and the Indian martini with passion fruit chutney. The drink was excellent. It had a beautiful mix of heat, tartness, and sweetness that really woke me up. Think bloody mary with a little less tomato and more kick. The bar appetizers were great as well. There was a selection of samosas, spring rolls, chicken boti, and squid with tamarind chutney. The potato based samosa filling was seasoned perfectly, and the pastry was flaky and cooked well. The spring rolls were good, but nothing to write home about. The chicken boti was juicy and had a perfect amount of heat, but was strangely garnished with broccoli. The broccoli didn’t really add much and should probably be replaced with something else. The squid was well cooked, and the tamarind chutney with it added a beautiful sweet and sour accent. I generally don’t like South Asian style seafood because the spices usually overpower the natural flavor of the seafood, but the seasoning on the squid showed a remarkable restraint, and the chutney was gentle enough to let the squid shine.
The only rub was that happy hour specials were not available at the table, so we had to sit at the bar area and finish this introduction before being permitted to go to the table. This area was completely empty, so it was a little odd sitting there rather than in the dining room. I suspect they are trying to encourage use of the bar area more, but it’s a tough sell when there are dedicated bar venues in the same hotel that people would likely prefer to go to. We were also informed of a promotional prix fixe menu option. Effectively, the diner receives a different fixed menu which reduces in price on each subsequent visit up to 4 or 5 visits. I looked at the menus, and they didn’t contain any of the dishes I had scoped out from my earlier investigation of the menu. It also seemed like we were being solicited which was a little off putting and not becoming of an establishment striving for high quality.
In any case, we completed our happy hour intro and were taken to our table.
After seeing how delicious the bar food was, I was excited to see what the actual meal would bring. The decor in the dining room immediately strikes the eye. There are large tapestry-like works of art on the wall, accented with broad twisting columns throughout the dining room, all set amidst a warm red glow. Putting all these elements together was a bit much. The restaurant is not billed as a romantic establishment, but even if it was, the intimacy should be scaled back a little. South Asian food provides warmth such that a decor which shadows the diner this much is not really needed. Turn on the lights Atul.
We were presents with a traditional basket of papdi and a selection of chutneys to go with it. This was pretty unremarkable. While not bad, it wasn’t anything extraordinary or different. The chutneys were good, and the papdi was crunchy and well seasoned. I’ve found that this initial bread offering is pretty hard to screw up, even in the worst of Indian food establishments.
On to the menu. Being an ardent fan of chana chaat (or as some people might call it, the mixed plate); I immediately knew that’s what I wanted to order for my appetizer when I saw it on the menu. I have to tell you; this was some of the best chaat I’ve ever tasted, surpassed only by the one my mother used to make, of course. It was also unique in that I was presented with three different chaats served in what was reminiscent of a miniature sushi boat. There was a traditional chana chaat, and a crispy fried potato chaat, and a sprout. The first and second were fantastic. The chana chaat had a wonderfully tart and refreshing mix of tamarind and mint chutney with a base of yogurt. The chana inside were cooked perfectly, retaining their flavor without becoming mushy. The crispy potatoes were a unique twist on the traditional diced and boiled potatoes usually found in a chaat and were seasoned equally as well. The sprout chaat, however, was far too salty, to the point of being inedible. I suspect it was accidentally seasoned too much or not checked before being sent out. I informed the server, and it was replaced with a less salty one, and I enjoyed that as well.
I wanted to try as much as I could, so I ordered the nihari (braised beef curry) and the tawa champ (grilled lamb chops). The nihari was good, but it didn’t quite match up to the nihari you would get at a niche Pakistani place which specializes in it, like Sabri Nehari in Chicago. The curry/sauce was a little thinner than typical and slightly more anemic in color. This is usually an indication that it was wasn’t cooked long enough or didn’t have enough oil added. The meat was wonderfully tender as it should be and seasoned perfectly, though.
The lamb chops, however, were out of this world and not at all like I expected. I can scarcely remember ever tasting lamb this delicious. They came in a spicy curry sauce and were garnished with various herbs. The lamb melted in my mouth and flooded it with all the beautiful South Asian spices I would expect. Slight accents of citrus provided the right acidity to cut through some of the heat, while the ginger and cilantro offered an excellent accent and lifted the flavor higher. I would return to this restaurant just for this dish.
This was the highlight of the meal. I ordered the kulfi, and I cannot explain in words how incredible it was. I wish I could have gotten a good picture, but the lighting didn’t allow it. It was a layered kulfi with multiple different flavors: traditional, pistachio, and various fruit flavors. The placed was garnished with different berries to add a little sweetness. I was in love after the first small spoonful and proceeded to eagerly eat the rest. It was gone before I knew, and I was left debating whether to order another one. I didn’t want it to end, and it was a perfect close to a delightful meal.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone looking for an upscale South Asian dining experience with some unique twists on traditional Indian classics.