From bargain biryanis to five star curries, the best Indian cuisine in the city
Holland boasts of its Indonesian tafel, France of its Vietnamese cooking and Germany of its Turkish doner kebabs, but here in Dubai we can be especially proud of our extensive Indian eating scene. The emirates’ relationship with India dates back further than the Union, with rupees exchanged as currency long before the Dirham appeared. Now, thanks to the large community of Indians in Dubai (more than 2.2 million in the UAE, making it the largest hub for Indian expats worldwide), within our restaurant scene, you’ll find both the humblest regional Indian eatery, serving perhaps Keralan or Punjabi food, as well as the summit of the world’s Indian chefs, from Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia, to TV favourite Sanjeev Kapoor. In honour of India’s 67th year of Independence this month, we explore the length and breadth of the country through menus served in Dubai.
Bhuna baigan aur simla mirch at Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar Celebrity chef Atul Kochhar offers a ‘pleasure palace’ in the form of a sultry temple to modern- day Indian cooking. With a commitment shown across the menu to sourcing ingredients locally, where possible, this beautifully conceived dish of roasted aubergine, with peppers, UAE-made burrata and Indian spices is a succinct illustration of Kochhar’s innovative concept. Dhs65. Open Mon-Sat 6pm-11.30pm. JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai, Business Bay (04 414 3000).
Chilli mint prawn kebab at Patiala Slick and dark, Patiala offers Dubai the Indian restaurant equivalent of an exclusive nightspot experience and to exceptional effect. With the menu inspired by northern Indian cooking, kebab specials figure highly, which guests can see prepared in front of them in the open kitchen. Presented on an anticipation-heightening copper grill, the chilli mint prawn kebab offers a beautiful mix of fresh and fiery, with a smoky edge within the flesh. Dhs155. Open daily noon-4pm, 6pm-2am. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown, Dubai (04 451 9151).
Coastal chicken at Eric’s Tucked away in a Karama backstreet, Eric’s may not seem like much when you take in its bland set up and disconcertingly international span of cooking styles on the menu. Stick to the Goan selection, however, as we have on previous visits, and you’ll be in for an explosion of flavours. Highly recommended is the coastal chicken, dressed in a playful and popping spectrum of spices, including plenty of fresh curry leaves and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Dhs20. Open 6pm-midnight. B-2 Sheikh Hamdan Colony, near BurJuman Centre, Karama (04 396 5080).
Dal bukhari at Zafran The richer, sweeter cousin of yellow lentil dal tadka, this black lentil dish boasts a healthy dollop of cream and butter. Mild and ever-so-slightly sweet, with a silky texture, it’s the perfect treat for vegetarians and carnivores alike and threatens to win over even those who profess not to like Asian cuisine. Dhs25. Open Sun-Thu noon-10.30pm, Fri-Sat noon-11.30pm. Dubai Marina Mall, Dubai Marina (04 399 7357).
Garha lemongrass butter chicken at Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor Now one of several restaurants in the city headed up by this Indian celebrity, TV cook and chef, the modestly sized and ethereally toned Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor prides itself on some imaginative, fusion pieces. Among the list of garha specialities (curries slow-cooked in a ‘garha’ claypot), we admire the lemongrass butter chicken, which injects an extra dimension to this classic, shaking it awake with a touch of Far Eastern fragrance. Dhs85. Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-11pm. Meliá Dubai, Kuwait Street, Bur Dubai (04 386 8111).
Ghee paper masala dosa at Aryaas This eatery has quickly become a stalwart among Bur Dubai’s Indian offerings. Packed full of Indian families, the surroundings feel wholly appropriate for a South Indian feast on-the-go offering a contemporary, canteen-style dining concept downstairs and more relaxed dining upstairs. The show-stopping dish must undoubtedly be the ghee paper masala dosa. This crispy crepe-style concoction is huge: Burj-Khalia cone-esque, it is stuffed with a spicy, creamy melee of mash potato, sautéed onion and peas. Just be prepared to draw attention to yourself when it arrives. Dhs2. Open daily 7.30am-1.30am, Bank Street, Bur Dubai (04 357 7800)
Goan jingha at Amala Housed within a dark and imposing space, with cavernous ceilings and towering, mosaic-covered columns, Amala specialises in Mughlai cuisines, from the northern regions of India, where the influence of the moghul invaders is most notable. Uniquely, this menu is set at Dhs250 for food alone, offering guests as little or as much as they’d like from the list, served at the table. The Goan jingha shines out as a fresh and lively dish. The traditional prawn curry is made with a fruity, fragrant and sweet mix of unrefined coconut and plenty of fragrant curry leaves in the sauce. Dhs250 per person (unlimited food only). Open daily 6pm-1am. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0444).
Gosht saagwallah at Memsaab Something of a boutique-budget eat, Memsaab’s tiny restaurant in neighbourly JLT boasts an attractive setting, great staff and a well made, yet affordable menu. Waiters will gauge your spice preference and advise on the menu, in a manner befitting more high-end haunts in the city. One of the venue’s signature dishes, the gosht saagwallah is a curry of thick, creamy buttery spinach sauce with generously sized and beautifully tender chunks of lamb. Dhs34. J2 Tower, Cluster J, JLT (04 442 9816).
Hare Baingan Ka Bharta at Asha’s A favourite of Hindi singer and restaurant owner Asha Bohsle’s mother, Mai, this modest, meat-free dish is made of oven-roasted and mashed eggplants tempered with mustard seeds, onions, garlic, green chillies and fresh coriander in clarified butter. Served in a small metal bowl, it may not be much to look at, but its smooth texture and delicious, almost smoky flavour far exceed its humble ingredients and rewards diners. Dhs50. Open 7pm-midnight. Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4100).
Jingha achari at Armani/Amal Time Out Dubai’s best Indian restaurant award winner of 2013 displays its star-potential from the outset. Pass through the atrium, a conceptualised version of a rusty red courtyard, settle in to the lounge for a complimentary welcome drink, before heading to a table in a slick, caramel-toned space set between a stylish open kitchen and a views of the Dubai Fountains outside. Try the jingha achari, a special of tiger prawns prepared with pickling spices and cooked in the tandoor to create twisted little bows of sweet juicy flesh. Dhs180. Open daily 7pm-11pm. Armani Hotl, Burj Khalifa Downtown Dubai (04 888 3444).
Mango curry at Calicut Paragon Despite Dubai’s meteoric growth, it is the ‘curry corridor’ of restaurants running through Satwa, Karama and Bur Dubai that remain the best places to pick up excellent budget food. Keralan stalwart Calicut Paragon may not attract the hype of haunts such as Ravis or Bu Qtair, but the reason is not down to lack of quality. Seafood is a speciality and entire pomfret (often caught that day) smothered in a spicy rub is an excellent introduction to Keralan food. Perhaps more accessible, however, is the fruity mango curry. Mop it up with a buttery naan bread and still have change from Dhs25. Dhs18. Open daily 7am-midnight. Karama, opposite Lulu Centre (04 355 8700).
Mix tandoori vegetable platter at Dhow ka Aangan Complete with a live band, the Dhow Palace Hotel’s pricey Indian is a popular choice for families, who pack the restaurant out on weekends – be sure to book ahead. While we’ve found their range of curries to vary dramatically, the chefs excel at the art of tandoori – something made clear with the vegetable-sharing platter, which offers ample servings of delicately toasted mushroom, pepper, onion, cauliflower, paneer cheese and spicy vegetable kebab rolls. Dhs75. Open daily 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-2am. Dhow Palace Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 359 9992).
Murg hyderbadi korma at Ushna Although the Madinat Jumeirah experience remains as impressive as ever, its restaurants should be judged on the quality of food. So despite the funky setting – all bright drapes, ornate wall-hangings and plush cushions – Ushna’s relative success is down to the food. Thankfully the upscale kitchen is up to the task with a favourite being the saffron and coconut flavoured murg hyderbadi. Generous forkfuls of chicken are dropped into the creamy curry that prioritises flavour over spiciness. The sizable downside, however sadly, has to be the price tag. Setting you back nearly Dhs100 for a main course, this is one of the city’s most expensive Indian meals. Dhs95. Open daily 12.30pm-11.30pm. Madinat Jumeirah (04 368 6506).
Tawa Murg Rayan at Chutney’s This northern Indian dish arrives in a steaming metal pot. It’s a richly coloured marinated chicken dish in an aromatic tomato and onion sauce, flavoured with ingredients including garlic, cardamom, ginger, chilli and fresh coriander. This version is traditional, aromatic, earthy and it isn’t too greasy or excessively hot. The meat is tender and cooked impeccably and although we would prefer slightly less black peppercorns, we enjoyed the authentic, smoky nature of this undeniably tasty curry. Dhs70. Open daily midday-3pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Mövenpick Hotel Bur Dubai (04 310 4340).
Thali at Indego by Vineet Taking its name from Indian superstar chef Vineet Bhatia, this Dubai institution for fine Indian dining teams an elegant setting and sharp service with high quality and imaginative food. On weekday lunchtimes, Indego by Vineet offers a fine dining vision of the humble thali deal. Served in an imaginative glass stack (or ‘thali tower’), the regularly changing menu includes Malai-black garlic chicken tikka and gold dusted gulab jamun. And like the old-school, old Dubai equivalent, this posh thali is also generously unlimited. Dhs170 (vegetarian), Dhs190 (non-vegetarian). Available Sun-Thu 12.30pm-3pm. Grosvenor House Dubai, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Reshmi kabab masala at Gazebo With ten locations in the UAE and seven in Dubai alone, Gazebo is a reliable mid-range chain with a bewilderingly selection of specialities. But despite boasts about being the ‘pioneer’ of the ‘biryani in a pot concept’ (take your leftovers away and you may get to keep the earthen pot), we’re the biggest fans of their premier curry, which stars tandori chicken floating in a creamy sauce with hints of spice and cashew nuts. Dhs38. Open daily noon-11.45pm. Various locations including Kuwait Street, Bur Dubai (04 359 8555).
Salmon tikka at Iz With many budget restaurants offering quality Indian food at absurdly low prices, the city’s upscale restaurants need to do something remarkable to justify the price. At the Grand Hyatt, that something extra comes in the form of excellent service, contemporary styling and, well, small portions. Presumably working on the haute cuisine concept of less-is-more, Iz specialises in morsel-sized servings of tandoor food. That’s North Indian with a modern twist. As much as we enjoy feasting on a (New Zealand) salmon tikka and appreciate the flaky softness of the piquantly aromatic fish, we just struggle with the concept alongside better value propositions. Dhs50. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm and 7pm-11.30pm (midnight Thu-Fri). Grand Hyatt Dubai (04 317 1234)
Sarson ka sarg at Pind Da Dhaba This fairground of a restaurant is dressed in the liveliest of decor, complete with three-wheeled rickshaw and a hand pump for water. Inspired by backwater eateries in the Punjab region, the menu serves specials from this regional style of cooking. The sarson ka sarg is a house signature and an intensely buttery and thick curry made with spinach and tangy mustard leaves, although it can be a little fiery (even if you request it to be milder). We recommend you team it with the makki da roti (as do the waiters), a chewy, sweet flat bread made with cornflour and the two make a classic combo. Dhs24. Open daily noon-3pm, 7pm-midnight. Sheikh Rashid Road, opposite Zabeel Park, Karama (04 388 5222).
Urulai roast at Dakshin You may not be able to sample everything on the extensive menu at this old-school-style curry house, but we soon forgot about matters when we stumbled upon this popular potato offering, here made with channa dal, urad dal, mustard seeds and turmeric. Baby potatoes lend a sweet, gooey, sticky flavour to the dish and rice flour seals the ingredients and gives them a vital crispiness. Add the extremely pungent Asafoetida spice and wait for the flavours to make themselves known. Moreish in the extreme. Dhs34, Open daily noon 3pm, 7pm-1am. Lotus Hotel, Al Rigga Road, Deira (04 227 8888)
Vegetable kadai at Delhi Darbar Traditionally made and served in a kadai (a small metal wok), Delhi Darbar’s take on this rich, tomatoey dish is at the sweeter, oilier end of the scale, but the fresh vegetables lose little of their crunch during the cooking process, instead retaining the perfect amount of bite, while absorbing all the flavour of the curry’s garam blend. Dhs17. Open daily noon-12.30am. Zabeel Road, Karama (04 334 7171).
Vegetarian thali at Rajdhani Arrive at lunchtime on the weekend and expect to have to jostle for space to be among the first to be seated for Rajdhani’s popular first sitting. The air thick with the smell of tempered mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves and smoked masala chaas, waiters work their way between tables, filling katoris (the individual metal bowls) with spicy dals, okra curries, soup-like dishes and mountains of rice. Dhs31. Open Sat-Thu 12.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm; Fri 1.30pm-3.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Rolla Street, Bur Dubai (04 393 4433).
Prawns at Bu Qtair While the term ‘institution’ is bandied about to the point of nearly raising suspicion, Bu Qtair is one Dubai exception that deserves the accolade. Set on a deserted corner in view of the Burj Al Arab, like a South Indian seafood shack, diners can pick their fresh fish, freshly cooked. Opt for the prawns, which are exceptionally fresh and meaty, packed with salty, garlicky flavour and teamed with a coconut-packed sauce and chewy and buttery roti on the side. Approximately Dhs75 per 500kg. Open daily 10.30am-3pm, 6.30pm-midnight. Beach Road 4d, near Burj Al Arab, Umm Suquiem (055 705 2130).
Murgh Malabari at Chor Bazaar Despite the slightly stale setting, Chor Bazaar often packs a crowd for its contemporary Indian dishes and buffet nights. This chicken curry hails from Kerala and is one of the more spicier on the menu. Inside you’ll find large tender portions of chicken in a rich, tangy gravy. Dhs86. Mon-Sat 7pm-midnight. Movenpick Hotel, Ibn Battuta Gate, (04 444 0000).
Shaam savera at Options by Sanjeev Kapoor The second branch of Options by Sanjeev Kapoor, with a bigger, brasher sister in DWTC, this particular restaurant is simply one of many in the city, headed up by the chef. At the Mövenpick Hotel Deira, diners can spy their tandoor kebabs and roti being prepared at the open kitchen. Among the classic selection of Indian cooking, try the signature dish of shaam savera, kebabs of fresh and mildly flavoured paneer wrapped in spinach in a thick, creamy tomato gravy. Dhs50. Open daily noon-2.30pm, 7pm-11.30pm. Mövenpick Hotel Deira, Corner of Abu Baker Al Siddique and Sallahuddin Road (04 444 6444).