We’ve spent months wading through samosas, biryani, tandoori grills and kormas – all in the name of research of course – and now we’ve compiled this guide to the Indian restaurant’s that have curried most favour with the TOAD team.
Angar On the ground floor of Yas Viceroy on Yas Island, Angar is a smart Indian restaurant that fits in well with the rest of the hotel. The restaurant is closed during the day but suitable for a romantic evening date, as it is dimly lit by Moroccan lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Tables are well-spaced out, too, giving diners privacy. The restaurant is compact but tall ceilings, vibrant orange chairs and floor to ceiling windows create an illusion of space. The family-sized table cornered off at the back is appropriate for bigger groups, although the restaurant isn’t suitable for young children. There’s more seating on the outdoor terrace, too, although the roar of the engines racing around the nearby F1 track might put off some diners. Sit indoors and you can watch chefs in its open kitchen. Angar won best Indian in the 2013 Time Out Restaurant Awards, and that was partly down to its menu, which has designated healthy and vegan options. One of those is its sag paneer dish – soft cubes of Indian cheese in spinach curry. Smooth as puréed soup, with large chunks of paneer, it is flavoured with shaved ginger scattered on top. You get a generous portion but it still feels light. Open daily 7-11pm, www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com (02 656 0600).
Tanjore Tucked behind an elaborate gold door, this Indian in Danat Al Ain Resort in Al Ain is a hidden gem. Arrive early and you’ll be seated in a cosy waiting area decorated with embroidered cushions and tasselled rugs hanging from beams. The restaurant’s alcove seating is just as snug, as it’s lit by lanterns, candles and light from the open kitchen. There’s an intimate cellar feel, so at night it’s a suitable venue for a date. The extensive menu has no surprises but you’re guaranteed to enjoy your meal, as the staff are happy to recommend dishes – they might even bring a herb to the table to help you decide. Portions are generous and the menu has healthy, nut and spicy options. Make sure you try the seafood starter jahinga angare, or barbecued prawns – wowsers. You get a fistful of giant prawns that come coated in tikka spices, and are cooked perfectly. It’s worth making the trip to Al Ain just for that. Open daily 12.30pm-3pm, 7.30pm-11pm, www.alain.danathotels.com (03 704 6000).
Spice Mela Here at TOAD, we notice the little things, and at Spice Mela there is plenty of those – waitresses in full-length silk gowns, red candles floating in a bowl, and colourful cotton reels by the door. The restaurant is on the second floor of Rosewood Abu Dhabi, but its floor to ceiling wrap-around windows make the most of its location; apart from an area designed for a group that’s hidden behind a screen at the back, most diners overlook the glittering waters between Al Maryah and Abu Dhabi Islands. The menu is fancy; even the poppadoms are a medley of baked purple potatoes, sweet potato, taro and yam. There are some inspirational options, such as grilled Atlantic scallops in a coconut sauce flavoured with ginger, or for dessert, bread pudding with cardamom and raisins, or chocolate tart with coconut ice cream. But the stand out dish is nadru kofta curry, or fried lotus stem dumplings with ginger and cumin. They come in a thick spinach and tomato sauce. You can’t taste the tomato, but the subtle fragrance of the lotus stem shines through, and pomegranate seeds hidden inside are a welcome surprise. Portions are generous but if you can’t finish your meal you can take home any leftovers. You’ll leave feeling full and satisfied, wondering how soon you can go back. Open daily 6.30pm-11.30pm, Rosewood Abu Dhabi, Sowwah Square, Al Maryah Island, www.rosewoodhotels.com (02 813 5550).
Rangoli Rangoli is a type of Indian folk art in which patterns are created with coloured rice, flour or sand on a pavement. It’s apt, then, that Rangoli, an Indian restaurant on the ground floor of Yas Island Rotana, lifts its dimly lit rooms with flashes of colour. Decorative artwork depicting elephants and dancers greet you at the entrance, while waiting staff are dressed in pink waistcoats or dresses. Pink and orange tassels dangle from lampshades and zesty hues brighten up the cushions. The restaurant is lit by lanterns made to look like flickering candles, while soothing sitar music and rhythmic drumming creates a romantic ambiance – making Rangoli a suitable date option. Chefs in its open kitchen prepare bread in a tandoori oven and put the final touches to dishes from north and south India. Vegetarians are well catered for and there are a few surprises dotted around the menu which liven it up. You’ll spot regional specialities on the menu including Alleppey prawn curry with coconut, fennel seeds and curry leaves, and Goan lamb vindaloo with red chilli, vinegar, garlic and cloves. A highlight though, is the rather unusual amchuri bhindi – crispy fried okra with raw mango powder. You won’t taste the mango, but the dish, which is smoky and roughly chopped, is full of flavour, so you won’t be disappointed. Open Tue-Sun 7pm-11.30pm, Yas Island Rotana, Yas Plaza, Yas Island, www.rotana.com (02 656 4000).
Indigo After a busy day, if you’re looking for a restaurant in which to unwind, this is it. The service is faultless – attentive, friendly, polite. When you arrive at the entrance of this hotel restaurant, you’ll hear soothing Indian music and the trickle of a water feature, so it feels more like a spa than a restaurant. Lit by candles and lanterns, Indigo has a red and black theme and a mirrored ceiling, making it dark and romantic. Several booths curtained off at the side cater for diners wishing for more privacy. The cuisine is Indian fusion, so rather than the usual vindaloo and aloo sag curries, you can expect a few twists – look out for unusual ingredients such as wild berry chutney and truffle oil. Try the seafood pakora to start, which is a mix of lightly battered mussels, calamari, prawns and salmon. Eaten alone the pieces are extremely moreish, although they are complemented by a thick berry chutney which isn’t too sweet. Open Mon-Sat 12.30pm-3.30pm and 6.30pm-11.30pm, Beach Rotana, Al Zahiyah, next to Abu Dhabi Mall, www.rotana.com (02 697 9000).
Ushna Sitting on the bank of the Khor Al Maqta, the first thing that will blow you away about Ushna is the awesome view across the water to The Grand Mosque. The second thing that will have you speechless though is the food, because the dishes that come out of the kitchen here are first-rate. Ushna has taken home the Best Indian award at the Time Out Abu Dhabi Restaurant Awards in five of the past six years, and it’s easy to see why. The curries here are superb, the menu is diverse and the service is excellent. While you pretty much can’t go wrong with whatever you order, our recommendation is to go with the Gosht Khada Masala, a curry packed with fragrant ingredients. Spiced lamb comes sitting in a sauce alongside whole garlic cloves, onion and cherry tomatoes complemented by flavours of cinnamon. This is as fancy as curry gets, several steps above the usual high street dishes you get from your local Indian takeaway. Prices are more expensive than you’d expect from other Indians in town, but are still a bargain at this top-of-the-range restaurant. Open daily 6.30pm-11.30pm. Souk Qaryat Al Beri, Bain Al Jessrain (02 558 1769).
India Palace Exhibiting all the hallmarks you’d expect of a traditional British high street curry house both inside and out, India Palace will put expats immediately at ease with their surroundings. Traditional curries are the staple here, and it’s a staple the restaurant does very well indeed. We’re particularly fond of the kadai dishes (a cuisine named after the traditional cast iron pots the dishes are cooked and occasionally served in) here. Both the meat and vegetarian dishes get two thumbs up but the kadai gobhi (a cauliflower dish bulked out with other vegetables including onions) is our favourite. If you are a meat eater though and fancy something in that line try the chicken xacutti or the dum da murgh (chicken in a creamy almond sauce flavoured with saffron, not unlike chicken korma), which are both rich, distinctive and flavousome. Takeaway is also an option here, and with three restaurants equally spaced across Abu Dhabi (Al Zahiyah, Mushrif Mall and Khalifa City A) you never have to wait long for top quality Indian to be delivered straight to your door. Open daily noon-midnight. www.indiapalace.ae, Salam Street, Al Zahiyah (02 644 8777), Mushrif Mall (02 690 4422), Mayzad Mall (02 553 2259).
Biryani Pot It may be one of the newer Indian restaurant in town, but Biryani Pot has already established a reputation as one of the better dine-in and delivery Indian restaurants in the capital. The portions are eye-wateringly huge and the ingredients are fresh. As the name of the restaurant suggests biryanis take pride of place on the menu, the chicken and lamb biryanis are delicious, but for something different try the quinoa biryani, which is gluten free and cholesterol free.
When it comes to curries, the menu here is limited, but all the traditional favourites are available. Dishes for vegetarians include daal makhani and vegetable jalfrezi, but it’s the butter chicken that we found most memorable. Thick, creamy and pungent, with more bite than you’d normally expect from the reasonably ubiquitous dish, a serving is packed with chicken so you’re not left wondering if you’ve been served a soup instead of a curry (a problem at some of the cheaper Indian restaurants in town). Open 10am-1pm Sat-Wed; 10am-midnight Thu-Fri. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 676 6555).
Avasa The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Avasa, an upmarket Indian restaurant in The Collection on Saadiyat Island, is a huge, yellow abstract painting by the entrance. The splash of colour is welcoming, as is the wall of sequinned cushion covers next to it. The lampshades look like upside down lotus flowers, while sitar music creates a relaxed atmosphere. The menu is as creative as the décor. Saffron features heavily, and you’ll find some interesting ingredients such as truffle oil, star anise and raw mango. However, the menu lacks descriptions. If you have a tendency to over-order, bear in mind that portions are generous and you’ll receive freebies. Not sure what to go for? The kesari jheenga, or chargrilled tiger prawns, are a highlight. You get six, and they’re marinated overnight in saffron – although the flavour of the flower isn’t overbearing. They’re complemented by a drizzle of sweet brown chutney, so tasty you might wish you had a little more. The tails are wrapped in tin foil so your fingers stay clean. Open daily noon-11pm. Avasa, The Collection, The St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Saadiyat Island, www.thecollection.ae (02 674 2221).
Tandoori Corner This little establishment is cheap and cheerful – and a hot hit with residents for good reason. The friendly staff are gentle and helpful and the two-story restaurant offers comfortable seating for large groups. The outstanding curries at Tandoori Corner are plentiful, but if you’re a first-time visitor opt for the channa masala or one of the classic dahls. The quaint dishes are served piping hot – the curries are rich and flavoursome, yet not too heavy. The channa masala, a vegetarian curry made with chickpeas, is thick and the chickpeas are bountiful – the sauce to chickpea ratio is much better than you receive in rival establishments. These curries are best enjoyed with the garlic or regular naan, light and buttery with a crispy finish. You’ll be more than satisfied with the food, and the bill as this is also one of the cheapest Indians in town. Open daily 11am-midnight. Airport Road, Al Wahda, (02 445 8686).
Vasco’s While Vasco’s is not an exclusively Indian restaurant, if you’re feeling peckish for a curry then don’t sleep on this waterside diner. This beautiful scenic restaurant offers a menu that follows the explorer Vasco De Gama’s journey around the world, and despite having a menu that ranges all the way from Portugal to China, the kitchen at Vasco’s still manages to dish out one of the best dahl tad kah dishes in the city. The black-lentil dish is creamy and thick, with subtle flavours. It’s served in a copper pot to give diners more of an authentic Indian feel. Vasco’s also does a naan that is to die for – it’s crispy, thin and a perfect accompaniment to the dahl. Open daily noon-3.30pm, 7pm-11pm. Hiltonia Beach Club, Hilton Abu Dhabi, Corniche Road (02 681 1900).
Peppermill The decor at Peppermill is a fun-filled fusion of a traditional Indian dining room and a bright dashes of contemporary neon colour. Priced between the backstreet cheap and cheerful and the high-end Indian restaurants, Peppermill has filled a niche that seems to be very popular with the city’s residents. The curries on the menu are unusual, not the run of the mill dahl and butter chicken that some places favour. The range is eclectic while still paying homage to the authenticity that Indian cuisine demands. The standout dish at Peppermill is the aloo gobi – a rich yellow curry of cauliflower and potato. It contains potatoes with their skin still on, and the cauliflower comes perfectly cooked – not soggy at all. The spices are light but exciting and it’s a great dish to accompany something a bit spicier. Open daily 10am-11pm. Al Wahda Mall, (02 622 5586).