We find out if royal Indian cooking stands up to scrutiny 1 Reviews
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Culinary folklore dictates you shouldn’t trust the restaurant tout standing outside with a menu – and never follow him inside. It’s a lesson that every tourist (the world over) learns, and has become a universal truth among restaurant-goers.
So imagine my anxiety when the path to Shahjahan appeared to be littered by menu-toting touts. In reality, there can’t have been more than two waiters, yet my guest and I appeared to cross paths with them more than once as they followed potential punters around, making it feel as though they were everywhere. Granted, it’s a long and winding walk from the Habtoor Grand’s main entrance to Shahjahan’s door. Even
so, I thought, this can’t bode well.
The interior was a simple and unobtrusive setup of dark wood and saffron-coloured curtains. Yet considering the restaurant was newly opened, it seemed strange that Shahjahan had already managed to acquire the sort of dated, jaded-looking decor that usually comes with impressive levels of authenticity at some of the older spots in Deira.
Even at first glance, the menu made an impact: my guest used the words ‘wow’ and ‘pricey’ within seconds of opening it. Shahjahan specialises in royal-style Indian cooking, known as Mughlai. Presented, as it was, as a supremely premium product, perhaps the high prices were to be expected. Nevertheless, the menu also made a negative first impression on me: it was long, unwieldy and unending, to the extent that once we’d chosen a dish, we could barely remember where we’d seen it or what it was.
We shared a starter of bharwan aloo (potatoes stuffed with nuts, raisins and paneer), which arrived with some ceremony as it sizzled on the hot plate, before being ladled onto our plates rather elegantly by our waiter. Unfortunately, it was a little too sweet and cloying – my guest (half-)joked that it tasted like instant mashed potato.
Our main courses arrived and again, every item was graciously dealt out. We’d been keen to try the exciting-sounding okra dish made with dried mango, but the waiter was insistent that we shouldn’t pass up
on the murgh makhanwala (butter chicken), and eventually we relented. When the butter chicken arrived, a familiar aroma hit me; I realised it smelled just like Heinz tomato soup – and tasted just like it too. It was indeed very smooth, buttery and rich, but it was nothing special.
The badami gosht (lamb with coconut and almonds) also looked and tasted average, and the meat was pretty tough. On the other hand, the baigan bharta (roasted aubergine) was a winner, a rustically textured yet creamy paste with plenty of garlicky flavour. The final judgement came courtesy of my guest: ‘I could get this sort of thing at my local takeaway – only much cheaper.’
The waiters took the plates away as stylishly as they had arrived. By this stage, it had become a little laughable: one waiter bent back deftly, as if he was playing limbo, in an effort to take all the plates without moving his feet.
There was an uncomfortable look of disappointment on the waiter’s face when we declined another bottle of water, and then dessert. It had a slight whiff of desperation about it that made me feel uneasy, and almost a little guilty.
Considering how far this restaurant is from the front of the hotel, we were rather unpleasantly surprised when the hotel receptionist refused to stamp my guest’s valet parking ticket, in a rather rude and abrupt manner. For some, this might have soured a great dinner. For us, it was only the icing on a disappointing cake.
The bill (for two)
1x Murgh makhanwala Dhs90
1x Badami gosht Dhs90
1x Baigan bharta Dhs55
1x Plain rice Dhs25
1x Masala kulcha Dhs30
1x Bharwan aloo Dhs45
2x Large water Dhs50
Total (including service) Dhs385
Time Out Dubai,
Time Out reviews restaurants anonymously and pays for meals. Of course, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or independence of user reviews.