French fare is divisive, Mexican food has been Americanized beyond recognition, and not everyone can handle the spice levels that Thai dishes entail – and then there’s Indian food. As Diwali is celebrated worldwide today, the editors at Savoir Flair set out on a quest for the best contemporary Indian restaurants in Dubai. Our takeaway? We’re spoilt for choice.
Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra
A controversial tweet, a high-profile dismissal, and the arrival of the “Czar of Indian Cuisine” have collectively resulted in this: our new favorite Indian eatery in town. Located in the towering JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra serves dishes that are as diverse and complex as the country they represent – all with a hefty side of molecular gastronomy. And while there’s an extensive à la carte menu on offer, it’s the 12-course Chef’s Tasting Menu of greatest hits that comes highly recommended. We opted for the non-vegetarian version, where snacks such as deconstructed samosas, a cookie-like concoction of puffed wild rice topped with white-pea chutney, and a millet-based tribute to India’s farmers start the show.
Between the umami-infused broth and dehydrated mushrooms, the ‘Mushroom Chai’ soup is the course that caught us most by surprise, but in a good way. Come appetizers, the ‘Caviar Malai Prawn’ is a crowd-pleaser, but it’s the ‘Wagyu Pathar Kebab’ that is a work of art – read: thinly sliced Wagyu beef cooked tableside on a hot stone and served with walnut chutney. Post a rather zingy raspberry palate cleanser, pescetarians are set with a choice between ‘Radhuni Toothfish’ and ‘Scallops Moilee’, while the hearty ‘Rajasthani Mutton Curry’ caters to carnivores. There’s a trio of desserts that serves as the grand finale, and we suggest you save the ‘Ashen Kulfi’ – the best of the three – for last. It’s cool, it’s cold, and it owes its gorgeous colors to banana leaf ash.
The beloved City Walk outpost of Farzi Cafe now has a counterpart in Mall of the Emirates, so there’s twice as much good food to go around. And yes, both branches are equally spot on when it comes to culinary theatrics and experimentation – thinly sliced wagyu beef is cooked tableside on a hot stone and served with wasabi and walnut relish, a light and perfectly spiced lamb pate is accompanied by an aerated, sponge-like version of traditional Indian bread, and butter chicken residing in steamed bao buns playfully arrives in a toy truck. As for food for food’s sake? Pescatarians will love the ‘Madras Pepper Prawns’ accented with coconut flakes, while the creamy ‘Tandoori Wild Mushrooms’ is a must-order for vegetarians.
The ‘Chermoula-Crusted Paneer Tikka’ – albeit on the heavier side – is a popular main, owing to how wonderfully it marries the flavors of Morocco and India. But after having to unbutton our jeans, we’ll tell you this: save room for dessert instead. The ‘Kunafa Nest’, which brings together saffron chenna and crisp kunafa topped with a condensed milk ‘dressing’, is the perfect example of Indian nostalgia and regional elements playing off each other beautifully. Even better is the ‘Dates and Saffron Cake’ that happens to be paired with the best almond ice cream we’ve ever had, hands down.
Calling all carnivores. The folks behind The Meating Room have set up shop at Studio One Hotel, where outposts of some of the most successful homegrown restaurants reside. Boho was inspired by “backyard barbecues, fanned flames, and a free spirit” so quite literally anything that is grilled, chargrilled, roasted, slow-cooked, or barbecued is a winner here. Many of the dishes display Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences – while the ‘Adana Kebab’ speaks of the head chef’s Turkish roots – but Indian spices and herbs reign supreme.
Order the ‘Atomic Prawns’ if you can handle a little zing, the ‘Bihari Spice Chicken Tikka’ for something milder but just as flavorful, and the succulent signature ‘Lamb Chops’ because they win rave reviews every single time. Having said that, vegetarians are also well taken care of. We liked the ‘Eggplant Dip & Chips’, yes, but loved the ‘Crunch Karo’ for pairing a trio of cheeses and jalapeño with crushed papad. And complementing all these fiery options is a desserts section that’s more quality than quantity. The ‘Chocolate Tiramisu’ ingeniously encases tiramisu in a ball of dark chocolate, while the ‘Trio Milk Cake’ topped with all manner of berries is still our favorite in the city.
Indya by Vineet
There’s India, and then there’s Indya by Vineet, a hip restaurant treating Dubai to the creations of a celebrity chef. The ‘Vineet’ in question is none other than Vineet Bhatia, who is celebrated as the first Indian restaurateur to receive a Michelin star. He’s representing the country’s various regions at his recently launched venture in Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, and the vast menu here is centered around sharing plates, so we suggest taking a group in tow – a very big group, in fact. The space also lends itself perfectly as the colorful murals, pop art cushions, and eclectic serveware offer plenty to talk about.
“It’s an opportunity to challenge perceptions and introduce new ingredients to age-old dishes,” is how Bhatia describes the concept. That is why you’ll dine on dahi chaat infused with activated charcoal, kebabs made of tapioca pearls, a Keralite take on KFC, and a mutton stew served in a tiny little pressure cooker. For something traditional, we recommend the ‘Aunty Braganza’s Prawn Stew’, while the ‘Indi Chini Sweet Sour Cashew Chicken’ is perfect for those who love East Asian flavors. Admittedly, rice would pair better with both, but you ought to nibble at the ‘Churra Paratha’ – it’s crispy, it’s messy, it’s delicious. As for dessert: the carrot-chocolate ‘Awesomosas’ require an open mind, but are worth a try. Having said that, the ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ trio – named after a 1977 Bollywood hit – gets our vote, hands down.
Dining at Hitchki entails loud conversations, louder music, sleek décor, and a killer drinks selection, creating the kind of atmosphere in which you want to linger. But we digress. The menu here is easily the most extensive one we’ve seen in a while, and sampling your way through it in one visit is impossible – literally. The word hitchki translates to ‘hiccup’, so the Barsha Heights eatery is built on the essence of nostalgia. You’ll find dishes inspired by old Bollywood actors, named after famous movie lines, and honoring the street food that feeds millions of Indians daily. But culinary experimentation reigns supreme.
The ‘Ulta Punjab’ is the kind of starter that will end even the most awkward of silences, the ‘Thalaiva’ chicken momos are a must-order, and the ‘Dum Pukth Arancini’ is where India meets Italy. We love that there’s an entire page (dubbed ‘Angry Birds’) dedicated to super spicy food, and a whole other to potato-based indulgences – all vegetarian. If you manage to make it past the pages and pages of bites, baos, breads, and burgers, order the ‘Gadbad’ and ‘Kadai Paneer Lasagna’ as your mains – both are unexpected, both are crowd-pleasers. Skip the biryanis because the desserts section is a whole other maze to explore. We were recommended the signature ‘Baratiyo Ka Swagat’ and walked away learning about Indian weddings and the fact that chocolate truffle pairs surprisingly well with betel-leaf sorbet.
Pav bhaji fondue with gruyère cheese, pani poori stuffed with avocado salsa, paneer tikka served with tahini-beetroot dip, and rasmalai accented with salted caramel and goji berries – sound familiar? Thought not. That’s because Bombay Bungalow is not your typical Indian restaurant. You’ll find Insta-worthy details at every turn, such as old-fashioned radios and telephones, intricately carved furniture, antique birdcages, and more. Our favorite? A toss-up between the functioning fountain and downright quirky wall art – Mona Lisa in a sari, anyone?
If you’re one to prefer your starter with a side of grandeur, go for the signature ‘Raita Tray’ that is prepared at your table and served with crispy papad cones on the side. A waiter will customize this generally simple dip entirely to your liking, with add-ons such as cucumber, chili powder, fresh mint, chopped tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, and boondi to choose from. Another absolute crowd-pleaser is the ‘Burrata Butter Chicken’ that actually is as divine as it sounds. Enough said.
Moombai & Co
If time-travelling back to Bombay circa 1950 happens to be on your bucket list, you’re in luck, courtesy of Moombai & Co. Inspired by the Irani-Parsi cafés set up by Persian settlers in the 19th century, this trendy eatery exudes nostalgia from virtually every nook and cranny – old-school Bollywood hits from the 1980s set the (rather loud) tone for the vintage film posters, ceiling fans, cane chairs, and colorful knick-knacks that make up the eclectic setting.
The menu is centered around “Auntie’s favorite dishes”, so you’ll see Parsi specialties (fish marinated with green chutney and steamed in banana leaf), quintessential Mumbai street food (vada pao, chicken frankie, and a wide array of snow cones), and Iranian café essentials (cheese toast accented with scrambled eggs) alongside everyday favorites like biryani and butter chicken. A hearty option that you absolutely must order? The ‘Moombai & Co. Black Dal’. Ask your waiter more about the dish, and you’ll see why it’s as decadent as it is delicious. Just be sure it’s cheat day.
Everything about the “passionately different and deliciously naughty” Masti feels achingly cool. The extensive drinks menu is determined to make mocktails sexy, the eclectic décor is part playful and part speakeasy, and the always-buzzy ambiance makes you want to up your game – heck, even the heavily bejeweled faces embellishing the menu, the walls, and the coasters are dripping with intrigue.
This appeal (thankfully) carries into Masti’s culinary offerings as well. The ‘Pulled Tandoori Chicken Bao’ is served with a little dropper filled with tamarind glaze, the eponymous ‘Masti Fries’ are prepared with Togarashi spice, and the multifaceted ‘Eggplant Bharta & Crostini’ accompanies a fun little scrape-and-serve routine by a member of the waitstaff. By now, you have may guessed that Masti specializes in Indian-inspired cuisine with a little added oomph. While the ‘Quail Eggs Kofta’ and ‘Bhatti Merguez’ are must-orders for meat lovers, there’s a seafood item that’s not to be missed: the ‘Banana Leaf Branzino’. Pair this with the ‘Pesto Pulao’ and thank us later.
Little Miss India
Masala on the rim of your mocktail, green apples stuffed into a vegetarian take on kebab, lamb chops smoked and served in a glass jar, rice pudding reminiscent of crème brûlée – everything at Little Miss India comes with a novelty factor, which is why it earns a spot on this list. But that’s not all. We’re also utterly infatuated with its eclectic décor, which features foliage hanging from the ceiling, vintage jewelry encased in frames, antique knick-knacks making for conversation-starters, mismatched wall art, and more. And now that cooler weather has (finally) arrived, you’ll love dining outdoors by the vibrantly colored truck that is typical to the Indian subcontinent.
If you find pleasure in the pain of spicy food, the ‘Shrimp Chettinad’ is the must-order on this menu. For others, the ‘Goan Shrimp Curry’ is the one to beat. Alongside these mains, the usual suspects – think: ‘Dal Makhani’, ‘Dum Biryani’, and ‘Butter Chicken’ – are cooked to perfection. Oh, and you can’t possibly dine at an Indian restaurant and not have freshly baked bread straight from the tandoor. We recommend the ‘Peshawari Naan’ that has a hint of sweet and pairs beautifully with the mains.
At Tresind, dry ice is as much a part of the meal as are chutney and spices. Indeed, the newly revamped restaurant has succeeded in taking typical Indian dishes and flipping them on their head – along with all of your preconceived notions about what an Indian meal should be like. Juniper-, lemongrass-, and lavender-scented dry ice is used as a palate cleanser, the okra is air-dried, and meats are served tableside on a portable barbecue.
While traditional flavors are respected, they are enhanced through the addition of unexpected ingredients. Case in point: the cedarwood-smoked shrimp and chicken tandoori with pineapple carpaccio and mint sauce. With a reputation that precedes it amongst Dubai’s foodies, Tresind’s entertaining theatrics and outstanding service make for an experience that you will not soon forget.
Carnival by Tresind
Our soup was served in cappuccino cups, our pressed sandwiches were grilled with an old-school iron, and we were asked – encouraged even – to eat off the table when it was time for dessert. That’s when we realized that Carnival by Tresind can be best described as Tresind’s younger, cooler cousin. One of the highlights at this multi award-winning restaurant is the vintage cart that was brought in from Calcutta, a city that was once the capital of British colonial rule. Here, ‘Tanga Chaat’ is made using elements that you would literally never associate with this Indian street-food staple: liquid nitrogen, water chestnuts, red currants, and taco shells.
The waiters wear sailor hats, there’s vintage postcards on the tables, and the food has distinct British and Portuguese influences – all nods to eras past. We also loved that the portion sizes encourage sampling a little bit of everything, starting with the stars of the starters: ‘Chicken Kurkure’, ‘Devilled Paneer’, and the flawlessly spiced ‘Pulliinji’ prawns. Over on the mains, we can vouch for ‘Life of Pie’ (a vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie) and ‘Viva La Goa’ (lamb-leg vindaloo with malt vinegar and burnt cinnamon). And while the desserts are just as impressive, the ‘Gajak’ – owing to its live presentation and decadent ingredients – wins every time.
Residing in Dubai Design District, Mohalla is one of those eateries you’ll visit because of its prime location, but revisit because of its food. The name of this homegrown eatery translates into ‘neighborhood’, hence its cozy seating (traditional woven beds and all), friendly staff, and emphasis on street food. We started on a light and crunchy note with the ‘Dal & Singhada Koshimbir’, a lentil-based salad made refreshing with the addition of mango and a lemon-ginger dressing. What followed is a blur of struggling to order because everything on the menu sounded so, so good.
The selection of entrées is rife with unconventional pairings, childhood favorites, and the greatest hits of Indian street food. A conversation with the head chef later, we ended up ordering the ‘Calcutta Kathi Roll’, ‘Cottage Cheese and Mushroom Momos’ that speak of the Nepali presence in India, ‘Cheese and Vegetable Maggi’ noodles that are sure to remind you of your college days, and ‘1965 Buhari’ chicken inspired by the famous Chicken 65 of Chennai. The ‘Thepla Tacos’ are not only delicious, but also novel as jackfruit makes an appearance in this trio. Also noteworthy? Nothing on the menu is overpriced nor excessively oily. Translation: there will be money and room left for dessert, so try the ‘Jigar Ka Thanda’.
Indego By Vineet
Occasionally, you’ll find that luxurious surroundings go hand-in-hand with mediocre food, but the beauty and ambiance of Indego by Vineet are equal to its stunning cuisine. A beautifully appointed interior – read: massive iron statues, oversized chairs, and an unexpected display of traditional footwear – invites you to settle in for a long evening of fine dining. Meanwhile, a menu of modernized Northern Indian dishes cleverly balances intense flavors with traditional spices, underscoring the talent of its engineer.
The “Vineet” in question is Vineet Bhatia, the first Indian chef to ever be awarded a Michelin star for his inaugural restaurant, Zakia, in London. His expertise is exemplified by dishes like the ‘Kapi Chop’, a savory, earthy morsel of lamb coated in madras coffee and soy, and served with wild mushroom sauce and a smoked cashew-goat cheese samosa. Not to be missed is the ‘Gunpowder Coconut Prawns’ served vertically on a cleverly made skewer, the richly flavored smoked lamb rump, the lobster tikka masala, and the delicious bread selection. And if you still have room for dessert after all that, the ‘Chocolicious Indego’ provides the kind of variety that every chocolate lover dreams of.
Amidst a sea of Lebanese, Syrian, Emirati, and Egyptian restaurants awaits Mitra, a contemporary Indian bistro in Al Seef. But that’s not its only claim to fame. Mitra is also the city’s first “floating” licensed Indian restaurant, with carriage-style seating and a spacious deck overlooking the banks of Dubai Creek and beyond. The menu is a little confusing to navigate at first, but once you catch sight of how your selection is presented, you won’t care – honest. Condiments are served in teeny tiny pressure cookers, while tandoori chicken wrapped in turkey bacon arrives in a miniature ferris wheel of sorts.
But don’t let this gastronomy with a sense of humor fool you. The food here is inspired by Middle Eastern cuisines, so you’ll see inventive dishes such as ‘Mundu Chicken Fatayer’ and ‘Istree Mutton Arayes’ alongside the likes of ‘English Keema’ and ‘Portuguese Chicken Roast’. Even the humble chicken tikka will surprise you – here, it’s ‘Cloudy Chicken Tikka’, served as steak and paired with asparagus fritters. For something a little more traditional and a lot more delicious, try the ‘Bong Bong Prawn’ curry. An export of West India, this dish is served sealed in an actual coconut, which means it only gets more flavorful with time. Win-win.