I am always at a loss when someone asks me to recommend an Indian restaurant in Dubai. One would think it would be the easiest thing to do... after all, who better to judge the authenticity of Indian cuisine than an Indian?
Except for one little problem. I rarely pick Indian restaurants when I want to eat out.
I have been on a little bit of a mission to remedy that shortcoming in recent months by trying out a few contenders in the city. So when an invitation to try Tresind popped into my inbox, I thought it would be a good opportunity to add to that list.
I enjoyed a bit of a taster of Tresind some time ago at Taste of Dubai where I tried crispy soft shell crab and a very interesting paan-flavoured cotton candy, so I was pretty keen to see how their regular menu would stand up.
I have to say I did arrive with a few preconceptions. I had heard before that the menu is confusing for non-Indians, with not enough of an explanation of ingredients. On the other hand I had also heard that the dining experience was disruptive, with the explanation accompanying some of the live-at-table preparations turning into a bit of a shouting match between the staff as they struggled to be heard over each other on a busy night.
With the former criticism I'm afraid I have to agree. The menu does assume you are a bit of a connoisseur of Indian cuisine... so I can see how it could be a bit overwhelming for diners who are not familiar with the many varied ingredients of Indian food.
As for the later allegation, personally I didn't find this a problem. The waiting staff were pleasant and knowledgeable, and at least on the night I dined there, where well within acceptable volume levels when explaining the dishes prepared at table. In fact, these were some of my favourite parts of the meal.
Ultimately, as with most restaurants - and especially with Indian restaurants - I would assign the most weight to the quality and flavour of the food. And on that count Tresind impressed.
Starting off with our amuse bouche of cute mini zaatar pao served with pickled olives and spinach hummus which were a good size to tide us over until the all important drink and starter choices were made.
Then there was the modernist chaat trolley, prepared theatrically at the table with dhoklas (Gujarati gram-flour sponge cakes) that are freeze-dried with liquid nitrogen and crunched into the spicy, tart concoction. I would recommend this restaurant for the chaat trolley alone!
The starters were accompanied by an inventive and delicately prepared selection of cocktails, best of the bunch being the Himalayan Busy Bee made with gin and honey topped with a fragrant foam of ginger and cardamon; and Koyla - a play on the Indian word for coal which was made with Drambui and whiskey, muddled with orange juice and infused with smokey undertones.
One of the elements of the entire meal that really struck me were the clever ways in which the sense of smell was tickled in different ways - with the drinks, as well as with the surprisingly refreshing starter of chicken tikka carpaccio, litchi and tarragon served in a dish that emitted fruity applewood smoke, and the wild mushroom chai, made from dehydrated mushrooms and truffle milk powder and poured at table.
One of my biggest bug bears when it comes to Indian food that goes down the "modernist" route is that somewhere along the way the bold, brash and make-your-mouth-come-alive flavours of traditional Indian cuisine gets watered down to a "meh" version of the original.
Thankfully, this was not the case at Tresind and that reason is in itself one of the main factors that would prompt me to recommend it to anyone looking for an Indian meal that delivers on punchy flavours in a setting that stands up to night-out dining.
On the above count, dishes that stood out were a dish of Blackmore wagyu with a selection of Indian pickles - deliciousness! The Hunter's Lamb leg raan with a rosemary jus and roasted lime was perfectly tender and bursting with flavour. And there were even a few representations from the Goan table - a dish of chicken cafreal (which was good but would have benefited from a bit more mellowing of the green coriander flavour) and a sea bass recheado, served with korean ssäm sauce and veggies tossed on a hot pan.
Dessert was another liquid nitrogen affair in the form of a deconstructed Black Forest cake - yes, you may say that's definitely not Indian, but if you grew up in India you would have eaten a fair amount of this particular cake, I'm not quite sure why.
All in all, I see myself returning... with family the next time, with the knowledge that I won't have to worry about them understanding the menu :) And I'll get another chance to tuck into that chaat trolley!
My other recent Indian restaurant tries:
Farzi Cafe - Another new entrant on the molecular Indian gastronomy scene, though at a much more affordable price point and minus the ability to order alcohol (although they do make up for it with an impressive mocktail list.) I was very impressed at the opening taster earlier this year, but a tad disappointed the flavours didn't quite match up on a subsequent visit. Still, for affordability and an Indian meal that strays from the norm, they'd still get a thumbs up. Favs on the menu: The Raj Kachori with crispy okra, Seared scallops with a peanut butter glaze and Phirni.
Raju Omelete: Ok i know I am very late to the Raju Omelette party but I loved this breakfast spot in Al Quoz for its Bambaiya interior and food that just smells and tastes of the crazy Indian city on the Arabian Sea. Portions are large, and greasy so come hungry... and get ready to queue up!
Cafe Funkie Town: Another little spot that made me nostalgic for Mumbai. This Parsi joint in JLT is perfect for laid back mornings of Bun Maska, Sali Par Eida, Kheema and Akuri Pav... and the perfect cup of sweet, milky coffee. Top of the list to revisit for a relaxing brekkie after Ramadan.
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