As an insatiable lover of all things food (I refuse the overused, worn-out word “foodie”), I never expected to grow wary of eating out; but recently, that has been the unsettling case. An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink one-pot pasta made of leftovers at home has become a far more appreciable meal than any 7 course dinner starting with a complex truffle-infused endangered shark Amuse Bouche with unicorn glitter and fairy dust; and ending with a bread & butter ice-cream made with liquid nitrogen and enclosed in a passionfruit bubble courtesy of some molecular gastronomy (I’m clearly vomiting random words right now).
Too much of anything can wear you out- even if it’s something you love. So I decided to pace myself, be more selective, and take a bit of a break- because food should always be fun and never a chore. What I’m even more glad about, is that my “comeback” tasting (if you can call coming back after a week a comeback, haha), was at Masala, Bab Al Shams. A) I love Bab Al Shams and B) I love North Indian/Pakistani food, so this was definitely something to look forward to. I know these two cuisines are not synonymous and have some fine but distinct differences, but they’re very similar to each other, so I often categorize them as one- but that’s irrelevant. What matters is that it was fantastic!
Masala at Bab Al Shams has been around for the last 7 years and enjoys a very loyal clientele. Despite it being a weekday, it was an almost full house. Yes, that could be accredited to the number of tourists in town these days (I saw a few guests in their pyjamas, haha!), but there were also a lot of residents and locals. The chef tells us they even have a lot of regulars that drive down from Sharjah and Ajman, as the restaurant serves up some curries that cater to people who eat no root vegetables- a rare feat. The lady on the table next to ours, was actually staying in the Downtown Palace Hotel, but had taken a cab to Masala just for dinner. Now when people are taking that long a hike for a meal, it really says something.
The ambiance was on fleek. Only people who make reservations can enjoy the outdoor seating (ideal in the currently pleasant weather)- the rest have to sit indoors, which is also extremely lovely and preferable for those who aren’t crazy for the live entertainment or forgot to wear warm clothes. Fairy lights encircled the trunks of the palm trees and draped the walls, and it looked and felt wonderful- very much like a subcontinental wedding actually! The copper glasses, clay teacups, and silken embroidered table runners all transport you to a very traditional place.
The live entertainment was a trio of Indian classical musicians, doing covers of famous songs and ghazals. I was told by our server that they take requests and asked if I have any. When I politely declined the offer, he suggested “Kyun Ke Tum He To Ho” , claiming for it (and other Shahukh and Salman Khan songs) to be very popular amongst the Arabs (HAHA, he thinks I’m Arab?). Unfortunately, I couldn’t pick up on when and if they played said song, because my knowledge in Indian music ranges from slim to none.
The food was certainly worthy of the Bab Al Shams umbrella. We went with the chef’s recommendations on everything and were not disappointed in the least.
It was a chilly night so we started off with some Murg Badaami Shorba soup. It was creamy, comforting, and simply delicious. I loved that it wasn’t overly viscous, and that it was piping hot, rather than disappointingly tepid- as some restaurants like to serve it.
The Delhi Sampler could easily be mistaken for having been teleported from the streets of Delhi herself. M’s favorite was the Aloo Tikki, my favorite was the Kichori and Papri Chaat, but the Samosa was not bad either. The flavors were very authentic and everything was seasoned to perfection. Our appetite had undoubtedly received a kick start.
We also tried a plate of Khyberi Kabab. Marinated in a blend of raw papaya and other spices, this dish originates from the Khyber Pass area that connects India to Pakistan.Not overly spicy but packed with flavor, these kababs had a deep smokiness to them and melted in our mouths.
The Bhindi Masala was very close to my mom’s version- which means it was frigging delicious- just not as spicy. That’s understandable as not everyone eats chili flakes like corn flakes.
The Dahl Masala (Makhni) was pure indulgence. Hailing from Punjab, this dahl isn’t new to me, but this version of it certainly was. Slow cooked in water and spices over charcoal for 24 hours, this rich dahl is then simmered in cream and butter for another 4-5 hours! I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but something about it reminded me very much of some versions of Gaajar Ka Halwa. I have a a feeling that something was the oodles of butter and cream.
Goan Prawn Curry
I slurped down the Goan Prawn curry (one of my favorite curries in the world) like a thick, luscious soup, while M made snow angels in the Koh e Awad. Koh-e-Awad – in addition to being the Chef’s special is what Lucknow was called before the Mughal era. It is also the name of the chef’s special at Masala, and boy oh boy was it special! It was easily the best lamb shank we have had- ever- across any cuisine (big claim!).
We also had the Doi Mach, which is a tempered yogurt fish curry from the Bengal region. It is the ONLY Indian fish curry M has ever liked.
I’d recommend the Podeena Paratha to wipe the curries off your plates with, and the sweet Lassi to wash it all down. The Lassi was as good as my grandma’s, except it was enthrallingly frothy from start to end!
Dessert was some Gaajar Ka Halwa (mediocre), and some Jugal Bandi (fantastic!). The latter was a Gulaab Jamun placed atop some Ras Malai- YUM!
We paired our dessert with some very strong Masala Chai that was heavy on the cloves! I’m not a fan of cloves but it really did help warm up my otherwise freezing innards and dodge an oncoming cold, haha!
If you’re looking for a special night out and like Indian food, Masala at Bab Al Shams is definitely the place for you.