What could possibly trump dining at a restaurant in the Burj Al Arab? Being invited to eat the creations of and be served by the previous host and now judge on Masterchef India. And guess what? That’s exactly the honor that was given to us. A few weeks ago I was invited for a tasting at Patiala, a somewhat new (and welcome) addition to the Souk Al Bahar restaurant portfolio, and Chef Kunal Kapoor’s first venture in Dubai. Dim and romantically lit, this restaurant has a contemporary atmosphere with some traditional touches that can be seen in the gold motifs on the cielings and Jharoka cutouts in the walls.
The menu can be broken down into two parts: the classic Indian food and the modern Indian food. What Chef Kunal has done, is that he has preserved the integrity of some traditional dishes such as Dora Kebab as is, and in other instances he has taken old classics and morphed them into new concepts with the help of clever techniques, such as Haleem ke Kebab.
We started off with a beautiful example of marrying flavors familiar to Indian cuisine with ingredients alien to it: the Grilled Canadian Scallop atop a mango peach chutney, with sweet pea foam and aam papad- which is essentially sweetened mango juice that is cooked down till it becomes black.
Next we had what was one of my favorite items that night: the Malai Prawn. Marinated in cream and butter and then poached, these had a hint of green chili and the sauce had a distinct and aromatic flavor of onion seeds. I’m surrounded by imaginary hearts as I describe these prawns.
The Chilean Seabass with strawberry chutney and Bengali mustard pays homage to the influence of the British raj in India. I got a little too excited about this one and forgot to take a picture. :/
We then had my friend K’s favorite dish, the Dora Kabab. The only way for me to describe this is it’s a standard (well seasoned) lamb seekh kebab, but the skewer has a sandalwood oil and charcoal soaked silken thread wrapped around it which helps effortlessly remove the kebab from the skewer. The aroma of sandalwood is so subtle but undeniable, and the meat is tender and beautifully marinated. There’s a certain level of skill required in cooking this kebab because if you remove it from the heat too soon, it will be raw and if you leave it on too long, the thread will burn. I usually avoid mutton and lamb but these kebabs didn’t have that unpleasant whiff that usually puts me off so I was one happy camper!
The next spectacle was the Haleem Kebab. The haleem is cooked down just to the right point where it can be shaped into a round kabab. I eat a LOT of haleem and haleem is one thing I know like the back of my hand, so I can confidently say the flavors were on point. What it was lacking however, was some much needed acidity to cut through it. Instead of the micro-greens it was garnished with- that added no value, it could have done much better with some julienned ginger, and a fried onion, lemon juice, and green chili foam.
Another favorite that night (I know, there were so many favorites!), was the Eggplant Steak. I remember this steak. I had it weeks ago and I still remember how it tasted, and it’s currently causing some major hunger pangs. It was marinated in a complex spice mix, and served with a tomato chutney and green apples which cut through the spiciness and add a cooling effect. Oh man. I’d kill for some eggplant right now.
Course after course, we kept being wowed by deliciousness on deliciousness. The chicken Koozy Fry on a mint mayo sauce, was like a chicken pakora, only better. Instead of just gram flour, the batter this chicken was coated in also had rice and cornflour. The chicken was fried to perfection- which is sadly a rare feat- but what stood out the most was the dominant bay leaf flavor in the batter. This is exactly what you want to eat on a rainy day with a cup of masala chai, along with the Murgh Shorba we had next.
This Murgh Shorba is your grandma’s chicken yakhni (broth), only so, SO much better. The chicken bones are simmered overnight for 12 hours, just the way a chicken broth should be made- with no shortcuts. Doesn’t matter what’s wrong, THIS is the chicken soup for every soul. A cube of Halloumi was the cherry on this creamy chicken sundae (a little cream was added to make this broth heartier and to make the oil homogenous).
We also tried the Pumpkin and Apricot Soup, which was….sweet. The sunflower seeds added a nice crunch to the velvety soup, but I reckon this soup to be an acquired taste. Make no mistakes though, it was peculiar but not unpleasant in any way.
I think the only thing that I was really unimpressed by was the Punjabi Chenna Bruschetta. This was a garlic rusk, with some ricotta cheese, orange marmalade and pink peppercorn on top. It didn’t work for me at all.
After ALL the aforementioned delicacies, the curries were brought out. Mixed feelings ensued, as we were already stuffed but the sights and aromas were irresistible.
The Palak Soya was an interesting take on spinach. It wasn’t spicy at all, but still had a lot of depth of flavor that came from tomatoes, onions and dill. This dish originates from the Uttar Pradesh part of India, and it was my first time trying this version of spinach. Did I mention I need to revisit Patiala?
The Daal Makhni was not the best I’ve had. The Daal Makhni at Junoon still ranks at #1 in my opinion.
We also had the Dam ka Murgh, which entails a complex recipe and is smoked towards the end.
The piece de resistance though was the Achaar Gosht. We were a table full of people who have eaten a lot of Achaar Gosht in their lives, and we all unanimously agreed that this was the best Achaar Gosht we’ve had in our entire lives. Here’s the shocking part: this dish had no achaar (pickles) in it. It also had no mustard oil, no red chili and no turmeric. So where did all the flavor come from??? Perhaps I’ll never know, but it does have a lot of spices that helped achieve this unforgettable taste. Oh, also, the meat was super tender.
We scooped the above curries with an assortment of Garlic Naan, Caramelized Onion Naan, Olive Zaatar Naan, and Blue Cheese Naan. Other than the garlic, all the naan flavors were extremely unique and new to me. I also loved how tiny the naans were, great for portion control when your momma says “Beta, enough! You’ve already had one entire naan!”
I was prepared to have only a spoonful of the dessert as I rarely enjoy Indian/Pakistani desserts. I find them to be too rich after an already heavy meal. But once again, Patiala caught me by surprise and -much to my chagrin- despite being stuffed beyond capacity, we wiped the dessert plates clean. The first dessert was Mango Lassi Icecream, and it was exactly what it sounds like: love. The second dessert was the Garbar Falooda –a popular street dessert sold in Delhi kiosks- which is a multiple layer mess of mixed fruit, basil seeds, jelly, falooda and rabri. For us to not only finish but enjoy the dessert so much despite being stuffed to the point of no return, speaks volumes on how irresistibly enjoyable it was.
M and I have observed a common pattern across several Indian restaurants, in which the menu peaks at the appetizer round, the mains are a little less impressive, and the desserts are the weakest link. This wasn’t the case at Patiala. This meal was one of those super rare occasions that a restaurant consistently satisfies on every course, and in all my blogging experiences, this one definitely floats in the top 10. The only dire need for improvement that I could identify is that the wait staff needs to be better trained. In several courses, the servers were lost and confused about what they’re placing before us and were often incorrect, but other than that, it was a wonderful and unforgettable meal.
Thank you for having us, Chef Kunal. Dubai welcomes you and Patiala on board!