There hasn’t been a restaurant opening that has been met with such anticipation as the newly launched Carnival by Tresind at DIFC. The sister restaurant of the acclaimed Tresind, is brought to us by the same team and headed by executive chef Himanshu Saini. Who once again dazzles with his post-modern take on Indian Cuisine.
Venturing into the restaurant a couple of days after opening, we were excited and intrigued. Having had one of our best dining experiences at Tresind, it felt near on impossible for the experience to be replicated… and we couldn’t have been more wrong!
This new venture is far smaller than we expected but feels more exclusive than its counterpart on Sheikh Zayed Road. The ambiance is one of the best of any restuarant we have visited in Dubai, with eye-catching trees in metallic bronze reaching skywards. At the rear is a tunnel-like bar illuminated in fluorescent blue, while the furnishings are a mixture of rainbow colours that perfectly match the napkins presented to individual diners.
With many minute details going on. Diners may not notice the intricacies of the dining space at first glance, as they are overwhelmed by the cascade of bubbles that begins each meal at Carnival. The concept is to evoke a feeling of childhood and nostalgia. In a world where we are so caught up in the daily struggle, Carnival wants us to pause and reflect on happier times, if only for a few short hour while we dine. The concept and decor promote pure escapism, from a dining area of oversized bird cages, to hanging hats, chalkboard walls and small paper kites.
During our time at Carnival we were treated to an extravagant seventeen course tasting menu, featuring the chefs selection of the restaurants highlights. With such a large number of dishes on offer, one might expect that the quality may vary greatly, or that some dishes would take precedence over others. At Carnival this isn’t the case, each dish has been meticulously planned and immaculately plated, to ensure that each and every item is of the highest quality. Despite the large selection, there was not item that we didn’t appreciate.
The imaginatively named ‘Happy Halloween’ was the first dish to arrive at the table and is presented to every guest who dines at Carnival. As the name suggests, this is a pumpkin dish that mixes a steamed kulcha flatbread (of Punjabi origin), stuffed with a delightfully spiced pumpkin mash. Amalgamating Halloween, Autumn and a hint of India into a dish that sets the precedent for the meal to follow.
Next up was the ‘Makhanphal’ a word that means ‘avocado’ in India and a dish that brings in the art of molecular gastronomy that Tresind (and now Carnival) have become renowned for. Presented on a bed of liquid nitrogen, smoke engulfs a cocoa hive that is topped with an avocado and lime cream. This amuse bouche is to be eaten in one go, allowing the cocoa hive to disintegrate in the mouth and mix with the sweet and sour combination of the fruit topping, to create a texture of discreet smoothness that left us wishing for a bigger portion.
The unique presentation of dishes is something that helped to make Tresind so popular and the quirky delivery continues at Carnival. ‘Dal Pulka’ presents a traditional lentil based dhal in the form of a cappuccino. Topped with ghee, truffle oil and a light sprinkling of cumin cocoa. Thss dish will have diners thinking that they have fallen down the rabbit hole into Alice’s wonderland. Accompanied by a phulka cookie, that is basically a re-interpretation of a chapati, the dish is warming and the perfect substitute for the standard soup course.
We love the name ‘Life Is Short, Eat Dessert First’ and this mixture of sweet and savoury is the epitome of perfect execution in a dish. The team at Tresind have taken the savoury street food snack of chaat and turned it into something completely different. Adding a dollop of fresh yogurt and a spiralled jalebi (a popular Indian sweet), the dish is smashed by the diner and mixed together before being consumed. This provides an experience akin to eating an appetiser and dessert together – welcome to the topsy turvy world of Carnival! The dish is a textural marvel and one that we will be talking about for some time to come.
‘Indian Fried Chicken‘ presents a chicken pakora stuffed with cheese and topped with gold leaf to resemble a laddu. The laddu is a ball shaped Indian sweet presented on colourful tissue paper in a wooden box, so once again Carnival are playing with diners expectations by presenting a savoury dish to appear as though it’s sweet.
‘Pullinji’ is the name given to a traditional tamarind and ginger chutney. In this dish, juicy prawns are marinated in the chutney before being toasted in palm sugar. Presented with a wheat crisp dusted with curry powder, that not only made the dish striking in presentation but also in texture. Looking somewhat like a leaf, this was another highlight of the menu for us.
Course number seven was the tender ‘Meatilicious‘ comprising a lamp chop marinated in a Mysore marinade from the region of Karnataka. Not only was the lamb perfectly pink but it was presented upon a banana leaf (much like a South Indian thali) and served with masala potato and a dosa crisp. Making for a deconstructed masala dosa and the spiciest dish that we sampled at Carnival.
If stunning presentation is your thing, then don’t miss the ‘Don’t Be Shellfish.‘ A dish with another comical name that is beautifully presented in a wooden bowl carved to resemble a crab, complete with claws and large eyes. Hidden amongst the puffs of steam, is a tender spider crab leg, cooked in Indian spices and topped with cheese. Prised between the wooden claws are some crunchy lotus stem chips, that bring a nice salty element to the dish.
Named after a regional advertising campaign for butter, the ‘Utterly Butterly‘ was the winner on our table. Presenting wagyu beef cooked to absolute perfection, the concept is to present a dish that literally melts in your mouth. In a bold mood that showcases the amal butter over the wagyu beef, the dish is simplicity at its best and comes with a chilli cheese toast on the side.
A palette cleanser ‘Malai Baraf’ is a sorbet made from lychee, rose and milk skin. The three delicate elements beautifully complement one another and served in a shot glass made of ice, the name directly translates as ‘Ice Cream.’
The eleventh course marked the main course! So when the ‘Airline Chicken‘ arrived at the table we were astounded. The concept is for the business person working in DIFC and presents an economy airline meal as a business lunch, complete with compartments for each element of the meal. The croissant which may appear as more of a presentation gimmick, is so buttery that it could well be a contender for the best croissant in Dubai. Chicken curry meanwhile was flavoursome and accompanied by a small side salad and a rich dark chocolate mousse cake, actually made for quite the filling meal. Presented with a toy airplane, the dish certainly plays with a sense of fun and joviality and is better than any food you are likely to find when travelling by air.
‘Carta Farta’ is a flavoursome dish of fish curry cooked is a plastic bag, specially imported from Italy. The bag seals in all the flavours from the spices and releases an aromatic steam that fills the room when opened. Served with a lemon rice, the fish was unbelievably tender and provided a real assault on the senses. Service was faultless and the story behind each specific dish was eagerly explained to us by our server, which further enhanced our enjoyment of the meal.
Dessert was next to arrive with another interpretation of chaat. ‘Chaat Wala’ is a fruit based dessert that mixes a smooth guava parfait with a tangy strawberry masala crumb and caramelised boondi (a sweetened Rajasthani snack made from chickpeas). The only way we can describe the dish is that its similar to eating a fruit salad combined with Bombay mix, which may sound bizarre but is brilliant in both conceptualisation and presentation. One for those who want to finish their meal on a lighter note.
For the more gluttonous, we recommend the ‘Go Banana.‘ Presenting a caramelised banana with a toffee pana cotta and banana ice cream, all served inside a (you got it) banana leaf. Despite not being the biggest lover of banana, the plate was surprisingly good, with the caramelized banana being the highlight.
The ‘Pina Colada‘ reinterprets the famous cocktail into a dessert that features a pineapple and coconut sphere with a sour cherry compote. Payasam (rice pudding) is poured ontop to complete the composition, which is just like eating a pina colada with a bit of added texture.
The meal is completed by two small extras (again these are given to all diners at Carnival) the first of which were the fantastic paan macaroons referred to as ‘The Betels.’ Paan is derived from the Betel leaves and is chewed as a way of freshening ones breathe in India. We remember trying the paan for the first time during our trip to India in 2006 and this brought us right back more than a decade to that time. The idea of combining this sweet flavour into a macaroon is pure genius and likely to be one of the highlights of many diners meals at Carnival.
No need to order coffee at Carnival because it comes as it’s very own course. ‘Kabba’ is a pebble shaped sweet that is filled with strong coffee. Like an instant hit of espresso to the system and the perfect way to finish a meal that had been a rollercoaster or tastes and presentation.
Carnival proudly present their beverages as masterfully as the food and each drink is an interactive art piece. From the lavender lemonade, presented in a ceramic frog with a glass painted to look like frogspawn. Or the spiced ‘goli soda’ arriving in a beautiful wooden box. Interaction is the key with this beverage, as the top is popped off with the slam of a champagne opener – shooting the bung skywards and revealing a unique blend of pomegranate and rock salt that may well be too much for some.
Scary friend is a blend of maple and apple that comes with a rubber toy that lights up when bashed (you are actively encoiraged to do so). A passion fruit and berry concoction is presented in a glass skull while the hibiscus sour and Bavarian fizz came in a wobbling, smokey cow, which had our party in fits of laughter and that’s what it’s all about really – a sense of fun.
Small details such as the fact that each diner is given their own unique glassware and coasters are changed after each drink to present different carnivalesque scene (clowns, circus tents, balloons) shows an unprecedented level of service and attention to details. Tables are cleaned after each course and all cutlery and plates are handled with pristine white gloves. What we appreciated more was the fact that the chef came to our table actively seeking feedback and constructive criticism. Showing that despite being a newly launched concept, the menu is an evolving process that is a collaboration with customers.
The objective of Carnival is to make you feel something by poking at your senses and we truly believe that the bar has been raised. At this point it’s to early to tell if this is a superior restaurant to Tresind, but with both presenting post-modern Indian cuisine via the art of molecular gastronomy in a fine dining setting. Carnival takes diners on a journey of surprises and is fast becoming a contender for best new restaurant in Dubai. It has been some time since we were this enthusiastic about a new opening and we actively encourage any lover of food to reserve a table.
With a spectacular happy hour that runs from 5pm – 8pm daily and a slew of dishes still left to try. We eagerly await our next trip to the Carnival for more adventures in dinner theatre.
We were invited to dine at Carnival by Tresind. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.