There is little doubt that some of the best food you can eat in Dubai is Indian. The cuisine is currently undergoing a major period of re-invention and innovation via the use of molecular gastronomy and other modernist cookery techniques. All of our favourite dining experiences this year have revolved around the re-definition of Indian cuisine, with the likes of Carnival, Junoon and Tresind – we now have another addition to the list.
Jodhpur Royal Dining at the Al Murooj Rotana is an understated and regal venue. Accessed is provided by a golf cart from reception, transporting diners across the expansive hotel grounds. Greeted by carved wooden elephant we knew that we had arrived somewhere special. A set of large double doors opened out into a curtained area littered with artefacts and other signature items from the Indian subcontinent. A large mirror-studded staircase spirals downwards into the heart of the restaurant and it’s only then you realise that the dining room is uniquely circular.
Variants of turquoise and blue are the predominant hues (the city of Jodhpur is affectionally referred to as ‘the blue city’ due to the colours of the houses) with the occasion splash of gold. If it weren’t for the shiny glassware and tables draped with bright white linens, one could easily mistake Jodhpur for an abandoned Maharajas palace in far off Rajasthan. With a sense of faded grandeur, we were already captivated by Jodhpur’s unmistakable sense of mysticism.
Soon enough the passionate and charismatic Executive Chef Pradeep Khullar arrived. Introducing us to the restaurant and talking animatedly about his concept. If you’ve never heard the term ‘retro-innovation’ before then let us break it down for you. Khullar and the team at Jodhpur are taking classical Indian dishes and re-interpreting them for the modern age, while still retaining the memories and history associated with each plate.
Chef Khullar invites diners to join him on a culinary journey in which his food will trigger memories and evoke a feeling of nostalgia. In his own words, Jodhpur presents “food for the soul” and he hopes diners will find a deep personal connection and appreciation in these dishes that he has spent years conceptualising and perfecting. There is little doubt that Khullar knows his food having worked under Manish Mehrotra, at new Delhi restaurant Indian Accent – the only restaurant in India to feature in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016.
Our journey begins with the ‘Jeera Khari with herb yoghurt’ a dish that is presented with playful precision. Comprising an Indian puff that is scattered with caraway seeds these staples of Indian street food sit on the back of a miniature rickshaw that aim to remind people of their journeys in India. We genuinely appreciated the imagery as it reminded us of our very first trip to India (back in 2006) as we whizzed through the streets of New Delhi in one of these metal contraptions on the way to the historic red fort. It was in this area of Chandni Chowk that we had our first experience of authentic Indian street food and these memories inevitably came flooding back.
Gleefully admiring the presentation our next surprise was just around the corner. A platter of drinks arrived at the table with fun theatrical flair, as a cool mist escaped from the display and engulfed our table. Like some sort of mythical elixir being unleashed for the first time. The beverages were presented much like a vase of flowers with wild berry mojitos, a spiced guava masala chaat conception and a blend of passion fruit and lime juice. Situated in a sphere of bulbous ice and littered with foliage and fresh fruits, it certainly felt like a garden brought to life and a sense of wonderment began to creep in.
The ‘macaroon chaat‘ soon followed and is the only dish we were already aware of, thanks to friends and fellow foodies raving about it on social media. Taking the classical French patisserie item and transforming it onto a savoury appetiser is a work of unabashed genius and represents fusion in it’s finest form. Yet the idea can only be deemed a success if the flavours work and the combination of the sweet shell provides a stark contradiction to the chaat, like a shot of dynamite to the palette. The magical zing (created by a mixture of coriander root and lime powder) immediately opens up the tastebuds and leaves you instantly craving more. Appearances can definitely be deceptive and this small unassuming amour-bouche is likely to be a draw for many.
Next up were the ‘Beef Short Ribs with Aam Papad glaze’, unusual in itself as very few Indian residents serve beef (due to the obvious religious reasons). These short ribs are cooked sous vide style for eight hours before being fried and tossed in a reduction of Aam Papad, also known as fruit leather. In all honesty we have never sampled anything quite like this, with the textural contrasts adding a layer of interactivity to the dish. The interior is tender like a pulled-pork, while the exterior crust (better described as a film) encases the meat and retains the powerful and aromatic flavours of the tamarind and chilli. We were completely blown away by this dish and proudly proclaim this as the best beef plate we have eaten in the UAE.
Another interesting dish arrived in the form of ‘Atari Jhinga.’ Pan grilled tiger prawns served with a beetroot carpaccio and marinated in a special lemon pickle. The pickle is so special in fact that it is 60 years old and was supplied by Chef Khullars own grandmother. We are just not sure what’s going to happen when this supply runs out, so make sure you order this dish while it’s still available. Thankfully the lemon is subtle and not at all overpowering, allowing the flavour of the seafood to come through without being diluted.
This is the reason that you won’t find any chutneys or pickles at Jodhpur as Chef Khullar is a strong believer in letting the food speak for itself and these accompaniment do little more than cover the flavour of the meat that you’re eating.
The innovation continues with a ‘Laban & Ricotta Kabab.’ Proudly hailed as the world’s first cold kebab, the plate is one of the most spectacular in terms of presentation. Each element on the plate means something and is laid out with such precision and intricacy that it feels almost unfair to destroy it with a fork. With roasted roast petals encrusted on the exterior, the kebab itself is extremely delicate and implodes at the slightest touch, revealing the creamy laban and ricotta mixture inside. For us, the execution was a little off with far too much filling leaving us unable to taste the exterior crust. It would seem that we are in the minority with this one though, as it is actually Jodhpur’s best selling dish.
A distinct aroma of spices accompanied the ‘Raan.’ A chilli brushed lamb leg that is braised for several hours before being finished in the tandoor. The meat is coated with a chipotle cream, crunchy lavash bread and adorned with edible 23 karat gold. In keeping with the palatial theme of the restaurant, you could certainly imagine this richly flavoured meat taking pride of place upon the Maharaja’s table.
Palette cleansers were next to arrive and presented in an etched wooden box, was another garden setup. Perhaps reflective of India’s year round seasonal ingredients. Inside mini pressure cookers sticks of ‘Mango, Cranberry & Kaffir Lime Sorbet’ could be found. A great way to clean the palette for the inevitable arrival of the main courses.
The classically presented main courses consisted of ‘Murgh Maska.’ Jodhpur’s interpretation of the traditional butter chicken. Utilising fresh tomatoes, butter, cream and fenugreek. Simmered to creamy perfection.
Prawns appear again in the form of ‘Jhinga Chettinad.’ Garlic glazed and tossed in a chettinad spiked sauce and topped with parmesan papad. Both of these main courses worked perfectly with rice, Faux Dal Makhni (with the traditional Moong Dal replaced with Black Urad) and a broken kulcha.
Why is it broken you ask? Well Chef Khullar informed us that this was how his grandmother would served it, so that he never knew how many pieces of bread he was eating and it’s pleasing to see this tradition has made it onto the menu here in Dubai. Eating Indian food has always been a hands-on and sensual experience and there is nothing quite like dipping a piece of torn bread into a sauce rich in flavour and spices.
We have mentioned before how we’re not the biggest fans of Indian desserts, due to their overly sweet and milky nature. So we were actually relieved when a ‘Lotus-Treacle Tart‘ arrived at the table complete with butterscotch ice cream. Not only because there was no sugar syrup or milky pastry in site but more so because Lotus is literally our favourite thing to eat right now! This take on the classic British treacle tart is not something you would expect to find in an Indian restaurant and was a particular breathe of fresh air for us, who often forego desserts when dining Indian.
The second dessert was also not as expected with a ‘Dulce De Leche‘ and trio of light sorbets (raspberry, lime and strawberry). The caramelised milk and rice pudding has been cooked for several hours and the sorbet is there to cut through the richness of the dish, in a large portion that is recommended for two to three diners to share.
Our meal at Jodhpur was over far too soon for our liking but not without one final surprise. A striking tree of ‘Saffron Jalebi’ was presented to the table and became an instant talking piece. The golden spiralled jalebi hung from the branches while dripping a syrup that resembled an early morning dew. We asked how the dish was conceptualised and Chef Khullar informed us that it was inspired by Japanese cherry blossom. An inventive and somewhat moorish dish, especially when dipped into the gold dust dredged mascarpone rabid.
We really appreciated the way in which Chef Khullar passionately explained each dish to us and his drive clearly shone through. This is a man who actively seeks out criticism, which he can use as a tool to drive the restaurant forward and perfect his craft.
With the molecular gastronomy elements scaled back, the focus at Jodhpur sits firmly on the food and what exceptional food it is. These creations (the macaroon chaat, short rib and jalebi tree especially) are likely to make a huge impact on Dubai’s fine dining scene and with the motivation of Chef Khullar and his team driving the restaurant to constant improvement. jodhpur Royal dining could fast become a force to be reckoned with.
People will inevitably draw comparisons with Tresind due to Jodhour’s post-modern Indian cuisine. Strangely enough, Chef Khullar actually worked with Tresind’s Himanshu Saini for a period, so you could say that they inspire one another and although the similarities are there, Jodhpur offers a completely different experience to the theatrics of Tresind.
Food at Jodhpur is a path to trigger memories and with the possibility of a Friday brunch (complete with live barbecue stations) launching this winter. We’ll be first in line to return to Jodhpur Royal Dining.
We were invited to dine at Jodhpur. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.