Walking back into Carnival by Tresind we’re still awestruck. Having been blown away by the 17 course menu during Carnival’s pre-opening phase, we return again the week before Christmas, with our focus firmly on the beverages rather than food.
The beauty of this multi-faceted DIFC venue is that it’s more than just a restaurant. First and foremost it’s an experience and an assault on the senses. One that will play with your perceptions, engulf you in aromas and leave you dizzy from the onslaught of visual spectacle. Taking the popular format of post-modern Indian cuisine established by sister restaurant Tresind (located on the other side of the busy Sheikh Zayed Road), Carnival gleefully abandons the formal fine dining approach and throws caution to the wind. Creating an entirely different recipe that mixes together progressive culinary expertise, amidst a dash of childhood nostalgia and creates something truly dazzling.
Having fallen in love with the interiors on our first visit, we’re can’t help but be impressed all over again. The bronze colored trees (complete with paper kites), chalkboard walls, zig zag floor patterns and the large bird-cage seating arrangements. With our primary objective on this occasion being the drinks, we move through the rainbow colored upholstery of the dining room and into the bar area. A tunnel of illuminated glass, made up of over 600 Ciroc Vodka bottles, pulsates from radiant blue to iridescent green, as we settle on a table that resembles a drum and butts up to the sleek copper bar. As expected from the Tresind brand, staff are friendly, engaging and insightful and once again we’re caught up in the carnival atmosphere.
There are no bubbles to signify that start of our evening (these are reserved for those in the restaurant) but we’re still treated to a number of thematics. From smoke and flames, to a giant ceramic frog. There are very few dining establishments in Dubai that can compete with Tresind and it’s pleasing to see that the magic remains, even on return visits.
Carnival recently launched a new early bird menu that runs daily from 5pm – 8pm and offers alcoholic beverages from as little as 25 AED. Perfect for an after work drink and catering nicely to the financial crowd at DIFC, the menu comprises of beer, wines, spirits and a select number of cocktails, including the Matsulem Mojito (available in smoked pineapple, mandarin or melon flavours) and Jose Cuervo Margaritas (lemon, cucumber and jalapeño).
For those looking for something a little more seasonal, we recommend the winter cocktail menu with its Vanilla Pineapple Martini, Hot Cocoa Creme De Cassis, House Spiced Warm Rum Toddy and 7 Spice Mulled Wine. Sampling the latter two beverages (both priced at 60 AED) they certainly embraced the festive spirit, with the mulled wine exemplifying the ‘Christmas Feeling’ for its spiced aromas and flavours of cloves, star anise and cinnamon.
Much like the food, the beverages come in an array of impressive presentation styles that feel more like artistic pieces than drinks. Take for example, a Hendricks Gin inspired blend poured from a ceramic teapot into a Victorian-style teacup complete with floral design. Or the 1876 Solera, a rum based cocktail smoked with hickory wood, whose description in the menu is nothing if not elusive “2300m above sea level, lies a house above the clouds.”
The theatrics play out with the arrival of each additional beverage. We receive the Bartenders Choice mocktail, a tropical blend of mango, passionfruit and lychee, presented inside an upturned lightbulb within a glowing birds nest. The 3-Wood Smoked Barrel (as the name suggests) smokes cognac, amaretto and Jim Beam whisky within a bulbous glass bell jar, secreeting a subtle yet undeniably smokey flavour into the beverage.
We’ve said it before but mixology and the intricacies associated with it represent an under appreciated art form. With all the smoking and presentation tricks on display, little could have prepared us from what was to come. A glass skull is presented to our table before being doused in Absinthe and set alight. The skull is licked by flames of orange and blue and is named after the comic book character Ghost Rider. This was not the only skull we encountered during the evening, with The Boiling Skull (Ciroc vodka, passion fruit, cranberry and mixed berries) and the tiki-themed Scary Friend (Matusalem, Amaretto, 151 proof rum, sherry, orange and pineapple) also making an appearance amongst a haze of smoke.
Drinks were plentiful as we indulged in the imaginatively named Burn Bourbon Burn and the ceramic monstrosity that is the Crazy Frog (five white spirits, Blue Curacoa and Red Bull). If you lift the glass out of the frog (making it easier to drink) you’ll find it resembles frogspawn – an inspired touch. Carnival continues to astound and amaze by bringing the live cooking element of it’s Indian cuisine into the beverages.
With our focus for the evening have been firmly on the beverage list, our fellow bloggers were yet to experience the food at Carnival. Two of our favourite courses from our previous visit, the Pullinji (the name of a traditional tamarind and ginger chutney) presents juicy prawns marinated in the chutney, before being toasted in palm sugar and topped with a wheat crisp dusted with curry powder. The dish was more impressive than our first taste three months earlier and we believe that there may have been some minor adjustments made since pre-opening. The beautifully tender Meatilicious comprises a lamp chop marinated in a Mysore marinade from the Southern Indian state of Karnataka that packed a nice heat.
We also sampled four new dishes. The Squidnapped (another quirky name) is Carnival’s take on a fried calamari and is served in a large wicker bowl, accompanied by a fiery dipping sauce. The vegetarian friendly Game Of Corn is hidden under a tin can, that when lifted reveals stacked sweetcorn fritters that strongly resemble pancakes and taste just as good.
Florets cleverly disguises cauliflower tempura amongst a bouquet of flowers (and strongly reminded us of the paan candy floss at Tresind) with the taste proving the concept to be more than just a gimmick. We think this is the point at Carnival, the molecular gastronomy and outrageous presentation are only used when required and only if it adds to the story of the dish. While many of the restaurants competitors may use liquid nitrogen and other tools just for the sake of it, Carnival knows when to hold back and let the food do the talking. Taking the Kashmiri-inspired T-Bone as the perfect example, there is no theatrics to the dish, just great steak and a delicious lotus crisp.
Desserts are one of Carnival’s strong points and we were asked to move from our position at the bar into the dining room for the Gajak. A dish we can only describe as an edible table cloth. As we sat around a plain white ‘table cloth’, splashes of chocolate sauce are added to the canvas with the precision of an artist hard at work with his brush and resembling the abstract expressionist work of Jackson Pollock. Dehydrated strawberries add a brilliance of color, while caramelized peanuts and chocolate soil add to the texture. Silence fills the room as a white chocolate sphere takes pride of place in the center of the table, filled with liquid nitrogen that emitted a blast of cold smoke before briefly encasing us in darkness. The sphere is then dropped from a great height and smashed upon the table, revealing ice cream and brownie pieces within. A gluttonous dessert that three of us struggled to finish but was perfectly fitting of the entire Carnival experience.
A trip to Carnival remains special on return visits and the novelty factor doesn’t wear off because it’s engrained into the very fabric of the restaurant. Dining at Carnival is an event and leaving behind the skulls, frogs, light bulbs and the metallic copper world of Carnival. We venture back out into the ‘real world.’ For tonight the carnival may be over but we know we’ll be back again… for we can’t seem to keep away.
We were invited to dine at Carnival by Tresind. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE