Our favouritism towards Carnival by Tresind is no secret. Ever since this progressive Indian restaurant threw down the gauntlet to the other restaurants in DIFC, we’ve been hooked. In the five months since opening Carnival has successively changed the landscape of Indian fine dining in Dubai with their post-modern take on Indian cuisine.
Much like its sister restaurant Tresind. Carnival has provoked conversation within the Dubai population, topics include the immaculate plates of food, innovative mixology and those striking interiors. We’re not going to go into detail regarding the striking and playful interiors (those bronze trees) or the fact that all diners are greeted with bubbles, as we’ve covered them in extensive detail here:
Instead we’re going to focus on the new menu. You see, Carnival has done the unthinkable. Having gained traction as one of the best Indian restaurants in Dubai things are about to change…
From January 8th Carnival launch what they’re referring to as Season 2. A complete re-working of the original menu, which presented a feeling of whimsy and childhood nostalgia. Season 2 has a more specific focus in mind and that’s suburban food, the idea of taking popular dishes with plenty of character and giving them the unique Tresind treatment. Switching up the entire menu a few months after opening is a bold move but Carnival has never done things by halves and with only a handful of the first seasons dishes remaining (the signature dishes), we embark on an entirely new culinary journey from Executive Chef Himanshu Saini and his wonderful team.
Our meal begins with the Chutney Sandwich. A popular street food snack in Mumbai that comprises an Indian bread stuffed with a flavorsome mint chutney. Ir’s a dish that needs to be eaten with hands and as if to re-iterate this observation, the sandwich is presented within the palm of a porcelain hand.
Alongside the sandwich we receive the Pink Panu Puri. A traditional street food snack that has been served countless ways during Dubai’s Indian fine dining resurgence (foams, syringes or Tresind’s very own spherificated version). The pani puri here was actually developed in October for breast cancer awareness month and it’s popularity has elevated it as a firm fixture on the new menu. The puri bread is dyed a vibrant pink colored thanks to the addition of beetroot and the pani mixture is sweetened with pomegranate as opposed to the usual tamarind. Pour the pani into the lentil and potato stuffed puri and consume in one go to indulge in a stunning sweet hit. We relished the flavours but are left wondering how many more versions of pani puri can there be?
The Tresind brand has always transformed the dining room into an interactive experience and our first hints of this come with the live cooking of our next dish, Into The Wild. Providing a showcase in simplicity, the dish is inspired by ancient culinary techniques where hot stones were used to cook food. A heated slab of Himalayan rock salt is wheeled towards the table and strips of Wagyu beef and prawns are placed upon it. The meat is sizzled briefly on the slab at a temperature of 260 degrees and fills the room with the enticing aroma of cooked meat. No additional seasoning is required (it comes from the slab) and presented with nothing more than a chilli and garlic mix, the impeccable flavours are allowed to shine through.
Taking things into new territory, Carnival’s Dragon Chicken draws inspiration from the Northern parts of India and its Chinese Influence. Small pieces of chicken are wrapped in wai wai noodles and served beside chilled cucumber. The chicken is then topped with coriander and flame cooked at the table and it’s not until this point that the association with a fire breathing dragon becomes apparent. In terms of taste the plate provides a fantastic blend of textures and flavours, sweet and sour in nature. This was easily our favourite item from the new menu .
A close second favourite was Wenger’s, a kebab based dish named after a popular pastry shop in Delhi that was opened during the time of British Rule. The dish comprises a succulent shaami kebab of minced beef, with a boiled egg and topped with salad. It’s a poplar appetizer in Chendigar and Punjab and is likely the most visually striking plate of the evening.
Next up arrived a sous-vide beef cooked at a regulated 63 degrees and beautifully tender. Served in an eye-shaped granite pot, we were surprised to find the dish to be hot, for it looks like a cold salad and is another example of the Carnival team playing with perceptions. It feels more like a Japanese dish than an Indian one and proceeds a refreshing Strawberry Murabba (strawberry with jaggery water), an alternative palette cleanser to the usual sorbet.
While there way barely a curry, naan or rice dish in site during our preview of season one back in September. The main courses of season 2 are very curry heavy and take a far more traditional approach to Indian cuisine. The Family Picnic is an absolute delight with a wicker picnic hamper presented to the table. Inside we find the usual array of items, cutlery, plates and glasses in addition to plastic Tupperware full of puri, raita and chutneys. The picnic concept is one we can all relate to and a pastime that appeared extremely popular when we visited India (though our attempt in Ooty was hampered by rain).
Numerous curries and breads descend on the table, with the lamb kofta being the standout for us. While we throughly enjoyed the delcious Home Style Chicken Curry with butter naan, we’re somewhat unsure of the coastal Jhinga La La (prawn curry), which while flavorsome is almost too pungent for us. Served alongside accompaniments from the picnic basket such as roast potatoes with cumin and wild chickpeas, it’s certainly carb heavy but hearty and wholesome nonetheless.
Carnival proves once again that Indian desserts don’t have to be overly sweet and milky. Fruit Custard is actually not a custard at all but an ice cream made at the table using liquid nitrogen. Combining a variety of fresh fruits with custard, the ice cream is churned at the table amidst a haze of liquid nitrogen, before being served within the frozen husk of a watermelon and topped with a mango and raspberry gel.
With the ice cream providing refreshment from the heat of the curries, it was the Milk & Cookies that had our hearts. Served out of a table top oven, this ‘cake’ is topped with cookies, hot caramel sauce, sour raspberries and cinnamon ice cream and it tastes simply wonderful.
While Tresind has become synonymous with is candy floss paan to finish a meal. Here we have a sesame and jaggery tulle and a packet of Fatafat, an Ayuverdic digestive aid that may well be required following all of the food we’d consumed.
Having dined at Carnival on three occasions and at Tresind twice (in the space of a year) we’ve still not had the pleasure of meeting Chef Himanshu and would love to meet the man behind these consistently spectacular plates. Hopefully this will soon be rectified but with some of the friendliest staff in Dubai, we absolutely relish our trips to Carnival and can see ourselves returning again soon. Each time we dine, it feels like a homecoming and the constant re-invention ensures that even regular diners will return for their Carnival fix.
Although Chef Himanshu may be the face of the brand, there’s another important character who is a standout at both Carnival and Tresind – Sherine John the beverage manager and mixology master. The cocktails and mocktails at both establishment have become as much of a talking point as the food, from Tresind’s Lava Lamp to Carnival’s Crazy Frog. Sherine brings a marvelous flare to his art form and proudly presents each drink (and its story) with bags of charisma, he’s an asset to the Carnival team and has conjured up some marvelous new concoctions for this new season.
Drinks are smoked, set alight, displayed in light bulbs or removed from smoking boxes in this topsy-turvy world known as Carnival. The sheer creativity on display is impressive and we can only image what goes into conceptualizing these drinks. The Ghost Rider is a glass skull is doused in Absinthe and set alight, while the Konga Shaker mixes Monkey Shoulder rum with an apple and cinnamon reduction in a special way. The old school shaker (known as a Konga) has two handles which are rotated, think of the motion of pedaling a bike… but with your hands and you’ll get the idea!
A take on a Mango Lassi is our favorite new addition to an exuberant cocktail menu. Muddling together dark rum, amaretto and fresh fruits in a chilled clay pot before being topped with whipped cream and garnished with fruits. This is an alcoholic lassi and one that we lingered over for some time. For more on the stunning cocktails at Carnival read out details post ‘A Carnival Of Cocktails.’
With this being our third experience at Carnival things feel more settled. It’s as though there is a new found confidence in the restaurant and the exotic presentation has been scaled back to allow the food to speak for itself. Carnival season 2 feels more restrained and subdued than its predecessor and aside from some minor pacing issues, the appetizers always seems to arrive in such quick succession that it’s hard to keep up, we thoroughly enjoyed another trip to the Carnival.
The fact that we’ve written about this spot three times in as many months, should attest to the quality of the experience and our overwhelming passion for the brand. It’s interactive, it’s fun and above all it’s more than a meal… it’s an experience
We were invited to dine at Carnival by Tresind. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE