Tucked away down a narrow corridor at the back of the Yas Island Rotana, lies a North Indian restaurant that has been quietly making a name for itself on the capitals dining scene. Rangoli is a vibrant venue that encapsulates the colours and aromas synonymous with the Indian subcontinent.
The name Rangoli is a term given to Indian folk art, in which floors are painted in bright designs made from colored flour, sand, rice or petals. Being Diwali, one such design was painted on the floor at the restaurants entranceway as we approached – a beautiful collection of colorful petals with the purpose of bringing good luck during these festivities. This literal rangoli, perfectly setting the tone for the sensual assault that would be a meal at this secluded hideaway.
Interiors are modern with elevated seating areas of plump cushions, similar to something you’d expect to find in a far off Rajasthani palace. Bright fabrics of greens and purple hang unobtrusively from the ceiling, while an abundance of dark wood helps to separate the dining room into semi-private areas, ideal for a small gathering or intimate date night.
Our reason for dining at Rangoli was to sample their specially crafted Diwali menu, available from 28th – 30th October 2016. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita, following a fourteen year exile. Upon defeating the demon king Ravana, the couple were allowed to return to their palace but that night the sky remained black. The local people placed lanterns around the palace grounds to signify the couples homecoming and thus the first Diwali was celebrated.
This act is celebrated today with the lighting of candles, fairy-lights, incense, fireworks and the drawing of the intricate rangoli patterns. Diwali is also a celebration of the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) with candles and lamps providing an illuminated pathway to many residences, in the hopes that Lakshmi will bless homes with good luck and prosperity.
Diwali at Rangoli looks to incorporate these festivities with a menu of signature North Indian dishes that are fit for a king! Before coming to the UAE, our Indian meals were based around East London’s Brick Lane and where we could get the best (cheapest) beer and a curry. Fast forward five years and our experience of Indian cuisine has become somewhat more refined, dining in five star hotels on gourmet Indian delights. Though strangely enough, traversing then globe from London to Abu Dhabi the first thing we’re asked is “which beer would you like?”
Our meal at Rangoli begins as any good Indian meal should, with a selection of papads and dips. These crunchy fried discs of ground flour are a staple of the Indian table and were light and crisp without being greasy. Sampling the Diwali menu, the choice of food was somewhat removed from proceedings, giving us more time to enjoy our beverages while nibbling away of the moorish popadoms.
Pre-appetizers are all the rage at the moment when it comes to Indian fine dining and Rangoli is no different. Beginning with Dhokla, a Gujarati staple of steamed chickpea puree. The dish is a fantastic blend of textures and flavors with the Dhokla itself being almost cake-like in constancy. Sat upon a jellied disc of mint chutney and topped with a light yoghurt foam, the phrase ‘textural marvel’ once again springs to mind and shows just how far the boundaries are currently being pushed by modernist Indian cuisine in the UAE.
After the surprise of the pre-apprisers, things settled into more traditional territory with the starters of Zaffrani Jhinga (saffron scented Gulf prawns with cardamom and cream) and Tandoori Chooza (baby chicken leg marinated in tandoori spices). Starting with the prawn, the flesh was easily dissected from the shell and contained a subtle hint of the saffron. Just enough to taste, without overpowering the delicate flavors from the flesh. Meanwhile, the chicken was a different story, going for an all out spice sensation. With its dry mixture of ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika and turmeri, that derives from the state of Punjab. The chicken is cooked in the tandoor oven at excessive temperatures to retain the flavour of the spices.
With the arrival of the main courses, we felt like commending chef Laxmi for the beautiful Masala Boti. A dish traditionally cooked with offal. The innards are substituted at Rangoli for a beautifully pink cut of Indian lamb, crusted in spices and swamped in an addictive Kashmiri jus.
Our dining companion opted for Murgh Mussalam. A dish popular amongst royal Mughal families that literally translates as ‘whole chicken.’ Thankfully a whole chicken wasn’t offered at Rangoli, though diners are likely to be begging for more of this nut stuffed chicken breast in a creamy korma gravy.
Instead of filling us with rice (we were only provided with a small portion of Jeera rice), curries at Rangoli are accompanied by dal, aloo gobi and freshly baked garlic naan. Meaning the meal was less heavy than expected and with all dishes cooked at a medium spice level, the food was neither too hot or overwhelming on the palette. Though the heat can be adjusted based upon personal preference.
We’ve spent a lot of time on Out & About UAE writing about Indian desserts and the fact that we don’t particularly favor then. Yet the trio of desserts at Rangoli impressed us greatly. First and foremost because they were small and secondly, because (aside from the dumpling) these were unique creations that contradicted the milky and overly sweet composition that we would normally associate with such dishes.
Beginning with a deep purple Raspberry Rice Pudding featuring a semi-gelatinous consistency and a tart flavour, we moved to the Khajoor Roll. A filo encrusted date paste that put a pleasing Middle Eastern twist onto the Indian inspired plate that was more akin to a baklava than a laddu or other Indian sweet treat. The only item that didn’t really gel with us was the Jamun, a fried milk dumpling that was far too heavy and sweet for our liking.
Rangoli proves once again that Indian cooking is the cuisine to beat in the UAE at this current moment in time. All of our favorite dining experiences this year have been Indian (Carnival By Tresind, Junoon, Jodhpur Royal Dining and Tresind) and Rangoli is no different. People had informed us that Rangoli has been secretly dishing up some of the best Indian food in the capital and we can attest to that fact. Set amongst stylish surroundings and a focal show kitchen, make Rangoli the next place you dine on Yas Island.
Rangoli also offer a Friday brunch for Indian food fanatics in the form of an a la carte ‘all you can eat’ feast.
149 AED++ (soft drinks & juices)
209 AED++ (selected house beverages)
We were invited to dine at Rangoli. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE. Cover image used courtesy of Yas Island Rotana