After months of anticipation and a tantalizing reveal campaign across their Instagram account, Namak by Kunal Kapur has opened at the Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, adding an exciting new addition to the culinary options at this particular five-star hotel.
Namak which means “Salt” in Hindi revolves around a concept described as ‘Indian cuisine with global footprints’ and it appears pretty clear the newest Indian restaurant to open in the capital has been heavily influenced by the likes of Tamba and Carnival by Tresind, two UAE restaurants setting the bar when it comes to the diverse food of the Indian subcontinent.
The restaurant with its bold colour schemes, ornately carved wooden doors and brass kitchen utensils makes for a worthy attempt at replicating the vibrancy of India in terms of both personality and the food, which comes to us from Indian celebrity Chef Kunal Kapur. Many will likely recognise Chef Kapur from his appearance of Masterchef India and his judging role on the semi-final of Masterchef America alongside Gordon Ramsey.
Unfortunately, Chef Kapur was not present when we dine at Namak just a week into their soft opening phase, but the team assure us he will regularly return to Abu Dhabi to oversee the restaurant.
The dining room lacks a little bit of atmosphere (mainly due to the almost inaudible soundtrack) and although the decor is tasteful, it feels as though something is missing. An unfortunate situation compounded by the fact that service varies so wildly depending on who is attending the table. From some waiters we receive in depth descriptions of dishes and ingredients, while others barely make eye contact before scurrying back towards the kitchen. While inconsistency can be expected during any soft opening, first impressions are critical.
Situated toward the rear of the space and close to the 22-seater private dining room lies an elongated bar, churning out some truly memorable cocktails and mocktails. The Fall In Love (AED 35) is a charming blend of carrot juice, honey-maple and passionfruit, resulting in a seductivley creamy concoction arriving amidst smokey theatrics and adorned with a heart. A roaming gin trolley can also be found circumnavigating the diners and though not usually fans of the juniper based spirit, the oriental gin with Mediterranean tonic left us pleasantly surprised.
The global inspiration upon the Indian food served at Namak makes for an admirable tangent from the norm, defying expectations of what can be done with a cuisine often overlooked as little more than rice, curry and bread. Beginning with a light and fresh crab and mango salad (AED 65), our 12 course tasting menu translated into a journey into the heart of India via a number of standout choices. The vegetarian rocket and cheese paniyaram (AED 40) presenting soft rice batter spheres upon a wooden tressle, and the succulent katafi wrapped tiger prawn (AED 85) with pickled chilli cream and tobico caviar represent definite must orders.
The Kerala duck roast tart (AED 60) with its pulled duck confit, masala pastry and splashes of raspberry chutney looks more like a Jackson Pollock painting and is a striking visual surpassed only by the abundant flavours. While the sheer simplicity of the Chenna bruschetta (AED 40) hit us with pangs of childhood nostalgia, for the dish takes the idea of marmalade on toast and elevates it via the use of cottage cheese, masala and pink peppercorns, creating an unprecedented emotive connection and one that can only be found with food.
The influence of the Southern Indian state of Kerala returns for the Kerala Fried Chicken (AED 55), a lollipop of gunpowder coated crispy fried chicken plated upon a spiraling whirlwind of yogurt. Artistry aside, the dish is rather similar to the main course of Namak’s kadhai chicken (AED 90), with the latter semolina-coated chicken and delightful truffle naan combination making for the superior chicken dish at Namak.
Unique flavours continue with the arrival of paan which falls somewhere between sweet, spicy and medicinal, coming to the fore as a palate cleanser presented in a glass tumbler resembling a sea urchin.
While the main courses didn’t quite reach the heady heights of the appetisers, our black cod (AED 125) was notable purely by the rich gravy of the accompanying Malvani kokum curry and the Roganjosh struddle (AED 110) makes for a bold re-interpretation of the classic Indian dish, incasing the lamb in filo pastry similar to a traditional Austrian strudle.
Desserts look to encapsulating the true flavours of India, with the mango lassi (a yogurt based drink) converted into a mango soft serve ice cream served within a matcha cone (now that’s fusion for you) in a combination of flavours that complement one another rather well.
Despite a few obvious teething issues, Namak by Kunal Kapur makes for a suitable addition to the dining repertoire at Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi, sitting comfortably alongside Urban Kitchen, D’Capital Steakhouse and signature Thai offering Benjarong. Namak would undoubtably be our preference when dining at this particular hotel, though at times it feels like a jigsaw puzzle, taking the best pieces from other successful Indian concepts (the global-inspired cuisine of Tamba, the bold flavors of Mint Leaf of London and the playful plating of Tresind) in a combination which should guarantee sure-fire success. Despite the good food, dining at Namak feels at times like a case of deja-vu.
Location: Dusit Thani, Al Muroor Road, Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Facebook
Hours: 12:30pm – 3pm (closed Friday lunchtimes) / 6pm – 12:30am
Phone: 02 698 8137