The soaring JW Marriot Marquis hotel in Dubai’s Business Bay has already become a dining institution in its own right thanks to an array of food and beverage outlets that include Thai specialty restaurant Tong Thai, the ever-popular Weslodge Saloon, Latin American hot spot Hotel Cartagena and trendy nightclub 1Oak. With restaurants spread throughout the vicinity of the five-star hotel’s two towers, the property is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Dubai dining.
Already providing guests with an overwhelming choice. The hotel continues to up the ante when it comes to food and beverage concepts and as Dubai heads into the inevitable slow summer period and low season for tourism, JW Marriott Marquis has surprised us all with the opening of Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra.
The restaurant occupies a large space on the hotels fourth floor which was previously home to another celebrity chef fronted Indian concept, Rang Mahal. On first appearance little has changed. As we’re led down an alluring corridor lit in vibrant orange hues that brings to mind flames licking at a tandoor oven or the deep colour of powdered turmeric. Two images that help to emphasis the rich culinary history behind the restaurant known as Masala Library. We pass private dining areas laden with cushions and elaborate textiles, before arriving at a small bar area that provides a charming ambiance for a pre or post dinner beverage.
The main dining room holds a charm we were entirely unprepared for! With well-spaced tables situated around large wooden colonnades rising skywards. We’re immediately transported back to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai (in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu) which we visited a decade before and a place where elephants roam within temple interiors. This trigger of nostalgia helps us form an immediate connection to the restaurant. One that is further enhanced by a glass fronted kitchen where a team of chefs work tirelessly over hot stoves, while large murals of ladies in saris cover the walls.
Our interested is piqued by Masala Library’s 12 course tasting menu (AED 245) which has been drawing crowds to the restaurant since the day they opened in Dubai. The first international outpost of Masala Library follows hot on the heels of restaurants in both Mumbai and New Delhi where Chef Kalra has built a reputation as the “Czar of Indian cuisine.” Due to his ability of transforming traditional recipes and dishes from the Indian provinces and reinterpreting them in a contemporary way. This post-modern take on Indian cuisine plays well into the Dubai dining landscape where the likes of Tresind and Farzi Café have helped to create a resurgent interest in the complex food of India.
Traditional flavours remain but the presentation throughout the culinary journey is to be applauded and admired. Beginning with a playful amuse bouche called ‘fake eggs’ where we are presented with two ceramic eggs sat within a makeshift birds nest. Inside are what appear to be the white and yolk but these are actually coconut water and spherified mango that when taken together, offer a sweet sensation that opens the palate ready for the spice sensation that is about to commence.
Masala Library revolves around intricate presentation and precision of flavours to showcase exciting dishes such as the Jhal Moori Cookie. Reinventing a street food classic as a puffed-rice cookie topped with ghugni chaat. Expectations are subverted again with the deconstructed samosa which offers a slither of pastry, tangy tamarind chutney and a mix of spiced peas upon a shiny banana leaf. Yet it’s the simplicity of the balsamic paratha, referred to on the menu as ‘Farmers Staple 3.0’ that really cements our hearts with the cuisine at Masala Library.
While service remains amiable throughout the meal we do find the pacing a little fast. We would prefer each course to be served individually rather than having the table filled with five or six dishes at a time. This would allow each dish to be examined and appreciated by diners. Especially considering the amount of effort that has gone into the creation of each individual plate.
Though not wholly original as a concept, we did enjoy the masala chai. Served from a ceramic teapot like a hot cup of chai, the cup is first filled with dehydrated mushrooms and a touch of white truffle, before being enlivened with a rich and satisfying mushroom consommé that boasts such depth that we’re tempted to ask for more.
As we devour course after course of impressive plates it’s hard not to applaud the audacity of some of the dishes. From the Rajastani mutton curry with its thick gravy and shell kachori, to the scallops moilee served upon a bed of fiery gunpowder mash or (our personal favourite) the Wagyu pathar kebab. Seared tableside on a hot stone before being plated on a replica bone. The bite sized morsel is easily the most sought after dish on the menu and it’s easy to see why.
Though it’s evidently hard to keep up the momentum when it comes to presentation, a number of dishes are purposely left without embellishment in a bid to allow the flavours to take center stage. Braised lamb chops slathered in a chutney glaze are gloriously tender, while the caviar Malai prawn uses a single prawn and pink peppercorns to reinvent the Bengali Malai curry. Even side dishes such as multan moth dahl and nizami haleem (a porridge-like dish made of lentils) are comforting and surprisingly moreish.
Things don’t let up with dessert where the milk-based Makhan Malai is served with a charcoal kulfi or the jalebi which has been skillfully progressed from the sticky fried sweet we are accustomed too and into a caviar served within an open shell that defies imagination and brings the degustation to a close.
Masala Library with its views over the Dubai Water Canal appears to have tapped into a niche given the surprising lack of tasting menus in Dubai. The one curated by the team at Masala Library takes diners on a culinary journey through the highlights of the restaurant at a very reasonable price point. It’s no wonder Masala Library is lauded in its homeland and with many of the chefs and much of the menu brought to Dubai from the original venues, we can only expect to see the same success replicated here in Dubai.
Location: Level 4, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, Business Bay, Dubai
Social: Instagram / Facebook
Hours: 6pm – 11:30pm
Phone: +971 4 414 3000
Out & About UAE were guests of Masala Library. All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.
The Verdict: Masala Library
Masala Library makes for another impressive addition to the dining repertoire at JW Marriott Marquis, sitting comfortably alongside the likes of Weslodge, Izakaya and Hotel Cartagena. The question remains though, is there room in Duabi for another post-modern take on Indian cuisine that focuses on molecular gastronomy?