Junoon requires absolutely no introduction, as the Dubai outpost of the New York based Michelin starred eatery of the same name. Junoon represents Indian fine dining at its best, bringing modernist Indian cookery from Manhattan’s Flatiron district to the Shangri La Hotel on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.
Junoon is the brainchild of Vikas Khanna, who was raised in Amritsar, India. Growing up, Khanna was influenced by his grandmothers cookery and the fresh ingredients from the fields of Punjab and started a catering business at just seventeen years old. His talents have since propelled him to celebrity status, a coveted Michelin star and a television personality on Masterchef India.
Junoon is a contemporary restaurant that was smaller than we expected, giving it an air of exclusivity. The restaurant is a dark and intimate space of muted purples, plum upholstery and indigo drapes. With spacious tables and booths scattered amongst ornate carved pillars and striking amber lanterns, resembling Indian temple bells. With copper accents, a large open kitchen emanates a transparency, from which you can see each and every move of the busy kitchen team, as they construct exquisite dishes before your eyes.
Attention to detail is key and even the leather bound menu takes on the appearance of an old storybook (Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book seems apt). With an embossed leather cover and intricate fonts, perusing the menu, had us salivating at what was to come as our dinner unfolded. The menu in this Dubai restaurant is said to be 65 percent the same as the one in New York, with the other 35 percent reflecting the regionality of this Arabian Peninsula address – with a visit to either location rewarding diners with unique menu items.
This attention to detail is also reflected in the service, which is discreet and unobtrusive but of the highest standard. Staff are well versed in the cookery techniques, ingredients and regional significance of each dish and appeared passionate and attentive. Diners requirements are pre-empted and knowing we were bloggers, wifi passwords were effortlessly put into our devices, without us even having to ask!
The culinary team at Junoon present a menu of both traditional and contemporary Indian cuisine. Showcasing centuries old traditional dishes, while exploring the future of the cuisine, via molecular gastronomy and innovative experimentation. Junoon brings together the most celebrated elements of the Indian subcontinent with such prevision and flair, that we were left astounded.
Our meal began with a simple lentil and chickpea samosa, which foregoes that standard triangular shape for something more bitesized. Accompanied by a vibrant beetroot puree, the complementing flavour combinations set the bar high for the meal that was to come.
The concept at Junoon is for sharing style dishes, of which multiple appetisers and kebabs should be ordered and enjoyed amongst a group of diners. For those overwhelmed with choice there is a gala tasting menu that highlights Junoon’s signature dishes, over four distinct courses. Opting for a la carte we began with the eggplant chaat.
We have said it before, but aubergine has never been a favourite of ours, though we have sampled some exceptional examples of this versatile vegetable of late. Eggplant chaat may not sound like an exciting dish, the combination of crispy aubergine, with chaat masala and a sweet tamarind chutney is something that should definitely not be missed. The word chaat is used to describe popular savoury street food snacks and directly translates as the licking (or tasting) of a delicacy. There was certainly no licking on our part, though using street food in a fine dining setting is something that should be applauded.
Arriving next were the kiri kiri shrimp, arguably the most popular dish on the Junoon menu, based on the amount of times we saw it being ordered throughout the evening. The dish presents plump black tiger shrimp with a coconut puree and a shrimp oil powder and although we are used to (quite frankly) inhaling our food, we had to stop and admire each individual component of the dish.
Being Ramadan and Iftar time, the table was filled with dates, died fruits and moorish candied walnuts on a beautiful copper Thali platter that (fittingly) resembled a crescent moon. With each element found inside a copper katori and served using delightful wooden paddles. The appetisers also came with onion puffs, which are Junoon’s unique version of a poppadom, taking the flavours of the traditional Indian snack but the texture from a Chinese prawn cracker. These crisp onion snacks were addictive and came with a cool mint chutney and a red chilli chutney, that despite being warned was very spicy, wasn’t too hot for our palette.
Each mouthful of food was something to be savoured and reflected on and the taste was further enhanced by the use of high quality ingredients. Even the breads were spectacular, from the garlic coriander naan to the Palak Besan Roti, using spinach, wheat flour and coriander to create a slightly less dense bread.
Getting so caught up in writing about the food, we have thus far failed to mention the drinks. Junoon is a fully licensed premises but for us it was all about the mocktails, which really push the molecular gastronomy technique, to create theatrical beverages. The ‘frozen pina’ uses a hollowed out pineapple which is then frozen and filled with a blend of tropical juices, before being presented to the table with liquid nitrogen at minus 74 degrees. The smoking pineapple fills the table with a thick mist that will likely turn the heads of even the most savvy of diners.
Meanwhile the ‘sandalwood grenade’ was served in a whole coconut, with an aromatic mist that conjured up images of Indian forests. Don’t believe us about how impressive these drinks were? Then check out this video:
Sampling the murgh tikka mirza hasnu, we were impressed by the tender chicken on a bed of broccoli puree and topped with a broccoli heart salad. Once again each individual element of the dish came into play, from the smaller aspects such as the puree to the crunch of the salad, this is unlike any kebab you will have sampled previously.
Kodak Seekh is a lamb kebab with a dry heat, exemplified by a crisp exterior stuffed with lamb and a green chilli paneer, placed on smoked tamarind raita and a red chilli chutney. The flavour combinations on this dish were powerful and the textures remarkable, though we did find the meat itself to be slightly dry.
Junoon means passion in Hindi and the name is apt as it’s reflected in everything from the food, to the cocktails and the service. The main courses were with our a doubt the highlight of out meal, which is strange because we were completely undecided on what to order. Thankfully the staff were on hand to assist (read ‘choose for us’) and we couldn’t have been happier with the food. The juicy shahi lamb shank was enriched with rose petal-garam masala, cumin, coriander and a saffron-honey foam. The meat was flavoursome and tender and was dissected and served to us by our friendly waitsress. This was hands down our favourite dish that we sampled and is a ‘must order’ for anyone dining at Junoon.
The shrimp malai curry was also delightful but unfortunately did not live up to the expectations following the lamb shank. The dish is by no means bad but the coconut, onion and pommery mustard combination, paled in comparison to the greatness of the previous dish. This is unfortunate as I am sure if we had eaten this first, it would’ve been an altogether different story.
What we found refreshing about our meal at Junoon was to dine on Indian cuisine without the need for any rice – something that we don’t think has happened to us before. Offering items like dahl as alternatives, meant that we could eat more of the flavoursome meats, without filling up on carbohydrates. Saying that, the Junoon spiced naan, stuffed with zaatar, gruyere and paneer (made in house) was outstanding. The black lentils with tomato cream, red chilli and fenugreek were divine, most probably due to being slow cooked to perfection, from 10am until the end of service each day!
A passion fruit and vanilla sorbet arrived to cleanse the palette before moving onto the final course – dessert! Now we have never really been fans of Indian desserts, though the offerings at Junoon have most definitely swayed our perception somewhat. Opting to abandon the usual, overly sweet and abundantly milky pastry based items. The pastry chef at Junoon uses molecular gastronomy to create some truly exciting dishes.
The ‘kulfi selection’ is one not to be missed! Beginning with a pre-dessert of nitrogen infused egg white which when placed in the mouth, reacts with the moisture to create smoke. Expect smoke emanating from nostrils and mouths in a fun and exciting introduction to the dessert offerings at Junoon. With the fun of the pre-dessert out of the way, we watched a live cooking demonstration on the creation of kulfi, the traditional Indian take on ice cream that normally takes about four hours to set. Using liquid nitrogen, the kulfi at Junoon is created from scratch in less than thirty seconds and tastes so smooth and refreshing, that you wouldn’t believe that it only uses three ingredients – milk. sugar and guava!
Backpacking through India in our youth, we became slightly addicted to the beverage known as Falooda, so when we saw this re-interpreted as a dessert, we knew we had to order it. Deconstructing the elements of the traditional beverage, we were presented with a colourful plate of vermicelli, tapioca pearls, basil seeds and fruit jellies. On top sat a sphere of chocolate, which once broken, revealed the pink rosewater and milk combination that would secrete into the other ingredients to create this unique and sophisticated take on a childhood favourite.
Our dining companion was not enamoured with the falooda (it’s perhaps to much of an acquired taste), instead opting for the ‘Green Apple.’ The manager had warned us that this was not a tractional Indian dessert and we think that may have been what sealed the deal for us. Arriving amid a haze of aromatic smoke, sat a hand crafted, sugar spun green apple – an intricate dessert than can only really be described as a work of art. Not wanting to smash into sugar sphere for ruining all of the hard work that went intocreating it, we eventually plucked up the courage.
Encased within was a star anise and honey sorbet and cinnamon mousse, which surpassingly was not cold and had the texture of an apple sauce. Underneath were cubes of sticky ginger and although presentation wise the dessert was spectacular, in terms of flavour we did find the apple to be slightly artificial.
Despite this, both desserts were impressive and without a milky pastry in site, we thoroughly look forward to working our way through the remainder of them in the near future. From the chocolate coconut to the malai pearl, the artistry behind these desserts can’t be faulted.
With molecular gastronomy being all the rage in Dubai at the moment, it’s strange that the establishments that pull it off so well, are the Indian eateries (Tresind, Farzi and now Junoon). The concept only works if it adds something to the food, otherwise it is nothing but a cheap gimmick (smoke and mirrors so to say). Fortunately at Junoon the gastronomy and theatrics are used to enhance the dining experience to great affect and complement the magic of the food and the service.
Now although the Michelin star rating may not exists in the UAE yet (it is rumoured to be introduced within the next year or two), Junoon acts as a stunning pre0cursor for the high standards of food that diners can expect at this level of culinary showmanship.
Location: Level 2, Shangri La, Sheikh Zayed Road, Trade Centre Area, Dubai
Hours: 12pm – 3pm / 7pm – midnight
Contact: 04 405 2717
We were invited to dine at Junoon. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.