Last week out and about UAE had two distinctly different Indian dining experiences, beginning with the molecular gastronomy of Tresind and ending with a more traditional fine dining meal at Asha’s. Both provided great interpretations of Indian cookery, one modernist and one far more classical.
Hidden amongst the replica iconography of ancient Egypt lies Wafi pyramids. An area of high-end restaurants, far removed from the food court that lies just a few floors below. Asha’s is fully integrated into its Egyptian setting of pyramids, hieroglyphics and obelisks much like the history that intertwines the countries of Egypt and India (anthropologists believe that the ancient Egyptian civilisation originated in India).
Asha’s was founded by Asha Bhosle, an Indian singer recognised by the Guinness book of world records as ‘the most recorded artist in musical history.’ A woman who has branched out into the culinary world and hopes to enamour people with her food, just as she has her voice.
This restaurant in Wafi opened almost fifteen years ago, but you wouldn’t be able to tell, due to a timeless decor or palatial grandeur. Colourful Indian fabrics cover the soft furnishings and are lavishly draped throughout the central dining podium. Bejewelled curtains of dazzling vibrancy hang over doorways, catching glimpses of the afternoon sun to refract oscillating patterns onto walls and ceilings. A combination of plush upholstery and bulbous orange lamps – like ripened kumquats hanging from a low tree – make Asha’s a captivating venue, one the feels homely, extravagant and regal, much like a Maharajah’s palace.
With a capacity for up to 120 diners, the restaurant feels like an intimate space and glimpses behind heavily draped curtains, reveal private dining areas that are generally reserved for Bollywood celebrities and VIPs. Yet Asha’s is not about exclusivity. Service is attentive and the food is a combination of Indian home-style cooking and new-age fusion. Providing traditional Indian dishes with an innovative new twist.
Our reason for visiting Asha’s was to sample the new ‘live like a Maharajah’ menu that will be available until the end of June. In addition to the regular menu, this new selection of dishes takes indian favourites and makes them quite literally ‘fit for a king.’
Dining at Asha’s, we certainly felt like royalty and were well looked after by the staff, throughly guiding us through the menu, while dispensing recommendations and in depth knowledge regarding the cooking and construction of each dish.
Starting with poppadoms and dips, we appreciated the presentation of the rolled conical popadoms accompanied by the bright colours of the dipping sauces. A prawn tomato chutney had the mildest hint of seafood to offset the acidity of the tomato, papaya chutney was sweet and fruity to taste, while the mint and coriander mix thoroughly refreshed the palette. With such attention to detail given to these complimentary bites, hopes were high for the meal that was to follow.
Asha’s offers a selection of premium beverages including beers, wines and cocktails, but being a lunchtime, we were more suited to some refreshing mocktails. These mocktails are a masterful blend of fruit and fizz and we especially enjoyed the ‘lychee lemonade’ with a hint of mild ginger and lemongrass. While the ‘very berry’ was Asha’s take on strawberry mojito, muddled with blackberries, raspberries and mint to provide a tangy, sweet and refreshing hit.
With a background ambiance of smooth jazzy grooves and the occasional Indian classic (including some of Asha Bhosle’s own hits), the lunchtime crowd at Asha’s are a refined mix of business people and couples, dining within a modernist and relaxed environment.
The Maharajah menu comprises fourteen dishes, all of which were favourites of Indian dynasties. From the ‘Sultan’s Delight’, a whole roasted chicken stuffed with egg and dried fruit (a favourite of the explorer Ibn Battuta apparently), it was easy to envision these dishes served on a banquet table in some far off palace in Rajasthan.
Yet the setting in Dubai is just as beautiful and with some help from our server we opted for the ‘jewel in the crown’, said to be the Nizam of Hydrebad’s treasured recipe. Prawns cooked in a robust gravy of onions, tomatoes and cashew nuts, plus Asha’s secret combination of spices are served as a thick mixture, placed back into their pink shells. The dish was heavy on the chilli, though not overpowering, with a nice nuttiness from the cashew nuts.
‘Tangadi Kebab’ demands to be eaten with fingers! Succulent chicken drumsticks are marinated in Lucknow spices and lightly pan grilled. Beautifully presented, fanned out in a sizzling skillet, these chicken pieces were tender, juicy and beautifully spiced. The menu described the dish as an ‘opulence of flavour’ and we would certainly agree.
The dishes presented during our three course meal were both a visual and gastronomic treat, drawing inspiration from the very best of Indian cuisine but providing Asha’s own unique twist. Be aware that many of the dishes served at Asha’s are spicy and contain a lot of chilli, this is a staple of North Western Indian cooking after all.
Main courses were the ‘Rampuri Paya Biryani’, a masterpiece from the kingdom of Rampur. The lamb is slow cooked overnight with saffron raisins and basmati rice to create an authentically Indian dish. Certainly fit for a king – a very fat king – judging by the portion size! The biryani arrives adorned with silver leaf and two delightfully curried eggs.
Keeping with the lamb theme, we sampled ‘Nalli Nihari’ a princely dish from the state of Awadh. Slow cooked lamb in gravy and lamb morels, served with a whole wheat and semolina naan and sprinkled with fennel seeds. Melt-in-the-mouth may be the most overused phrase by food bloggers and restuarant critics, but there is no other way to describe the beauty of the meat in this dish – it was truly spectacular.
As addicts of bread, we loved the naan that came in a number of varieties, with the cheese and garlic iteration being our favourite. The naan worked brilliantly with the richness of the meat and the strong flavours of the biryani and being a lunchtime, the food felt overly decadent.
Having never been a fan of Indian desserts – we often find them too sweet and far to milky – we were disappointed when the ‘Shahi Tukda’ was automatically bought to our table (we had our eye on the chilli chocolate mousse). After a couple of mouthfuls though, we were won over by the charms of this dessert, said to be a royal favourite amongst Mughal emperors. A bread pudding with a crisp base, featuring reduced milk, almonds and pistachios.
Dining at Asha’s is a lavish affair and we especially liked the concept of bringing royal classics of Indian cuisine into the modern age via fusion cookery. With portions fit for a king and a memorable dining experience, Asha’s can also be found at MOE and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Mall.
Location: Level 1, Pyramids At Wafi, Umm Hurair 2, Dubai
Hours: 12:30pm – 3:00pm / 7pm – midnight
Phone: 04 324 4100
We were invited to dine at Asha’s but all views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE unless otherwise stated.