Indian celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor should require little introduction. He’s the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine and aside from having the longest running television show in India (Khana Khazana has aired more than 2000 episodes to date with more than 500 million worldwide viewers). Kapoor is also a judge on Masterchef India, has published numerous cookery books is responsible for numerous restaurants spread throughout the globe.
To say our dining expectations were high would be a vast understatement. Kapoor has cleverly crafted himself as a brand that represents quality and consistency in a way that brings Indian culture to the mass-market. Renowned for healthy eating and flavourful cuisine, his ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ concept has gained global recognition and we were excited to experience the offerings at his first Dubai fine-dining restaurant.
Situated in Bur Dubai’s Melia Hotel, Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor (much like the hotel itself) isn’t in keeping with it’s traditional location. The space oozes a sense of upmarket charm with exposed brickwork and darkened interiors and feel at times, more like a temple than a restaurant. Like many high-end restaurants, the space is utilized well and lavishly decorated. Intimate and welcoming, Signature is an atmospheric place for a celebration and despite an initial issue with our reservation, the hiccup were handled promptly and professionally by the staff.
At the entrance stands Ganesha, the Hindu God known as the remover of obstacles. Inside, fabrics of silver and gold suspend from the ceiling and what little light there is comes from collections of candles (hence the poor quality photographs).
Tables are laid beautifully with cutlery laid at perpendicular angles and each silver rimmed plate containing the restaurants logo of a peacock/leaf hybrid – another reference to Hinduism (the peacock is a symbol of with Lakshmi who representing patience, kindness and luck). It’s these references that make dining at Signature such an interesting experience and accompanied by ambient instrumental music, we settled in for the food.
First to arrive was a pre-starter refereed to as a ‘vegetarian egg.‘ Taking on the appearance of a spooned egg yolk, the emulsified mixture is actually made from mango. Eaten in one gulp, the viscous sphere separates inside the mouth and replicates the composition of an egg yolk. Served with a tang of tamarind to offset the sweet mango, the pre-starter really worked as a powerful opener to the meal but what was to follow, wasn’t quite what we had in mind.
After setting clear levels of expectation with the pre-starter, our actual appetisers slid back down into more classical territory. No doubt the combination of fried, baked and puffed ‘papads’ were good, especially with their accompanying array of pickles and fruit chutneys (the pineapple one is superior) served in quirky shot glasses.
A quartet of appetisers comprised a cottage cheese and yoghurt sphere (impressive in design but slightly lacking in flavour), a pistachio crusted lamb chop (that despite being delightfully tender was slightly lacking in pistachio flavour), a fried fish topped with piped yoghurt and a plump and juicy chunk of chicken tikka. Dishes were presented well with streaks of yellow upon a shiny black platter. Despite good flavours the food did little to excite us to the ‘Signature’ experience that we had expected.
Things picked up as elements of molecular gastronomy creeped back into proceedings. A palette cleanser of lemon sorbet, exuded all the right notes and looked the part. Complete with whips of smoke from the liquid nitrogen engulfing myself and my dining companion.
We had high hopes for the mains with the arrival of the ‘Nareyali Dum Prawn.‘ A velvety curry of soft prawns that are cooked and served from within a tender coconut husk. The dish was presented well and the removal of the bread-sealed lid, allowed wafts of the tantalising aroma to escape. Yet despite the quality of the prawns, the gravy base was thin in constancy and slightly lacking. The ‘Mango Butter Chicken’ fared much butter due to it’s creamy nature that despite being made with Alphonso mango wasn’t to sweet. Accompaniments of rice and naan were great and the perfect way to mop up the flavorsome ‘Lalla Mussa Dal’ which has recently become an obsession of ours.
Much like the food, service varied wildly. Our main server was kind and accommodating but when he was not present, dishes were delivered to the table with an abrupt force.
Dinner ended on a high note with desserts. ‘Electric Kulfi’ is a must order for any diner to Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor. Taking a traditional kulfi and deep frying it (who doesn’t like a deep fried ice cream?) the crisp exterior is then soaked in a pistachio falooda mixture. Presented with giant sparklers, another surprise awaits eager diners in the from of popping candy. This is a fun dessert to eat and one that will turn heads if ordered.
The electric kulfi actually transpired to be the perfect metaphor for our meal at Signature. Sudden bursts of wonderful elements that when brought together as a whole, spluttered and fizzled out.
Eating at Signature was like riding a wave, with each course providing extreme highs and lulling lows. Understandably Kapoor himself is no longer involved in proceedings, leaving his name and reputation at the door. Yet this doesn’t mean that the team should rely on the name alone and hope that diners will be impressed. Dubai diners are savvy and with so many restaurants to choose from (over 8000 in one city), all it takes is to be brunt once to never return again.
Now we’re not saying the food is bad, we just left feeling a little underwhelmed. Judging by a busy dining room on a Sunday night, Signature is extremely popular but with so many other options for great Indian food in the city, the team should strive for more. The menu we sampled had some truly excellent items (the pre-starter, butter chicken and the dessert) but we feel as though momentum was lost in between and the team should be pushing themselves to strive for further excellence rather than sitting happily in the middle ground. If this is his signature, than maybe Sanjeev Kapoor needs to come back with an eraser pen for some overdue minor corrections.
We were invited to dine at Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.