Amal at the upscale Armani Hotel serves surprisingly down-to-earth sub-continental fare, that leave you yearning for more
To be honest, I have never ventured out to a 5-star restaurant for desi food — between home-cooked food and the plethora of subcontinental restaurants dotting Dubai, why would I try upscale?
It was, therefore, with a slight sense of trepidation, that my date and I looked at Amal as a possibility to celebrate a special occasion. Amal is the Indian restaurant at the Armani Hotel located in the Burj Khalifa — yes, how much more higher could I scale (pun completely unintended)?
Entering the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to discover understated elegance. I don’t know what I was expecting — obvious statements of luxury and opulence perhaps?
Tucked away on the third floor, Amal is not instantly apparent, but the greeting at the entrance by hostesses in traditional garb was gracious and warm. A welcome drink gave us a hint of the culinary surprises awaiting us: an interesting fusion of watermelon, mint, and herbs and spices. Very refreshing.
The restaurant is vast and spacious with symmetrical, almost pristine, interiors. Again, I am not sure what I was expecting, possibly a more resplendent setting with Indian overtones. By this time, I was beginning to wonder what the food would be like — and hoping it wouldn’t be all this new-fangled fusion-food type.
After settling on our choice of beverage, we opened the menus and struggled and struggled. Not because it was all ‘new-fangled’ but because everything sounded so appetising. Fortunately, Jiten Joshi, the affable chef of Amal, offered to help out and saved us from what may have been an unbecoming exercise in gluttony.
We realised that the unassuming Jiten can talk (on all things culinary) as well as he cook: he was voted Ethnic Chef of the Year 2010 by the UK Craft Guild and has cooked for royalty and politicians including Prince Charles and Bill Clinton, as well as for culinary giants such as Ferran Adrià, Pierre Koffmann, Michel and Albert Roux and Raymond Blanc.
We finally settled on Cheemen Porichattu and Amritsari Seekh. Cheemen Porichattu is prawns cooked in traditional Kerala-style by wrapping them in a banana leaf. The dip was interesting — green apple and ginger gel giving a tart twist to the spiciness of the prawns. The seekh, made of well-spiced lamb mince, was cooked in a tandoor and had a melt-in-the-mouth consistency.
Not one with big appetites, we went easy on the main course. I ordered Gosht Vindaloo, lamb in a typical Goan-style spicy gravy, one of my all-time favourites (having lived in Goa for several years). The lamb was tender and the gravy full of flavour (but I have to confess though that the Gosht Vindaloo cooked in my neighbour’s kitchen in Goa is still the best in the world!)
My companion ordered Hariyali Murgh: chicken breast, smeared with spice butter and oven-roasted. It was served with a sauce made of onions, ginger, tamarind, coconut milk, curry leaves and coriander. She declared the sauce to be ‘heavenly’ (and wondered whether the chef would share the recipe) but couldn’t quite work her way through the chicken: the surface tastiness hadn’t quite penetrated the inner layers, she said, which made it a bit of a bland experience.
All this time, the service was attentive without being intrusive. I hate attendants hovering around regardless of their good intentions. It’s an instant loss of appetite — this goldfish bowl style of dining.
To round off the evening, we ventured out on to Amal’s spacious terrace that overlooks the Dubai Fountain — it was surprisingly quite pleasant — and indulged in a Pistachio Kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream). This might seem like a deceptively simple ice cream but it’s actually quite difficult to get the consistency and flavour just right. It was delicious — the only regret being that we ordered only one portion to share. Though thoroughly tempted, my date decided it was just better to stay with one — said her calorie clock had just sounded the threshold-for-the-day alarm.
Amal, in Arabic, means hope. And we got much more than we hoped for. Would we go again? Yes, but I’d pick a different time of the year and a different table — the balcony would be the best bet.
Amal is open for dinner only from 7pm to 11pm daily, even during the holy month of Ramadan
In Seven Words:
Succulent, mouthwatering, delectable, flavourful, spicy and zesty.
What I liked: Most definitely the tangy, finger-licking Gosht Vindaloo.
What the date didn’t like: The Hariyali Murgh. Despite the heavenly sauce it was a bit bland.
Cost for 2: Dh500
Contact: Armani/Amal, Burj Khalifa, Dubai. For reservations, call 04-8883444 or email email@example.com