Indigo: from the tandoor with a twist

Restaurant review Indian fusion at the intimate Indigo in Abu Dhabi's Beach Rotana.

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Indigo
Beach Rotana Hotel & Towers Abu Dhabi
Tel: 02 644 3000
Price for two: Dh500

The entrance to Indigo is divine: a curving marble pathway lit by candles, giving way to a stylish bar area with swish velvet curtains and low seating. This, in turn, blends with the main restaurant, a neat and seductive Balinese-style combination of dark wood tables, flanked by an open kitchen. Seating is in a courtyard-like arrangement with cosy and intimate dining areas down each side, semi-partitioned with thin cotton curtains and slatted wood. There is a generous smattering of pastel fabrics and delicate cushions; the contemporary Asian beats are relaxing and unobtrusive.

It's a far cry from London's Brick Lane area, where my half-Indian friend Lizzie, who is visiting, and I go regularly. The food, too, promises to be something different: "North Indian fusion" is what it's called, and the extensive selection under the "From the Tandoor" menu heading sounds interesting: duck tikka kebab, dill salmon tikka and Rosemary-infused tandoori prawns immediately catch our attention.

First, though, we order drinks. Despite a wonderful selection of lassis (mango, masala, saffron, cardamom, rose petal, chilli and blueberry), my friend plumps for a Diet Coke. I have the masala lassi, a blend of yoghurt, roasted cumin seeds and chaat powder. It's delicious, but in a rather small glass, so it's gone in seconds. While we snacked on poppadoms (the fried ones were good but the baked no different from your average Indian takeaway), the table service was so subtle I didn't even notice our waiter pour our water and painstakingly place a slice of lemon into each of our glasses with a toothpick.

For starters we order the Indigo kebab platter, a hefty selection of salmon tikka, tandoori lamb chops, Peshawari chicken tikka and the rosemary prawns. The vegetable platter for non-carnivores looks good too: marinated paneer, marinated cauliflower, baby potatoes and stuffed mushrooms. But back to the meat. It's fabulous. The lamb was very young and juicy, with two ribs per person, each with a lovely baked crust, and the spices were far from overpowering. The chicken was suitably succulent, with a good dose of spice. The fish, too, was good - the salmon was moist and almost creamy; you couldn't taste a lot of tikka, but it was pleasantly delicate. The prawns, however, were uneventful.

Then our main courses arrived. I had immediately gone for the ­Amritsari kingfish, described as "fried kingfish masala on a chickpea risotto with kurchan vegetables and nigela tomato sauce". Lizzie had flirted with the idea of ordering a whole Canadian lobster tandoori-cooked in pomegranate juice, at Dh273, but in the end was torn between what the menu called "classic Lamb rogan josh" and wok-cooked veal cubes marinated with spices, soya and wine vinegar. "I won't be able to get wok-cooked veal cubes on Brick Lane, will I?", Lizzie said, before going, somewhat inevitably, for the lamb.

By this time, a large and noisy corporate party had broken out in the main seating area. However, the head waitress came over and apologised for the noise, saying she'd asked them to keep it down and that hopefully they'd be leaving soon. When our main courses arrived, we were disappointed. My fish had been deep-fried and looked deeply unappealing. My friend's lamb was a large shank, on the bone and in a very rich sauce. "I expected cubes," Lizzie complained. "A classic rogan josh doesn't come on the bone because the flavour can't get all the way through." As I cracked open my giant fish steaks, I found lovely clean, firm flesh - but all the spice flavour was stuck to the deep fried coating, which I wasn't prepared to eat both for health reasons and due to the fact that I was already stuffed. The nan breads were wonderful in themselves, but largely superfluous due to the lack of liquid on both our plates.

Our deserts were more pleasing, although, by the time they arrived, we had already eaten enough for a week. "You'll have to help me out with this," I pleaded to Lizzie about my chocolate mousse. "If that's the task that I must bear," she said, diving in. She had ordered the gulab jamin, a classic Indian dessert made with flour, dried milk and cream, cooked in a sugar syrup. "Its heaven," she announced, smiling. "I've never tasted better."