I’m not usually a fan of “New Indian” cooking, especially outside India, favouring home cooking or cheap and cheerful restaurants such as Saravanaa Bhavan over expensive hotel outlets – which often offer more style than substance.
Spice Mela, however, is an exception, a place I imagine returning to. Though the interior of the restaurant, on the second floor of the Rosewood Hotel on Al Maryah island, is not a standout (even with a view over the water towards the main island), the dignified service and sublime food transcend mere furnishings.
We tried an eight-course Kings & Queens tasting menu, which featured Awadhi cuisine from North India, clearly a passion for the executive sous chef Siddharth Krishna from New Delhi, previously the head chef at Chutney Mary in Chelsea, London. For Dh295 per person, excluding drinks, the meal seemed surprisingly good value.
To begin, we were given a bowl of vegetable crisps served with two chutneys and chat masala powder. Both were great, but the crisps were too small and rounded to take the accompaniments with ease. The amuse-bouche was a deliciously moist bite of chargrilled chicken with a zingy tomato sauce. I could have eaten a bowlful of it.
The starter, lamb nihari shorba, was a slow-braised lamb soup with nutmeg, cumin and yogurt. I feared that it would be too meaty, but was pleasantly surprised – the soup was painstakingly served within a cocoon of light, fluffy paratha. Break through the roof and you are greeted with a fiery yet delicate soup full of small pieces of tender meat.
The next three courses – lamb kakori (a kebab served with saffron and yogurt), duck pasanda (sliced duck breast with cumin, red chilli and almond) and jhinga prawn nisha (chargrilled wild tiger prawn with dill) – came as bite-sized pieces on banana leaf. We both agreed that the huge, moist prawn, cooked in the tandoor, was the winner, while the duck, my companion remarked, looked like a piece of supermarket meat that had been microwaved.
Then came the three main course items. First was a slightly westernised lamb kundan kaliyan, two plump pieces of medium-rare lamb fillet served on a bed of rice and topped with a little saffron, cardamom-flavoured gravy and golf leaf. Next was macchi fish ka salan – white sea bass poached in a sauce of red chilli, fresh turmeric and yogurt. This must have been seared after poaching, as the edges were deliciously crispy. My favourite was the chicken rezala, boneless chicken pieces in a light but plentiful sauce of white pepper and white cardamom, served with yakhni pulau and roomali roti. Both dishes were served in exquisite silverware, though they could have held their own in Tupperware. Neither oily nor dry, they were a pleasant development from what I usually order.
From the main menu, I had to try the tandoori lamb chops – a personal favourite and an iconic North Indian dish. Though very expensive at Dh140 for four pieces, they were divine and consisted of trimmed chops marinated in ginger and garlic paste, Kashmiri chilli powder, salt, lime juice and coriander, then baked in a tandoor. The delicacy and taste seem to be impossible to recreate without a tandoor (I have tried).
Dessert was shahi tukra, an eggless bread pudding, served in a muddle of ice cream and what looked like a giant brandy snap. Normally, this might have been a highlight, but for me it was a postscript to earlier delights. The only negative was the price of the Voss mineral water – Dh40 per 800ml bottle. Dh120 for three bottles of sparkling water took the sparkle off an otherwise good-value night out.
• A meal for two at Spice Mela at the Rosewood Hotel costs Dh734 including service charge. Reviewed meals are conducted incognito and paid for by The National