Chef Hemant Oberoi's restaurant aims to redefine Indian cuisine, and it does this with inventive plates, such as bite-sized portions of chaat sitting atop a slice of fruit "leather" and presented on doll's-house-sized chairs (pictured above). The rasam soup is prepared using a coffee syphon, while other dishes are cooked and served in sealed cans. Thankfully, the gimmicks elevate the experience without overshadowing the taste and cooking techniques, allowing Martabaan to walk the fine line between modern and immoderate.
Where to sit and what to expect
The brightly lit restaurant is spacious, with enough room between tables to make eating here intimate and personal despite its size. Being Emirates Palace, the eatery feels upmarket; the kind of place you should and would want to get dressed up for. The decor isn't particularly striking – a few pieces of wall art add a pop of individuality to an otherwise simple room characterised by a lot of wood. The tables by the door, close to the hubbub of the rest of the Palace, offer a bit of atmosphere. The small booth-style seats can feel a little awkward if you're with a group, but are cosy nonetheless. For a quieter evening, opt for the tables towards the back of the restaurant, but this is not (yet) a first choice if it's a romantic experience you're after.
Who's eating there?
For the moment, this new restaurant seems to attract families. It's quiet during the early part of the dinner service, but tables fill up later in the evening. It doesn't feel overly busy at any point and is somewhat lacking in atmosphere, perhaps because the restaurant is still in its infancy. Plus, its upmarket feel means most people would make reservations for a special occasion, rather than a regular meal out or dinner on a whim.
Martabaan offers creative takes on classics, such as chicken tikka marinated in Kaffir lime, Italian lime and lemon, and a paneer starter served with beetroot, cucumber carpaccio and a date dressing. Some dishes are cooked and served in a traditional pickling pot after which the restaurant takes its name, and others are highly individual. My dining partner and I are served the hummus martabaan, a flavoursome and imaginative take on the chickpea dip we know and love. It has a dash of cumin and plenty of truffle, giving it a punch, and is served with spicy lime pickle and a bite-sized bit of naan. With the hummus served in streaks across the plate and garnished with edible flowers, and the pickle contained inside a mini can, it's a cleverly elevated yet whimsical take on the Middle Eastern staple. The three-lemon chicken tikka comes topped with a fine-dining flourish of foam that tastes zesty rather than like a mouthful of bland bubbles. Of the masala sea bass, we could have easily eaten two portions. The crispy on the outside, fluffy within fillet of fish is served atop a bed of wilted spinach with a jumbo prawn and cherry tomato staked through the middle. It's lightly spiced, with the masala complementing the seafood flavours. The soft greens and a pop of freshness from the sweet cherry tomato mix up the textures beautifully.
The "can can" chicken is "an innovation of chicken pieces with tomatoes and spices, sealed in a can and cooked in a vacuum to bring out flavours," says chef entrepreneur Oberoi. The cans are opened in front of guests at the table and the result is a beautifully spiced, intensely rich and flavourful buttery chicken. The lemongrass rasam is another signature.
“This recipe was created to give a unique flavour to south Indian lentil and tamarind water,” says Oberoi. Seafood, Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are infused in a coffeemaker, so the rasam practically bursts with fresh flavours – salty-sweet with a touch of tart and a kick of chilli.
A chat with the chef
Oberoi has been the "grand chef" of the world-renowned Taj Hotels group for more than four decades, and has restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi, Singapore and San Diego.
He tells us he’s a big fan of Martabaan’s desserts. As well as a thick, deliciously sweet kulfi ice cream topped with edible gold leaf, the kitchen makes a chocolate shawarma. “It took quite some time to make. We had trials for the right equipment and it was a challenge figuring out how to make it happen by the guest’s table, which we overcame. And finally, it resulted in this unique dessert,” says Oberoi. Intrigued? You should be.
Price point and contact information
Starters are priced at between Dh60 and Dh100. Main courses go for no less than Dh100, with most pushing the Dh200 mark. There are also three tasting menus, providing a delicious overview of what the restaurant offers, for Dh369, Dh469 and Dh669. For its quirks, a sense of occasion and the esteem that comes with dining at Emirates Palace, it's well worth a visit. To make a reservation, contact 02 690 7999.