Having travelled (and eaten) my way around India, I have always found it incredibly hard to find proper, authentic Indian food. Forget the oily, flavourless Kormas and limp, lifeless naans you get from most delivery services, that’s not proper Indian grub. What I’m after is an explosion of flavours, of spices that will tickle tastebuds you didn’t know existed – food that will take you to a dining table in Delhi in just a mouthful. Hearing about Amala at the Zabeel Saray, a restaurant that promises to serve up authentic Muglai cuisine (which is strongly influenced by Persia and Turkey and is famed for its richness, dried fruits and spices), I had to hang up my auntie duties for the night and try it for myself.
Housed in one of Dubai’s top hotels, Amala is a refreshing change from the over the top, pretentious and ludicrously luxurious eateries found elsewhere in the city. I was surprised at how relaxed and warm the atmosphere was, and how friendly and smiley the staff were from the moment we arrived (they are all Indian and seriously know their stuff when it comes to the menu).
Sitting down in a sumptuous booth seat with my cardamom infused cocktail in hand and nibbles of crispy fried flat breads with a selection of chutneys, it was hard not to be blown away by the décor. Soaring ceilings, big regal columns, and intricate wooden details, it’s grand without feeling impersonal and OTT. The lights are dim, the smell of spices fills the air, and if you’re not on a squidgy booth you’re sat on a huge chair that feels like a throne. So far, so good.
And then comes the problem. The menu. I want everything. There are cold starters, hot starters, curries, grills, Indian breads, vegetable dishes, rice dishes… how you’re supposed to pick just a few things is beyond me. So we didn’t. Putting our trust in the hands of our fabulous waiters, we let them bring whatever they recommended, allowing us to try a bit of everything without having to be rolled out afterwards (just). The selection of starters covered everything, from the melt in the mouth scallops with cumin, coriander and curry leaves, and the sensational samosas made with potatoes, green peas, dried fruits and coconut, to the fabulous friend chokhi tikki patties made from potato, green peas, cumin and spices, it was hard not to inhale it all – but we had to leave room for the big event, the mains.
If you’re a curry fan, you cannot visit Amala and not try the butter chicken. It. Is. Amazing. A creamy sauce with cashews, tomato and fresh coriander, the chicken is so tender and the sauce is spot on so not to overpower the meat’s delicate flavour. Mopped up with a piece of freshly baked, hot naan bread (the cheese one was my personal fave, but all of them were amazing) – it was bliss in a bowl.
If curries aren’t your thing, the tandoor tiger prawns are simply sensational. Arriving on skewers on mini grills, they are fat and juicy and served with sesame, yoghurt and aromatic spices. Or if you’re after a veggie option, the cauliflower and potato cooked with coriander, onion and and tomato masala (aloo gobi) is good enough to eat on it’s own. There really is something for everyone, and even if you think you’re not that into Indian food (like my partner) you’ll soon be converted (like my partner, who ate like he hadn’t seen food for a month).
Finishing our feast with a couple of Indian desserts, I have to admit – I was skeptical. I have a big sweet-tooth and puddings are my thing, and I wasn’t sure the traditional treats on offer would tickle my fancy. Needless to say, they did. I opted for the chocolate gulab jamum, aka milk dumplings with chocolate chips served with a sugar syrup. Gluttonous balls of squidy gooey, squidgy dough, they were super sweet so I couldn’t finish them (rare for me) but definitely worth a try. My partner went for the Phirni, rice pudding made with an Indian twist with pistachio and raisins. For someone who doesn’t normally like puddings, the fact it was gone in seconds says it all.
For a date night destination that feels like an escape to another world whilst remaining relaxed, this is it. There are tasting menus on offer so you can do as we did and let the experts to the hard work for you, and they even have cooking classes every Wednesday so you can recreate their culinary wonders for yourself – the perfect date-afternoon activity.
Amala, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm, Dubai
(+971) (0)44530444, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/jumeirah-zabeel-saray/restaurants/amala