Pegged as India’s ‘next big guy in kebabs and curries’, Celebrity Chef Kunal Kapur is best known for his role as judge on India’s version of Master Chef.
At a mere 36 years of age, Chef Kunal has a lot to be proud of. He’s bagged the award for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ six times over, and has been awarded the prestigious Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship, by New Zealand Prime Minister Mr. John Keys in the field of Food & Beverage (Wikipedia).
Patiala by Kunal Kapur is Chef Kunal’s very first venture into the Gulf, and the restaurant, including the menu, has gone through a major revamp in the past two months. I was therefore very excited at the prospect of having dinner at Patiala last weekend, and tried out their very extensive, flavorful Non-Vegetarian Patiala Tasting Menu.
The restaurant is named after the princely state of Patiala in Punjab, the Northern state of India from where Chef Kunal originates.
The restaurant is suave and sophisticated. Dimly lit to befit a romantic dinner date, the modern light-bulbs feature blends in harmoniously with subtle nods to Indian architectural influences.
Like the ambience, Chef Kunal is a master at blending Indian flavors with international influences. The menu at Patiala is divided into two parts; a traditional Indian menu (Classic), and a fusion Indian menu (Innovative). Our Non-Vegetarian Patiala Tasting Menu falls into the later category.
The Non-Vegetarian Patiala Tasting Menu is an elaborate affair involving six starters followed by one soup, six mains, and two desserts. We were there for nearly 3 hours straight!
Move over papadoms, at Patiala by Kunal Kapur you get healthier toasted ‘khakhra’ instead. Khakhra is a crisp toast-like snack originating from the Western province of Gujarat, India and is made of wheat flour and ground spices. It was a flavorful change to papadoms, and I loved the tamarind and mint chutneys served along with it.
We started off the Non-Vegetarian Patiala Tasting Menu with the Grilled Canadian Scallops.
The perfectly cooked, wobbly scallop with its melt-in-the-mouth texture is served on a bitter-sweet zesty orange chutney along with a sliver of dehydrated mango. A foam of pea puree is served on the side, and the dish is sprinkled with dark chocolate chips and coarse ground peppercorn.
One moment your taste-buds are delving in the bitter zest, next you get the rich sweetness of chocolate. The keynotes of unexpected pepper heat makes this unusual flavor combination absolutely magical.
Next up was the Malai Prawn.
Here sits a king prawn, beautifully cooked in a regal gravy of butter and cream. The characteristic sharpness of roasted garlic is unmistakable, and this is further enhanced with the sharp nuttiness of teardrop-shaped onion seeds (aka Kalonji). A very indulgent piece of prawn indeed!
The second seafood entrée on the menu was the Grilled Chilean Seabass.
Chef Kunal adopts this predominantly European fish with a masterful play of Indian flavors. The seabass has been cooked in kasundi-infused olive oil (kasundi is a popular Indian tomato preserve doused in plentiful preserving vinegar) and is topped with a very moreish salty-sweet strawberry chutney. The pan-fried seabass has a deliciously golden crisp outer skin, and the inner portion is steamy soft and indulgent. The arugula-mooli (Indian radish) salad added freshness and crunch to the overall dish.
Next came my favorite appetizer from the night, Patiala’s Haleem Kebab.
When it comes to non-vegetarian Indian cuisine, Haleem is my all-time favorite meaty comfort food. Haleem is a hearty meat stew inclusive of a variety of lentils and barley, and is cooked till the meat is totally soft and disintegrated.
At Patiala, Chef Kunal has compressed the meaty flavors of a traditional Haleem into one compact pattie. The kebab is extremely delicate and breaks away under a fork. Hats off to the chef pan-frying these! I loved how beautifully flavorsome this kebab was. A must-try for meat-lovers, I want a pile of these all by themselves next time I visit please!
The second lamb dish from our round of entrees was the Grilled New Zealand Chops.
Yet another clever play of international flavors, New Zealand prime lamb has been marinated in the spiciness of Madras curry powder. To add a sweet respite, the chops sit on a puddle of mango sauce. A rich avocado butter balances out the palate with its simpler, fresher notes.
The next item on the Non-Vegetarian Patiala Tasting Menu is listed to be the Kozhi Fry, but instead, the staff insisted we tried two of Patiala’s best-loved vegetarian samplers.
Here’s a look at Patiala’s Chenna Bruschetta. Italian crisp-bread is topped with freshly made Indian ricotta cheese, and topped with bitter-sweet orange marmalade. It’s creamy, crunchy and zesty all at once!
Patiala’s Eggplant Steak is my favorite from their vegetarian options. This grilled slice of eggplant is encrusted with the characteristic hot-sweet-sour flavors of Indian street-food, and the sourness is further enhanced with miniscule bites of Granny Smith apple. With a semi-sweet tomato-based chutney to top it off, this is one serious flavor explosion I dare you to try!
All this eating was just the beginning. We were yet to hit the mains!
The main course was ceremoniously adjourned with the arrival of chicken soup. However, at Patiala chicken soup is a fancy affair and the soup itself goes by an elaborate name fit for a Maharaja with a long, proud lineage. Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly introduce you to Patiala’s Murg Malai Shorba, Marinated Bocconcini and Tomatoes.
But this doesn’t look like soup?! Wait, there is more to come!
A steamy stream of slow-cooked chicken broth is poured over the platter from a teapot.
The soup is brimming with soulful chicken goodness, and laced with the mighty heat of ground black pepper. It is light and watery, yet deep and dense with flavor. I’d love to have a whole teapot of this to myself on a cold winter’s day.
And here’s a roundup of our mains.
By this point, we were so full that it would have been wise to send off a set of bowls and share the dishes between me and hubby. This idea stuck a little too late, but I am glad it did because I got to have more than my share of the Dal Makhani!
Dal Makhani, or slow-cooked lentils in a butter gravy, is a staple of the Northern Indian province of Punjab. Given Chef Kunal is Punjabi himself, my expectations for this dish were sky-high and somehow he managed to surpass this. The dal is creamy, smooth and decadent. You can taste the melted butter with every spoonful. The richness of this dish is not overbearing, but rather comforting, and makes you want to spoon up more and more all on its own.
The Wasabi Naan went almost unnoticed while I delved into my dal fascination. It was when I scooped up some of the Achari Gosht that I raved about the novelty of this bread. Adding the unexpected Japanese heat to an Indian flatbread is pure genius! The wasabi is subdued yet adds just a hint of heat, almost akin to ginger, to everything you eat it with. Kudos to Chef Kunal for coming up with this!
The Achari Gosht at Patiala is packed with the flavors of aromatic, tangy-hot Indian pickles. The meat is soft and succulent, and the gravy deep, dark and intense.
Aloo Gobi is yet another Punjabi classic. Remember Bend it Like Beckham? Its pretty much considered a precursor for eligibility on the marriage market!
Aloo Gobi is a spicy Indian stir-fry of cauliflower and potatoes. At Patiala, the Aloo Gobi was arguably my favorite dish from the mains that night. The cauliflower and potatoes mashed in together, combined with the heat of garam masala and chili.
That is one thing I loved about Patiala. The dishes do not shy away from the original mix of Indian spices. Many other Indian restaurants I know tend to lose the true essence of Indian cooking when trying to tamper with the spice factor and catering to the non-Indian tongue.
Patiala’s Dum Ka Murg is a chicken curry, slow-cooked in a sealed vessel akin to the culinary style of Hydrabad. The resulting dish is an aromatic, creamy chicken curry subtly laced with a hint of smoked flavor.
Our meal also included Patiala’s Murg Biryani (Chicken Biryani). This slow-cooked rice pilaf is loaded with the aromatic goodness of saffron, and it really is a pity we were so stuffed by this point and couldn’t do justice to this pot of yumminess.
When we finally reached dessert time, Hubby was begging to skip this course entirely. Not one to give up on a sweet treat, I asked for one platter to share between the two of us (poor me, I had to clean this off pretty much all on my own!).
Here is Patiala’s Bhapa Doi (a steamed sweet yoghurt dessert originating from West Bengal) and Mango Lassi Ice-Cream.
The Bhapa Doi is thick, dense and just the right kind of sweet.
Punjab’s favorite sweet drink, the Mango Lassi (aka sweet mango milkshake), gets morphed into an ice-cream. The fresh, fruity play of mango flavors is a welcome respite from the dense riches off the Doi. The two desserts, an unlikely combination of East and North India, complement each other beautifully.
After our tantalizing meal at Patiala, I have now listed this restaurant as my favorite place for Indian fine-dining. Chef Kunal’s take on fusion Indian is exceptionally creative, and I love the fact that he manages to do this without losing the intricate flavors of traditional Indian cuisine.
Chef Kunal is based in India, and the man behind the magic in his absence is Chef Negi. We had the pleasure of having a brief chat with him, and will definitely be back for more real soon!
Patiala by Kunal Kapur is located in Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (right next to The Dubai Mall). For bookings and further information, call 04 4519151.