Chawlas 2 (pronounced ‘Chawlas Squared’) has all the makings of an epic rags to riches story. With humble beginnings in Ludhiana (in India’s Northern state of Punjab), the very first branch was christened Chawlas, and earned a reputation with its one-dish menu serving their signature Cream Chicken.
Till this very day, their Cream Chicken remains on the menu, yet the options have multiplied to include an extensive range of North Indian favorites. Over a span of 56 years, the restaurant stays true to its roots, keeping the flavors unabashedly authentic, sans any commercial frills and has over 100 outlets worldwide including India, Australia, Canada, the United States and is now open in Dubai. With a wider menu and a global presence, this 56 year old eatery now equates to Chawlas squared!
In Dubai, Chawlas 2 is located in JLT (Lakefront Icon 1 Building – Cluster M, below Zoom Supermarket). The restaurant itself is rather long and narrow, yet the bright halogen lighting and the chirpy eye-catching saffron upholstery deceptively give the illusion of a wider space.
We were a table of eight enthusiastic foodies, and it was also an honor to be served by a third generation Chawla. Vani Chawla had flown in from Delhi to be with us.
Dining at a Punjabi joint, ofcourse we had to have a glass of lassi! At Chawlas 2, you can choose to have yours sweet or salty. I went for the later, and really liked its thick, enticing consistency. However, blame it on the warmer weather, but I would have liked mine a little more chilled.
We started off with a round of assorted grills. There was a Fish Irani that got a great deal of speculation from our group. Being an Indian grilled fish, why was it called Irani? Was it the white colour of the kebab, so akin to the very fair complexions of Persian beauties? Or perhaps this kebab was based on a recipe, inherited by the Iranian ancestry who happened to stay on in India way back in Mughal times. The fish is served with a coleslaw on the side. This isn’t your regular KFC variety, it has a slight hint of ‘Indianness’ owing to what I suspect to be roasted cumin.
We also had Chawla’s Tandoori Aloo. These thick slices of parboiled potato have been hollowed and re-stuffed with a finely sliced vegetable and cottage cheese mixture. I was particularly impressed with the rim of these potatoes. It has a delectable crunch owing to a a papad crumb batter.
However, my favorite appetizer on the table was Chawla’s Peshawari Tikka. These chicken morsels might be on the spicier side for some, but have an absolutely ‘melt in the mouth’ texture that tempts you to reach out for more.
Here’s a look at the curries we got to try at Chawlas 2:
Let’s start with Chawla’s signature Cream Chicken curry. Curries are not the most photogenic of dishes, and to make things more complicated, this one takes on a rather dull grey hue that is more becoming of a mushroom soup. You can definitely taste the cream in the curry, but the texture is not thick and creamy as the name denotes. It has a pouring consistency that is better suited to have on plain white rice as opposed to a buttered naan. The curry is laced with a mild peppered garam masala taste, and would be suitable for a wide range of spice tolerating palates. It is an Indian curry that isn’t mainstream, and I believe this was an invention created by the founders way back in 1960.
I have to admit I liked their Fish Curry better. I am not a huge fan of fish, but the spicy tomato base was absolutely divine, and I enjoyed scooping it up with Missi Roti (a traditional Punjabi flat-bread made of ground chickpea flour).
We also tried the Paneer Dhaniya Adraki. This is an absolutely rich, thick curry featuring cubes of cottage cheese in a mildly spiced coriander and ginger cream base. This is a great option for those who want to stay clear of overly spicy curries, yet still crave a very Indian dish.
My favorite from the night was Chawla’s Dal Makhani. This well loved slow-cooked black lentil dish is moreishly buttery, and has all the makings of the perfect comfort food. I had two generous servings, one with my Missi Roti, the other over steamed rice.
The Bread Basket at Chawlas 2 deserves a special mention. It comes with a selection of 5 popular Indian flatbreads (Missi Roti, Lachha Paratha, Pudina Paratha, Butter Naan and Tandoori Roti) and only costs AED 18!
For those of you watching the waist, you can also opt to have your Butter Naan plain, sans any butter.
At Chawlas 2, the sides are also very North Indian. I really enjoyed their Kachumbar Salad (a very fresh, tangy spiced salad featuring very finely cut pieces of cucumber and shallots), and was very excited to see they also served Boondi Raita (an yogurt-based side featuring deep-fried crispy balls of chickpea batter, that is rarely seen on Indian menus).
While I indulged in my mains, I was sipping on Chawla’s Fresh Lime Soda (an Indian lemonade with the fizz of soda, beautifully balanced with the sweetness of sugar and a hint of salt).
Before long, it was time for my favorite round, desserts ofcourse! Everyone on our table were divided between Gulab Jamun or Kheer, but I was adamant on trying Chawl’a Moong Dal Halwa.
I am happy to say I definitely won the ‘dessert ordering’ round as my halwa was the most sought after little bowl on the table. Made of ground moong beans that have been meticulously sauteed in rich Indian ghee (clarified butter), this is one sinfully smooth, buttery treat you can’t afford to miss.
I am always a little skeptical about ordering kheer in restaurants. For me, this rich Indian rice pudding needs to live up to the slow-cooked, simmered down milky variation I am accustomed to from my mother’s kitchen. Many a time I have been served sweetened cold milk with rice, and didn’t want to risk it at Chawla’s. However, I stole a few spoonfuls from my friends and was mighty impressed! At Chawlas 2, they definitely haven’t taken any shortcuts with their Kesari Kheer. The thick, milky consistency has all the makings of a well toiled over pot of boiling fresh milk and the addition of saffron and silvers of almond elevates the humble kheer to regal status.
I was far too full to try Chawla’s Gulab Jamuns. My fellow bloggers report it to be soft, smooth and decadently sweet. It is served warm, with a generous drizzle of rose infused sugar syrup.
After a gastronomic trip down Punjab’s culinary past, I was slipping into a food induced coma. If only they had beds for a quick lie-down! Punjabi cuisine is well known for being rich, nutritious and full of dairy goodness. The tantalizing aroma of ghee was evident in every dish, and what I loved best about this little joint is how they have kept to traditions, keeping the dishes authentically Punjabi without the commercial frills. The ambiance is bright and inviting, a friendly nook where you can leave table formalities behind and really dig into great tasting curries.
If you’re heading up to Jumeirah Lakes Towers, do look them up. Chawlas 2 is located in Lakefront Icon 1 Building, Cluster M. They also do deliveries, and cater for events. Call 04 514 9271 or 050 850 2483 for details.