Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Bukhara is a historical city of Uzbekistan. For centuries, Bukhara has been a center for trade, arts, culture and religion, and fell on the Silk Road that connected it to the Indian subcontinent. This pathway brought the Moghuls to India, and was home to the great Mongolian emperor Genghis Khan. With this came a great deal of social and culinary influences such as clay oven baking, the art of skewered kebabs and rustic brass cookware.
Reliving the authenticity of this historical bond, Bukhara restaurant at Kempinski Ajman recreates the charm of a bygone era with a spacious interior elaborately decorated with unique, vintage curios, brass vessels and carved wood. Even the staff here are dressed to match the ambiance with elaborately embroidered suits and golden sandals.
Apart from its ambitious stance at living up to the food of legends, Bukhara has earned innumerous awards and accolades since its opening 19 years ago, including the prestigious title of ‘Best Fine Dining Restaurant 2014’ by MENA Middle East & North Africa Travel Awards and listed among the Top 10 Best Restaurants by Grumpy Gourmet. On ever-popular foodie site Zomato UAE, the restaurant has a rating of 4.9 out of 5 (a definitely anomaly in the foodie charts of this region).
Bukhara is a franchise from Delhi, and the original branch has quite a number of notable awards including:
- Best Asian restaurant, and 37th best in the world – Restaurant Magazine, UK in 2007
- World’s 50 Best Restaurants, in 2002-04, 2006 & 2007; Restaurant Magazine
- Golden Fork award, 1991
With so many accolades under its belt, my expectations of Bukhara was soaring sky-high and I was eagerly counting down to our dinner there last weekend. First off, we were in awe with the ambiance. The unfinished flooring, the rather regal, cushioned seating, the craved wood curios and the absolutely gorgeous, earthy brass vessels had me feeling we were walking into an exotic bazaar, some other place, some other century.
At the center of the restaurant is the open-plan kitchen giving visitors a glimpse of the bustling activations that precede their meals. Skewers of meat are expertly plunged into a charcoal-hot clay oven, on another side, a team member expertly shapes out dough, slapping and throwing the expansive white cloud mid-air and stretching it to paper-thin roti perfection.
We were greeted by the very friendly, knowledgeable Nizar who was well-informed about our booking, and recognized us even before an introduction was given. We sat at our table, welcomed with the customary platter of poppadums, a spicy green chutney and a sweet papaya version as well. In adorably cute shot glasses, we were served an ice-cold, bright green, tangy lemon drink to whet our appetite and clear the palette for what was to come.
The menu comes printed on a large wooden slab, and the variety here is kept to a minimum. Bukhara likes to keep the choices limited to what they know they are best at doing. Another interesting find was how their table napkins morph into aprons! You see, at Bukhara, they encourage their patrons to eat sans cutlery and use their hands the traditional Indian way. An apron is therefore a must for novices. If you are really petrified of using your hands (or are the owner of a highly priced, immaculate manicure!), fret not… the ever-friendly staff will lend you forks, spoons and knives.
For starters, I would highly recommend their Jhinga Lasooni, a very satiating platter of succulently plump, juicy jumbo prawns that have been marinated in an exotic garlic paste, and mildly charred to perfection in the tandoor.
We also ordered Bukhara’s signature Murg Malai Kebab, a very special recipe by founding Executive Chef J.P. Singh from the original Delhi branch. These moreishly tender, moist boneless pieces of chicken are marinated in cream cheese, fresh coriander and a hint of zesty lemon, and skewered in the tandoor. This special kebab has been served in Bukhara’s Delhi branch since 1977, and is a definite must-try.
Another Bukhara classic is their Sikandari Raan, a whole leg of tender, flavorful lamb that has been marinated in a mixture of malt vinegar, cinnamon and black cumin, braised, skewered and finished off in the tandoor. The meat is shredded and easy to fork up onto the plate, and is literally a carnivore’s dream come true!
Yet another Chef’s special is the Dal Bukhara, a sinfully rich, creamy black lentil ‘dal’ that has been cooking overnight over hot embers, tempered with ginger garlic and tomatoes, and finished off with generous lashings of butter and cream. We scooped it up with paper-thin Rumali Roti and this was the only time during our meal that I actually missed a spoon… I could easily lap up this pot-full in no time if given one!
The bread basket here has an interesting assortment. First off, it’s not even a basket! Rather, it is a miniature version of a ‘takia’, the makeshift bed found in roadside food stops across India. I want to take one home, please! On our ‘takia’ sat freshly bakedRumali Roti (roti so thin its likened to a napkin), Garlic Naan and Potato-Stuffed Kulcha. My favorite was the Rumali Roti as it was the lightest of the lot given we were getting fuller by the second with all that decadence on our table.
My daughter loves Butter Chicken, so we ordered the Chicken Makhani for her… and had most of it on her behalf! The curry was brimming with tomato, capsicum and buttery goodness, and the chicken tikka pieces soaked up all that yumminess. Like the dal, this curry base is a sinful treat you’d want to spoon up by the mouthful.
Our meal at Bukhara ended with much panache with the chef coming up to our table and creating a molecular gastronomic treat right before our eyes. This expansive platter of decadence included a very creamy firni (Indian semolina and milk pudding), liquid nitrogenated kulfi and shards of Soan Papdi. Even the people seated behind us turned around and focused their phone cameras in our direction. Part of the fun here is the presentation after all!
Overall, we had a very memorable time at Bukhara. The food here is one of the best authentic Indian I have tasted in a long time, the interior design is so rustic and photo-opp worthy, and the staff are very courteous and well informed. A special ‘thank-you’ to the very friendly Nizar for making us feel so welcome. It is no wonder this 19 year-old restaurant, tucked away in the emirate of Ajman, still manages to pull a very loyal stream of patrons (many coming from as far as Abu Dhabi!). The pricing here is on the fine-dining scale, yet the experience as a whole is well and truly worth it. I’m giving them a 5 out of 5 on Zomato.