Last Friday I had the honor of meeting a real legend of the Indian culinary world. Chef Satish Arora has a career expanding over 50 years. He started his career with the Taj Group of hotels in India, wherein he became the world’s youngest Executive Chef of a five-star kitchen at a mere 26 years of age. His trailblazing career has won him many accolades including being listed among ‘the world’s 20 best chefs’ in 1991, receiving the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from Curry Club of England in 2007, Star Group in 2016, Hospitality Leaders Choice UK in 2016, and Food Food TV Channel in 2017.
The secret to his success is his undying passion for simple, authentic Indian cuisine and this has won him a very prestigious lineup of fans including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Amitabh Bacchan, John Major… and the list goes on.
Still going strong, Chef Satish Arora has recently taken over the menu at Mahec, the fine-dining Indian restaurant in Le Meridian, Airport Road Dubai. The menu has been renovated by the culinary legend from 20th Feb this year, and he is adding more of his magic in the coming few weeks.
We sat at the open terrace of Mahec, taking in the beautifully breezy evening weather we are still so lucky to be enjoying. Mahec is probably the only Indian restaurant I have come across till date that offers shisha.
I got introduced to a brand new shisha flavor here called ‘Bahraini’. It is a mix of green apple and a hint of aniseed, and is so dangerously additive! Just look at me bellowing in my puffs.
I am still in awe of meeting Chef Satish Arora in person. With over 50 years in a very high-flying career, he has no airs at all and was going around each guest table gathering feedback. In his own words, he says he is still learning. Humble as he is talented, it was a refreshing change to be served Indian cuisine the way it was meant to be, sans any fusion or fancy molecular gastronomy.
Serving an assortment of chutneys and poppadoms at an Indian restaurant is an expected norm. At Mahec, I spotted a very innovative chutney. This is Chef Arora’s Beetroot & Tomato Chutney; a beautiful deep purple mix that is appetizingly tangy with a hint of spice.
We started off with a lemony palette cleanser, accompanied with a miniature Hara Bhara Kebab.
We left the menu choices to Chef Satish, and started off with the kebabs platter. I was a little apprehensive, imaging the usual pile of assorted kebabs to surface on our table, all with the same marination and in a serving portion for a family of 6.
Thankfully everything here at Mahec is tastefully classy. The individual servings feature four of Chef Satish Arora’s favorite grills, and the platter is skillfully plated with diagonal lines of a tangy tamarind sauce and creamy saffron.
This platter features a portion of the Murg Hawa Mahal. Chef Arora jokingly recalls the age-old anecdote where you get asked what came first, the chicken or the egg. At Mahec, both come together in this succulently soft, mildly spiced portion of chicken that is laced in a light film of cooked egg.
The other chicken bite on our platter was the Makhmali Murg Tikka, a very tender portion of boneless chicken, mildly spiced and basted in Philadelphia cheese.
We were also treated to the Lamb Seekh Kebab, a skewered minced lamb kebab that has been minced four times over to ensure the texture is absolutely ‘melt in the mouth’ tender.
My favorite on this platter was the beautifully spiced Fish Charmula, a moreishly succulent portion of boneless fish that flakes by the forkful.
Chef Arora will also be introducing some interesting drinks on the Mahec menu, and we had the honor of being one of the first to try these. Our first drink was the Chili Jam Gin, a medley of tangy-sweet berries and fresh red chili that was delightfully sweet with a hit of fresh chili scent. I am not a gin drinker, but this concoction might just as well sway me that way.
Second came the Rasila Tequila, aka tequila with Indian Pistachio Kulfi Ice-Cream. The flavors of this drink are beautifully balanced with an aftertaste of pistachio, and is an innovative Indian take on liqueur drinks.
Moving on to the mains, Chef Arora had an entire feast laid out for us that covered many of his personal favorites.
Chef Arora has a long lineup of celebrity fans, and one of his most memorable moments was creating a very special Butter Chicken for Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty absolutely loved it, and Chef Arora has patented the recipe ever since, ensuring the exact balance of flavors and quality is retained for his everyday diners as was enjoyed on the royal table.
I am not being partial to this story, but truly Chef Arora’s Butter Chicken is one of the very best I’ve ever had. The boneless bites of chicken were moist and flavorful, and that signature curry base was aromatically Indian without being overpoweringly creamy or butter-laden.
My other favorite main-course was the Arora Daal Makhani, a bowl of slow-cooked black lentil tempered with butter and other spices. This particular recipe is right out of Chef Arora’s ancestral family kitchen, a prized recipe that had me devouring it with rice, with naan bread, and even better… greedy spoonfuls all by itself.
I jokingly asked him who takes the reigns in the kitchen at home, and he happily says he leaves it to his wife as in the kitchen, there can only be one head chef. However, I am pretty sure that when it comes to Daal Makhani, Chef Arora must be given all the reigns in the family kitchen!
We also had a deliciously creamy, coconut-milk infused Goan Prawn Curry which Chef Arora had served to Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. I love how all his dishes have a gem of a story behind them. It is not every day that you get celebrity tags to dishes on your table. This curry goes beautifully well with steamed basmati rice, and the prawns were delectably plump and juicy.
The fourth curry on our table was the Dahi Pudina Gosht, a moreishly meaty, rich dish that goes just as well with rice as it does scooped up with freshly baked naan bread. Chef Arora made this for Former British Prime Minister John Major. You might be aware of John Major’s love for ‘Currie’, and this pun had me giggling like a school girl.
I’m a sucker for dessert, and after the delicious fare so far, I was really looking forward to our last course.
What’s not to love about Falooda? This quintessential Indian take on a Western sundae, complete with rice vermicelli, kulfi ice-cream and drizzles of rose syrup is usually served in tall, thin glasses with shavings of ice. Chef Arora gives it his personal twist, without straying from the original flavors. At Mahec, it gets plated daintily on a platter, and the Kulfi used is paan flavored. This was my favorite dessert from the night.
Price Charles on the other hand is a hige fan of Chef Arora’s Bombay Pudding. This trifle-styled dessert features broken bits of walnut brownie, gulab jamun quarters, and a creamy custard. The entire dessert is then baked together to give it a decadent thickness.
We also tried the very innovative Boondi Brule. ‘Boondi’ is essentially broken up laddoo, and as a child I have fond memories enjoying these delightfully sweet, bright yellow morsels with the crunch of salty ‘sev’. Chef Arora also mixes the two here together, but it is made all the richer with a brule base, then topped with egg and torched.
An Indian meal traditionally comes to a close with the serving of ‘supari’ (sweetened betel nut) and paan. Not the case at Mahec. Instead, we were given these creamy paan-flavored shots that left our palates sweetened the way only a very satiating Indian meal has the capability to do.
My husband, despite being an Indian, is not very fond of Indian cuisine. Yet he too had this very satiated grin on his face, and has been raving about how this has to be one of the best Indian meals he’s had in a very long time.
And look who else was dining at Mahec last Friday… Celebrity Chef Sanjeev Kapoor! Honored to have this photo of myself sandwiched between two of India’s best known chefs. Sanjeev Kapoor has been quoted saying “God is in detail, and Chef Satish Arora is the master of detail”. Can’t agree more.
Apart from the divinely delicious food and stylish contemporary ambiance, it was the endearing warmth of Chef Arora that has won us over as his fans. It is rare to meet a legend of his caliber who also happens to be so grounded and humble.
Enjoy the magic of Chef Arora at Mahec (Le Meridien, Airport Road Dubai). For bookings, give them a call on 04 702 2615. Bon appetit!