Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar – traditional or fusion Indian?
Since I interviewed Atul Kochhar last year at Taste of Dubai when he also showed us how to make sea bass curry, I’ve been longing for his Indian restaurant, Rang Mahal to open at the newish JW Marriott Marquis Dubai – after all his London restaurant, Benares, does sport one Michelin star.
So seven weeks into opening, we find ourselves, with hostess guiding us, walking down a long corridor flanked with opulently decorated booths, passing a small bar without a soul in sight sadly on a weekend, before entering the restaurant. No surprise Rang Mahal translates to Palace of Colour with rich red, orange and ochre murals gaping down at us, whilst giant ornate columns dominate the vast high ceiling room but with rather oddly, grey utilitarian flooring. The restaurant lacks intimacy with a huge divide between the windowed kitchen and the dining tables, in particular ours, where we overlook a patch of green with baseball match in full swing. Not quite a Prime 68 view, but we’re only on the fourth floor.
As vast as the restaurant is, so is the menu with many enticing dishes from small dishes and salads to main courses divided into five forms of Indian cooking – tawa griddle, sigri charcoal, tandoor oven, plus curries and biryanis – all designed for sharing. With the dimmed lighting not helping my photography, my food pix are really not worth showing here so I hope my description paints a picture.
Hungry bunnies that we are, we start off with a couple of grills as appetisers - griddled lamb chops and charcoal-grilled Gulf shrimps. Succulent morsels of lamb fall of the bone, whilst the fennel marinade gives a delicate fragrance intensified by a rich Telicherry black pepper, an extra-large variety from the Malabar coast of India (so Google tells me). Finger-licking fodder. Good to see Atul living by his promise of sourcing local where possible – the Gulfite shrimps are truly ginormous marinated in lime and lemon with plenty of herbs (coriander?) thrown in – so soft and juicy. Teeny pickled carrots on the side.
Moving onto our real mains, I am keen to see how Atul’s sea bass curry compares to the dish from Taste even though the ingredients differ slightly. In this case line-caught – not sure where this one’s fished from – clearly not local though. A little over-cooked I have to say slightly disguised by a rich green mango and coconut sauce – but the mustard tempered mashed potatoes are way too stodgy an accompaniment. On the other hand, the slow-simmered spiced lamb curry swimming with onions and tomatoes is a real treat for our taste buds – all swiftly mopped up with steamed rice, paratha and generous lashings of refreshing cucumber raita. The black lentil dal infused with tomatoes and garlic is velvety and buttery – pure soul food. A side order of griddled al dente asparagus spears with a sprinkling of sesame arrives on a bed of chunky onion and tomato masala and is quickly polished off.
Atul describes his cuisine in my interview as ‘British Indian fusion food’, but I reckon he’s more of a traditionalist without being a purist though – quite different to Sanjeev Kapoor’s fare at his restaurant here in Dubai, Signature. Anyhow however one chooses to describe his cuisine, bar the one sea bass dish, the food truly impresses.
Well worth noting our wine of choice for the evening, a Dindori Reserve Shiraz is from Sula vineyard in India (priced at AED 450). It was Sanjeev Kapoor who first introduced me to Indian wines last year, and am glad to say our silky tipple didn’t disappoint – but sadly it’s the only Indian choice for reds on an otherwise, hugely comprehensive wine list.
Service is spot on, attentive without being intrusive, with courses well spaced out, but despite a near-full restaurant, the place seriously lacks atmosphere not helped by the layout I mentioned earlier. If you exclude our two bottles of vino, price per head is AED 344 per person which is pretty reasonable given our order of four mains and a number of side dishes just for the pair of us. Admittedly we skipped dessert, but one thing’s for sure next time, am leaving tummy space for the apple tatin – perhaps that’s where the fusion influence shines through. I would have loved to give you a four, but with ambience seriously amiss at Rang Mahal, a key component of any dining experience, here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.
Worth noting the ground floor wine bar, Kork, where our evening started with some bubbles is a little sterile to say the least – unlike the Lounge with this clever wall display of 1,326 bottles. And no I didn’t count them.
Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar is located on the fourth floor of the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai on the Sheikh Zayed road, Business Bay. Open daily for dinner only. T; +971 4 4143000. AED 819 per head including two bottles of vino and water. Licensed.
How do you prefer Indian fine dining – traditional or fusion? Where do you head to for a boozy Indian meal?