Mint Leaf of London…in Dubai – does it differentiate?
Indian restaurant concepts imported from London appear to be picking up steam here in Dubai. I am not quite sure if that’s a good or bad move, but we’ll address that later. First to dock here was Vineet Bhatia’s Indego (he now also has Ashiana), followed by Atul Kochhar’s Rang Mahal and then La Porte des Indes. Now we have Mint Leaf (of London) just open in Emirates Financial Towers, near the main DIFC building.
The restaurant, bar and lounge perched on the 15th floor impresses with floor-to-ceiling windows boasting breathtaking and sparkly views of Dubai, Burj Khalifa included. It’s all dark slate dotted with henna-inspired carved wood interiors and photography – sultry and sexy. I love a restaurant that constantly has you gazing around taking in every nook and cranny, and Mint Leaf is one of those. Needless to say the window tables are the ones to nab, and with a near-empty restaurant on a Friday evening we have our pick. Admittedly it is Ramadan and World Cup night, but given Mint Leaf opened five weeks ago, atmosphere is seriously lacking. One note though, if you’re sitting in the section near the open-show kitchen with the tandoor oven on full steam, it does get a little hot – unusually for Dubai, the air-conditioning is not blasting away.
Before I delve into the food, Mint Leaf is licensed but at the time of reviewing the wine list is limited, plus no sign of cocktails as yet – they are coming though apparently. There’s a good value fruity and fresh Prosecco (Bisol Desiderio Jeio) for AED235 a bottle. Sadly only imported water at AED35 a pop is available.
For starters we order a couple of portions of crispy soft shell crab with a garlic mayo, balsamic reduction and mooli (radish) relish to share between our trio. Cooked whole, tempura style and spiced with fennel, coriander and chilli, they look so tempting, almost crawling off the plate, but a heavy hand in the kadai (Indian wok) makes for a slightly over-fried crisp batter. On the other hand, our second appetiser choice recommended by our waiter, the tandoori prawns marinated in roasted cherry tomato and garlic with a tomato and mustard chutney are succulent and perfectly roasted.
Moving onto mains, we select a mixture of traditional and more creative dishes. A ‘Fisherman’s’ black tiger prawn curry bursts with fragrant flavours of lemongrass, kafir lime leaves and garlic, whilst the tomato butter sauce of a chicken tikka makhni staple dish is addictively good. Plenty of prawns and chicken abound in each dish, with both sauces light and devoid of ghee. A crispy duck breast stir fry tossed with shallots, curry leaves, peppers and crushed black peppercorns is excellent, but reminiscent of Cantonese, not Indian cuisine. The keema naan stuffed with minced lamb is a must-order and a meal in its own right, whilst the chilli garlic naan also impresses. The typical rice and raita dishes prevail.
A playful spin on a brownie arrives in this cute earthenware pot (a reminder of Table 9?) with a cake mixture of coconut, butternut sauce and raspberry compote – garnished with a few sprigs of mint leaves – a nod to the restaurant’s name. Well balanced and not too sweet. The highlight though to my surprise, a delightfully tangy pineapple and pink peppercorn sorbet which makes a brilliant palate cleanser, albeit at the end of our meal.
Whilst the food veers more towards traditional than contemporary Indian, and in most parts makes for well-executed fare, the service is a disappointment. A few examples. Our waitresses, whilst sweet-natured, are over-attentive and rushed in their service. We are asked by two different servers if we would like to order water – and when it does arrive, we are poured two bottles of still, instead of one each of sparkling and still. With menus in hand for only a few minutes, we are approached to take our order – no I think we need a little more time. When we do place our order for starters and mains, we are asked if we would like to select our dessert – no, not yet! A number of times, plates are removed before we have finished – one of my pet peeves as you can read here in my rant. The prosecco is not adequately chilled, and we have to ask for our flutes to be replenished. None of these service issues are acceptable on any night, but in particular a) when only three tables are occupied, b) in a restaurant already open for five weeks and c) with a per person spend of AED315 (without vino). On the upside, one waiter in particular knows his menu, confidently and humourously offering recommendations. We also accidentally knock over and break a glass which is scooped up with minimum fuss.
Thankfully prices on the Dubai menu are pretty much on a par with its London sibling, give or take a few dirhams either way. Needless to say the alcohol is pricier here.
When an imported restaurant brand docks in Dubai, expectations are high given it should arrive with a backbone of well-established operational standards. Therefore all elements of the dining experience – food, service, interior and atmosphere – should be top notch. Otherwise why transplant an existing concept, when you could create your own? So in this case, in a city overflowing with Indian restaurants from the cheap and cheerful Karama variety to glamtastic boozy options, Mint Leaf’s food and décor impresses, but the service needs polishing to compete in an over-crowded market – which perhaps given more time, it will. In the meantime, here’s to a three out of five FooDiva knife rating.
When choosing where to dine on Indian cuisine in Dubai, does an imported brand hold more cachet for you, or not?
P.S – Mint Leaf of London is open for lunch over Ramadan, as are a number of other independent restaurants in Dubai. Click here for the round-up.