For those who can't claim to be Palm-dwellers, a visit to a restaurant that sees us venturing all the way up the trunk of Palm Jumeirah and then halfway back down the West Crescent comes with an added weight of expectation: it would be a long way to travel for a mediocre meal. Happily, Amala, the Indian restaurant located in the rather salubrious Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, is worth the trip.
The restaurant serves Mughal-style food in a sophisticated manner. It doesn't reinvent, refine or modernise the cuisine, so it would be a mistake to regard it in the same light as Indego by Vineet at Grosvenor House.
The room itself has a regal feel to it: several large columns dominate the space, intricately patterned tiles line the floor and large freestanding lanterns flicker away. In short, it's rather elegant.
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Amala offers a set-price menu, which considering the standard of the food, I think is reasonable. For Dh225 you have free rein to order as many different dishes as you like. If you find a dish that you particularly enjoy, then you can polish the plate off and order it again, with a certain degree of abandon - which is exactly what we found ourselves doing a couple of mouthfuls into an excellent scallop starter. Fat, squidgy scallops had been flavoured with cumin and coriander, were sticky with caramelisation on the outside and tender and soft in the centre.
We also shared the murgh kathi kabab, which although not quite as delectable, was still very good. Pieces of diced, charred chicken and meltingly tender vegetables were winningly spiced and came wrapped in a roomali roti (flatbread) case, with an intriguing sour yoghurt sauce on the side. Not the lightest of starters, but a very enjoyable one. My friend also tucked into the chicken shorba, a thin, slightly sweet, very creamy soup. Neither of us thought that it tasted particularly of poultry and my dining companion kept pausing to remark on the unusual, vaguely nutty, flavour. Nonetheless, he finished the bowl, which certainly says something.
When the main courses arrived, they too were very successful. A succulent minced lamb kebab was packed with mint and coriander flavour, while my order of till jinga brought us a couple of seriously large, sesame-seed-speckled king prawns that were served tail on, straight from the tandoor. This is an extremely simple dish, but one that showed attention to detail in the cooking. The outside of the prawns was scorched from the heat of the clay oven, but the meat itself was lovely and moist. The portions at Amala aren't huge by any means (two prawns per portion, for example), but then they don't need to be because at the back of your mind, you know you can always order more.
Amala's butter chicken was stellar and featured tender pieces of meat, simmered in a mellow, tomato sauce that was rife with crushed cashew nuts and seriously rich. The slow-cooked black lentils in the dal amala had been caught at the perfect state - somewhere between just holding their shape and melding together to form a thick sauce - and fenugreek leaves, chopped coriander and fresh tomatoes provided freshness and depth of flavour.
A silver basket overflowed with a selection of naan breads: some were scattered with minced garlic, others stuffed with a layer of melted cheese, but all were thin, warm and floppy, blackened around the edges and with a glistening surface.
By the time the dessert menu was presented to us, I think both our appetites had been more than sated. After what was a very tasty but undeniably heavy meal, the thought of ras malai or banana and chocolate samosas was simply too much. Instead, we shared a selection of fresh fruit (which was suitably refreshing) and some pistachio kulfi and mango sorbet. The kulfi was sweet and dense with its familiar icy particles, but the mango sorbet had an odd, slightly slimy, overly gelatinous texture and wouldn't be something that I would order again.
Sorbet aside, the food we ate at Amala was very good, our waiters were attentive, cordial and well-informed, and at Dh225, the cost of the set menu adds to the allure. If the price were to rise, it wouldn't be quite so appealing.
Our meal at Amala, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, cost Dh526, including service, a large bottle of Aqua Panna and two espressos. (Set food menu Dh225 per person). For reservations call 04 453 0444. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.