In a city where good, non-greasy Indian fare is hard to find this eatery in the Al Wahda Mall extension is a dream come true.
Peppermill restaurant offers a welcome change
Walking into Peppermill, a new restaurant specialising in "colonial Indian cuisine" on the second floor of Al Wahda Mall's extension, is like stepping into a gilded cage. Golden screens with curlicue patterns loom everywhere, the chairs are covered in fuchsia and turquoise upholstery - all velveteen - and elaborate chandeliers hang from the wallpaper-covered ceiling.
But there's more: the tables are set with colourful plates and napkins in faux ivory rings, and an entire wall is given up to sepia photographs of Indian royalty.
The maitre'd, dressed smartly in black, waited until my partner and I had finished gaping at all this grandeur then, with a sweeping gesture, told us that we could sit wherever we liked - it was noon on a Friday and the restaurant was empty. Walking past deep booths hung with tasselled curtains, we opted for a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows, the traffic on Muroor Road blurred by gauzy drapes.
The service was efficient and courteous. Our alert waiter was knowledgeable and recommended, as appetisers, three kinds of kebabs: Amritsari machchli (deep-fried fish in a gram-flour batter), Rajasthani murgh ka soolah (chicken with a cinnamon marinade) and murgh achaari (chicken in pickle spices).
Just as we handed back the menus, customers began streaming in. Then someone turned on funky fusion music and the atmosphere went from deathly quiet to warm and lively within seconds.
Our first course arrived quickly and, incredibly, everything was delectable. In a city where good, non-greasy Indian fare is hard to find (odd, considering the number of expatriates from the subcontinent living here), Peppermill is a dream come true. The fish was crispy and cooked just right, the achaari chicken was tangy and the Rajasthani chicken was perfectly charred, with a hint of cinnamon at the end of every mouthful.
Coupled with poppadums, a platter of sautéed onions, sweet mango relish and two sauces - yogurt with coriander and tamarind - the kebabs did their job of raising our anticipation for the main course.
The menu was ample but we decided to go with bhuna gosht (boneless lamb slow-cooked in an onion and tomato curry), eaten with rumali roti (tissue-thin flatbread), and the all-time great Indian dish: biryani. Peppermill's version comes in a pot sealed with a dough crust and brought piping hot to your table, where the top is cut open to reveal fragrant saffron rice and succulent chunks of chicken.
The bhuna gosht got top marks, too: there was no trace of the deep layer of oil that often comes with it in other restaurants. We tucked in joyfully, conversation coming to an end and reviving only half an hour later with the arrival of the waiter and the mention of dessert.
Sidestepping the desi tiramisu my partner wanted (I refuse to believe that Indian cottage cheese makes a good substitute for mascarpone), I took charge and picked navratna, a platter of nine traditional mithai, or sweets.
When it arrived, our first reaction was relief: the portions were small and just about manageable after the large amounts of exceptional food we had consumed. After a longish breather and much admiration of the beautifully presented mithai, we grabbed our spoons and dug in, unanimously agreeing that the kaju katli (milk and cashew toffee), gulab jamun (deep-fried dumpling in sugar syrup) and phirni (sweetened almond milk with rice) were the best of the lot.
Then, trying not to groan, we eased ourselves out of our chairs, thanked the staff, who pressed takeaway menus into our hands, and staggered out, vowing to return - but not before renewing those lapsed gym memberships.
A meal for two at Peppermill costs Dh350, including service. For reservations, call 02 622 5586 or visit www.peppermill.ae. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and all reviews are conducted incognito
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