Emily Shardlow is thoroughly impressed with the attentive service and reasonably priced Indian food at Aryaas.
Restaurant Review: Charmed by chutney at Dubai's Aryaas
With its white walls, utilitarian chairs, bare tables and metal trays, Aryaas in Bur Dubai (part of a chain of restaurants spread across Dubai and Sharjah) vaguely resembles a canteen. In terms of decor, it's clean, functional, but by no means memorable. The food, however, certainly is.
Within a minute of walking through the door we'd been greeted and seated, ordered a couple of pineapple juices and a pappad a piece, and had set to work deciphering the extensive menu. This is divided into sections and can seem a little baffling at first.
The availability of many of the dishes depends upon the time of day, for example: pakoras, samosas and bajji are only served at tea time (between 4pm and 7.30pm), whereas traditional south Indian snacks such as idly can be ordered from 7.30am onwards and the Night Meal is only available after 7pm (no surprises there). Still, because of its sheer length, no matter what time you visit, you're still guaranteed plenty of choice.
Our pappads arrived quickly, scorched around the edges, glistening with the barest slick of oil and just generally looking and tasting as though they'd been lifted straight from the pan. However, it was the selection of accompanying chutneys that really caught our attention and suggested that we could be on to something special.
These six little pots boasted a pretty array of bright colours and assertive flavours: cooling coconut; vibrant, zesty coriander; sweet onion; mild tomato; a pile of chewy, roasted garlic and a deceptively spicy ginger dip. Next to arrive was my friend's masala dosa. This lacy, wafer-thin pancake of lightest golden brown was stuffed with mildly spiced, turmeric-yellow soft potato, onion and nigella seeds. It was very tasty indeed.
Aryaas's version of this popular Indian street food is easily large enough for lunch and at Dh9 it's a steal (they offer a takeaway service). The poori masala, which consisted of two puffy balls of chewy, freshly deep-fried bread, served with a slightly sweet potato and carrot masala was not quite as tasty (the poori lacked a little seasoning) but we were soon dipping them into the various chutneys with abandon.
For our main courses, we shared tadka dahl and paneer kofta, which were both lovely. The dahl was perfectly cooked: the lentils had been stewed to the point that they were just starting to disintegrate into the garlicky, tomatoey, cumin-rich gravy. On its own, the dahl was pleasantly mild and rather comforting.
Once we stirred in the layer of aromatic tarka that rested on top, it was even better. The fresh, sharp spices, dark-green curry leaves, flashes of bright-red chilli, minced garlic and hint of shallot (all cooked in foaming golden ghee) added another element entirely.
We both agreed that we could have easily polished off the bowl and ended the meal there. That would have been a mistake, though, because when we got around to trying it, the paneer kofta was just as good. Two chewy rounds of fried vegetables and startlingly white paneer were surrounded by a luxurious creamy, smoky, vaguely aniseedy sauce. It was perfectly spiced: there was just enough heat to awaken the taste buds and lead them on a merry dance, but it stopped short of causing pain.
From the pappads and pineapple juice that we enjoyed at the beginning, to the steamed rice right at the end, all the food we ate at Aryaas tasted as if it had been freshly cooked. The smartly dressed waiters were knowledgeable and attentive but also left us alone to enjoy the meal, which is so important. When they noticed that we'd barely touched a bowl of cucumber raita, they offered to package it up for us to take home, which I thought was a nice touch.
As you can see, I was rather charmed by Aryaas. I liked the lack of pretension, the array of different dishes, the reasonable prices and the unassuming atmosphere. So, I suspect, might you.
• A meal for two at Aryaas, Bank Street, Bur Dubai (opposite BurJuman) costs Dh84.50, not including service. For reservations call: 04 357 7800.
Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.