It was a strange menu. Among Zari Zardozi's specialities was 'tandushi', which, perhaps ill-advisedly, combines Japanese sushi with Indian tandoori spices.
Zari Zardozi, Abu Dhabi
The name Zari Zardozi pays homage to the golden and silver metallic thread embroidery, which traditionally adorned the clothing, furniture and wall hangings of Mughal royalty. This Indian-fusion restaurant, tucked away beyond drooping foliage near Le Royal Meridien's swimming pool, had precious few zardozi flourishes in attendance on our visit. It did, however, have a striking contoured ceiling, cool marble floors, the occasional sculpture and tandoori-red walls - though the only adornment upon the wall beside our table appeared to take the form of splattered raita sauce. Undeterred, we grabbed a couple of menus to see what further delights we could make an unruly mess with.
It was a strange menu. Among Zari Zardozi's specialities was "tandushi", which, perhaps ill-advisedly, combines Japanese sushi with Indian tandoori spices. Since we could only envision ourselves pinging that against the walls in a fit of indignant outrage, we hastily turned the pages. We then discovered detailed calorie counts next to the so-called healthier options, courtesy of the dieting company BiteRite (the company's shared owner). And so we skipped another few pages until we'd found something we might actually enjoy.
The fabled raita sauce arrived next to a basket of crisp coned pads, and it was too good to waste on the walls. The creamy, minty dip went exceptionally well with the simple-but-fresh onion salad with whole green chillies, which materialised seconds before our shared starter of fish shashlik. Four abundant mini-kebabs of dewy and tender barbecued hammour, soft peppers and smoky onion lay under a thick slathering of bright red barbecue sauce. It was very rich, sweet and mild, but it seemed that somebody had gone a little overboard with the tomato ketchup.
There was a long, long pause before the main courses arrived, during which a plate still thick with congealed shashlik sauce enveloping four stripped skewers began to stagnate in front of us. We resisted the temptation to recreate a Jackson Pollock on the wall before it was eventually replaced with the dal makhani. The wonderfully buttery black lentil delicacy was brought to the table in a miniature bucket (surely the vessel of choice for any aspiring abstract expressionist). Its rich smoky flavours were offset masterfully by the sweet fruit, grapes, apple and cherry of the Kashmiri pulao rice, which had been cooked dum pukht style, underneath a seal of dough stretched across the top of the pot. The soft grains of basmati were swamped by the substantially spicy sauce, tandoori-chicken pieces and green peppers of the kadai chicken. But instead of making an almighty mess, we assiduously mopped it up with a helping of soft garlic nan.
We were fit to burst, and wondered if the previous raita-splashing diner at our table had literally done the same. But, undeterred, we ordered the chocolate jalebi for dessert. The deep-fried pretzel-shaped knots of sugary batter were coated in solidified white chocolate, but were too sickly sweet to finish. It was typical of a meal that had delighted and disappointed in equal measure. This inconsistency, coupled with the dirty walls, revealed a restaurant that was perhaps content with its captive audience of business travellers and occasional holiday-makers staying at Le Royal Meridien. But in a city that boasts a rich tapestry of excellent and inexpensive Indian restaurants, Zari Zardozi must raise its standards to avoid losing the thread.
Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa Street, 02 674 2266. Average price of a meal for two: Dh250-300.