Ashiana, the three-decade-old Awadhi restaurant in old Dubai, has stood the test of time, sticking to traditional cuisine that brings back a whiff of the past.
The fact that Dubai is an absolute haven for foodies is not news. Each time you visit this glitzy Emirate, a plethora of new, edgy, glamorous restaurants offering the very latest in world cuisine, welcomes your taste buds.
Even when it comes to Indian restaurants, one is spoilt for choice. From ultra-progressive, modern fare, crafted especially for the globe-trotting Indian and located in the hip districts of DIFC or Marina to hole-in-the-wall eateries found in the crooked alleyways of Bur Dubai and Deira, Dubai has it all.
In such a dynamic foodscape, the biggest challenge for a restaurant is to sustain the interest of a pampered audience. So, what’s the magic trick? The answer, if you ask Ashiana restaurant, housed at the majestic 30-year-old Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers overlooking the stunning Dubai Creek, is to stay true to your core and get the simple things right.
With its lattice-work interiors, miniature art on the walls, mood lighting, traditional menu and entertainment featuring Indian singers belting out ghazals and Bollywood retro songs, Ashiana is quite the old Dubai favorite.
Last month, the award-winning restaurant reopened its doors after a nearly two-year pandemic-induced break with a new menu that — we are glad to say — retains its old soul despite the few modern flourishes.
Head Chef Joseph Yohannan was clear about what he wanted in the revitalised space: authentic Indian food, served with a lighter touch while using the most authentic ingredients sourced sustainably to support the local community. For the revamp, he set up a new team, headed by Chef Ayaz Qureshi whose resume includes stints at ITC Grand Maratha Mumbai, Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai and Ritz Carlton Pune among others.
The result is a menu that is rich yet light, genuine yet comforting, with the occasional surprise element thrown in. The highlights include the Pin Wheel Samosa, the 48-hour slow-cooked Lucknowi Raan, the sous-vide Daal Maharani, the wonderfully spiced Laal Maas, the unique Quinoa Kebab and, of course, the ever-popular Biryani, easily one of the best you will find in the city.
While changing tastes of customers and increasing production costs pose huge challenges for restaurants in the post-pandemic era, Chef Joseph does not feel compelled to plunge into the bandwagon of progressive cuisine that’s currently dominating the Indian food scene in Dubai. “Modern Indian food might be all the rage but not many people are willing to patronise it often. What works for Ashiana is that we have brought back authentic Indian cuisine but that which appeals to the modern diner as well,” he says.
Incidentally, Ashiana had undergone quite a few changes in its three-decade journey. After a massive renovation in 2014, it even brought Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia to lend his expertise for a while. The flirtation with progressive cuisine lasted precisely for about two years before the wheel turned a full circle and the restaurant went back to doing what it does best — authentic Awadhi food.
Currently Ashiana seems to have got the balance right — a mix of nostalgia with some contemporary twists. “Some dishes like Murg Makhni have remained on our menu since its launch and the flavours have also remained the same. On the other hand, we have introduced Daal Maharani cooked with sous vide technique. Despite some new takes on classic dishes, we haven’t taken any shortcuts when it comes to preparation. Each item is painstakingly original,” says Joseph.
Meanwhile, Chef Qureshi chose to dig deep into his childhood memories of assisting his father, a renowned chef in Lucknow, to come up with what he terms ‘lost recipes’. “We wanted to bring to the fore nearly forgotten dishes unique to a region, made with hard-to-source spices like paan ki jad and khas ki jad,” he says. “One example is the kathal vada pav — a kind of burger made from jackfruit. Similarly, even the quinoa kebab may seem like a modern take on the kebab but it’s actually a hat tip to our past where millets were used to make kebabs.”
Chef Qureshi, whose counts the Raan, Kebabs and Biryani as his signature dishes, says he will introduce more such gems in the future. “One of my favourite ‘lost recipes’ is the ghotua kebab — a lamb dish prepared in a covered handi. The meat is cooked until it gets tender, mashed inside the pot with all the spices and cooked with the lid closed. Finally, when the lid is removed, the aroma assails your senses, bringing back memories of another era,” he says.
It is this culinary nostalgia that Ashiana hopes to promote in its new avatar. If you are looking for a meal that balances the traditional and the popular, featuring delicacies that evoke memories of home, this Dubai veteran on the Creek should certainly be on your list on your next trip to the City of Gold.
Address: Lobby Floor, Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, Garhoud, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 207 1733
Noor Mahal Subz Dum Pulao
Rice 250 gms
Carrot 50 gms
Beans 50 gms
Cauliflower 100 gms
Green peas 100 gms
Onion 80 gms
Curd 60 gms
Mace A pinch
Ghee 30 gms
Mint leaves 20 gms
Kashmiri chilli powder 10 gms
Turmeric powder 10 gms
Ginger 15 gms
Garlic 15 gms
Salt To taste
Cashewnuts whole 08 gms
Cumin powder 10 gms
Coriander powder 10 gms
Green chilli 10 gms
Rose water 0.5 ml
Kewra water 0.5 ml
Saffron 8-10 leaves
Cream A few teaspoons
- Wash and soak rice for 1 hour.
- Cut all the vegetables in a diamond shape.
- Heat ghee in the pan, and add sliced onions. Once the onions brown, add ginger-garlic paste and the vegetables and sauté.
- Add curd, salt, red chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric powder and cook well.
- Once vegetables are cooked, add cream, cover it and keep aside.
- Boil the rice with salt separately. Once the rice is cooked 70 percent, strain it with the help of a strainer or muslin cloth.
- Now layer the rice with cooked vegetables. Add saffron, rose and kewra water.
- Add mint leaves and cover with silver foil.
- Garnish with fried cashewnuts.
- Cook on slow flame for 10 minutes.
- Serve hot with raita.
Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
One dish we loved: The Biryani was outstanding.
One dish that didn’t work for us: The chicken tikkas were regular.