Reported by Loren Penney
Having been a long-standing fan of Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Benares in London, I was rather excited to finally visit Atul Kochhar’s Dubai offering in the form of Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar at JW Marriott Marquis hotel.
Whether you’re a fine dining connoisseur or a self-proclaimed epicurean, this cavernous restaurant will definitely be on your radar. Fusing the traditional with a touch of the contemporary, Atul brings the vibrancy of New India to life with his eclectic take on modern Indian cuisine.
Located on the 3rd floor of the world’s tallest hotel nonetheless, Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar is almost other-worldly in its setting. Black gloss is set off with the boldest of blood red and the crispness of burnt orange to create a space that is as lofty as it is intimate. Statuesque pillars seemingly prop up the ceiling and hidden booths line the runway that separates the bar area and the restaurant itself, perfect for romantic tête-à-têtes.
There’s a sense of the theatrical before you’ve even glanced at the menu, something that Dubai foodies lap up as they flock here for that important instagrammable moment.
Here to try a combination of two of the restaurant’s menu offerings – Street Food of India and Journey across India – my expectations were in perfect proportion to the size of the space itself. Having achieved his first Michelin star back in 2001, Atul is not only an international celebrity chef but is also the founder and head chef of one of my favourite European restaurants – Dubai has a lot to live up to.
Street Food of India is a great new bar food concept that features light bites inspired by the vibrant street food of India, supplemented with delicious cocktails. Simple in its ask, simply choose from a selection of bites (the price increases with the quantity chosen) and snack until you’re full. With delicious petite-portions of Keema Toast, Delhi inspired Lamb Kebabs and Kori Kempu ( Atul Kochhar’s version of crispy chicken nuggets with a Southern Indian twist ) it’s a great way to enjoy a lighter take on Indian food or to enjoy as an early-evening starter. This street food menu is served daily from 6pm.
For anyone that finds pleasure in the flavours of Indian Cuisine, the restaurant’s Journey Across India is a definite must-try. A 4-course curated menu that features an array of dishes from different regions in India, all exquisitely presented. Dishes on the menu pay tributes to prominent personalities of Indian Culture and are dedicated to their places of origin – a clever concept and something entirely unique in both its offerings and its aesthetics. These people have glorified Indian by their contribution to society and have inspired fellow countrymen to excel and evolve.
The first course, a selection of street savouries from Delhi, is dedicated to Sunderlal Bahuguna, a noted environmentalist who initiated a chipko movement in India aimed at protecting and preserving Himalayan forests.
This is a restaurant that provides an education alongside a gastronomic feast and I’m of the mind that more venues should take note.
Something that I must say/warn you about this particular tasting menu is that there is a lot of food so it’s best to arrive early and hungry. Staff are conscious to inform me not to peak too soon as they see me hungrily attack a pile of panipuri. This selection of miniature dishes is showcased in inventive ways, I even spy a tuc tuc housing Phaldari chat. Each course is paired with a cocktail and you’re weaned into the experience with a fruity alcoholic pomegranate concoction that has more than an undertone of chat masala. Genius.
In full swing, the second course pays tribute to Dr. MS Swaminathan, also known as the Indian Father of Green Revolution, a programme under which high-yield varieties of wheat and rice seedlings were planted in the fields. Here, an explosion of flavour and spices await. Delve into Kadal Virunthu (seafood in coastal flavours), Kariveppila Koli (curry leaf chicken) and attirachi kurumulak (pepper goat masala) complemented by a glass of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
A breather may be required as your second main course (course three to be exact) is still to be served and paying homage to India’s first female teacher, Savitribai Phule, its my favourite course of all. The dahee nu murghi ( stewed chicken in yogurt) is excellent and it’s the first time I’ve tried Goan style fish curry.
Desert is thankfully adjusted to your palette and appetite and I’m pleased to see that my fourth and final course is a beautifully presented one-plate only offering. Dedicated to Abanindranath Tagore, an Indian painter and artist, it’s fitting that this particular dish is so beautiful in its presentation. This is matched with a Tequila infused coffee cocktail that rounds off the evening perfectly.
After 3 hours of non-stop feasting, my journey is complete. I feel as if I discovered not only the remarkable culinary offering of New India but also the very best of Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar. From the modernity of the dishes to the vibrant colour of the restaurant’s interior, reminiscent of Rang Mahal itself, it’s a treat for the both the senses and the mind. The Journey Across India is available daily from 6pm and AED 275 per person.