This is not just ANOTHER Indian restaurant in Dubai
In addition to great North Indian fare, Naya offers a weekend feast at just AED 150
If you’ve been in Dubai for a year (or even less) chances are you’ve already picked up words like habibi ('my beloved' in Arabic) or pare ('friend' in Tagalog) and many more in Hindi, Urdu and Farsi. Today we throw light on one more word: 'Naya' which means 'new' in Hindi.
So when you make your way to an Indian restaurant (which come a dime a dozen in this city) with the name Naya, there jolly well better be something "new" about it.
The evening kicked off on a bad note. We were running late because of the terrible weather (the occasional Dubai shower and its traffic woes) and the repercussion: our reservation was pushed back an hour. In their defence: due to the rain, diners with terrace bookings had to be moved indoors so the restaurant was at full capacity. Reason enough!
Located at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Naya can be accessed from the hotel itself or a separate entrance on the outside. We opted for the latter. The door works as a common entry to nightspot Mahiki, Jamie’s Italian and Naya. A walk up the winding staircase to the first floor and we were at the North Indian restaurant.
The hostess behind the wooden console was quick to welcome us and showed us our table. While seated we couldn't help but notice the beautiful geometric patterns and coloured fabric panels on the main pillar in the centre of the restaurant. Its spot was so strategic under the dome-like ceiling that it made us feel like we were seated under a giant umbrella.
Bright pillars, cutwork lamps suspended from the ceiling and fiery shades of autumn (think red, orange and purple) in the upholstery are prominent features of the interior. Also visible along one side are the show kitchen and bar. Adding finishing touches to the vibrant venue is the divan seating (mattress-like seats) which we presume is where the musicians would be stationed (psst…we’re told they have plans to get in artists specialising in classical Indian instruments such as the sitar).
The menu showcases typical North Indian fare with options ranging from curries and tandoori dishes to biryanis and rotis. Deciding on which appetiser to start with was a bit of a dilemma so the restaurant manager suggested we opt for the vegetarian and non-vegetarian platter – each boasting the best options Naya had to offer for a person following that kind of a diet. The first one consisted of the Indian street favourite dahi puri (wheat puffs stuffed with spiced chickpeas that were slightly soggy by the time they got to us because they were topped with yoghurt), Punjabi samosa (crisp pastry cones with a yummy, mushy potatoes and minced garden veggies stuffing) and the star item - paneer tikka stuffed with mango chutney. A sweet pulpy relish sandwiched between firm pieces of marinated cottage cheese.
The non-vegetarian one had a prawn samosa (the deep-fried pastry revealing a subtle taste of the shellfish), chicken seekh kebab wrap (skewer grilled flavourful mince kebab served in a flatbread kind of wrap) and chicken tamatari tikka. The regular chargrilled chicken got an upgrade with a cumin-scented tomato marinade. Word of caution: this absolutely tender piece of chicken is perfect for those with high spice tolerance.
In between courses we had the pleasure of chatting with head chef Pravish Shetty. Passionate, talented, trained and friendly are just some of the things we gathered about him in the first few minutes of our conversation. Having worked under the guidance of Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia might have been one of his greatest learning experiences, but one can tell (through his food obviously) that the man’s developed his own style of cooking.
Next up was a feast. We went all out for the mains with our order including vegetarian options, chicken and meat. The best part: dishes were served sharing-style allowing us to get a taste of everything on the table. And to think about it, it's an ideal way to entertain a large group on a night out.
We were told its butter chicken ranked among the top ten in the city in 2015 and it wasn't hard to tell why. It was succulent pieces of chicken drowned in a creamy sauce, with a hint of sweetness. It definitely got our nod as one of the best in town. The mutton biryani was served hidden under a pastry cover. As our server cut through it, we could get the aroma of various spices. Each bite was a delightful mix of individual rice grains and meat that easily fell apart when bitten into.
We also had a dig into the signature lamb chops masala. Chargrilled chops standing tall in a thick, yoghurt-based sauce. The sauce worked perfectly as a dip for the sweet Peshwari naan. The next few dishes proved a great break from all the carnivorous options. The masala potatoes made with baby potatoes were crisp on the outside and soft inside, tossed in sesame seeds.
The signature dal makhani was served in a little bucket. Slightly salty, the slow-cooked black lentils were buttery, but thankfully not as heavy a dish as it tends to be. The masala naan, made with a special homemade mix of spices, was a great accompaniment to the dal. The winning dish though had to be the mutter pulao. Not your typical white rice with peas thrown in, this was rice cooked in a puree of peas and spinach. The blended leaves lent a great balance of flavour to what could have otherwise been faintly sweet (because of the peas) and also gave the table a great pop of colour. It's not very often that you order green grained rice.
Restaurant manager Pratik was insistent we have a look at the terrace area and this seemed an apt time to do so. It was a much needed stroll after gorging ourselves. He sold the area as the perfect spot for couples and we couldn’t disagree. Though wet from the rain, it offered fantastic views of the resort itself, as well as a close-up of Burj Al Arab. Its USP would have to be the circular shape which allowed tables for two (or more) to be placed one after the other. In short, it provided an element of privacy given there would be no other diners beside you.
We headed back to our table for the finale. It was a platter of four Indian desserts presented with dabs of pistachio sauce, mango purée and Rooh Afza (a popular East Asian rose syrup). The ras malai (an equivalent to a crust-less cheesecake) got a tropical twist with the addition of litchi. The gulab jamuns (deep-fried milk solids dumplings) were golden brown and spongy. The mango kulfi (traditional Indian ice-cream) was oozing the natural sweetness of the fruit – a real treat for mango fans.
If there’s a dessert we’d have to pick as ‘the one’ on this platter it would be the gulkand ice-cream. A preserve made from rose petals, gulkand is used as a mouth freshener (think cutting out the onion and garlic breath), plus Ayurveda recognises it is as a great tonic loaded with anti-oxidants. Combining those two aspects together, the chef cleverly used it as a flavour for the frozen dessert and the result: cooling, refreshing and a bomb of a last course!
In a losing battle with the Dubai stone, we wiped our plate clean coming to the conclusion: having a chef stay completely true to his roots was quite ‘new’ in this day and age of fusion/modernist cuisine. Our experience at Naya could be best summed up as: authentic, fuss-free Indian food created using typical Indian ingredients in an innovative way. And not to forget...we enjoyed it in finer (read: five-star) settings.
To make a dinner reservation, contact 04 432 3232 or firstname.lastname@example.org; menu starts at AED 40; jumeirah.com/naya
Indulge in an all-you-can-eat North Indian feast at Naya every Friday and Saturday from 12.30pm to 3.30pm for just AED 150 (exclusive of beverages).