Dubai; “Sparks of brilliance” – so claimed celebrated Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor as he described his menu in a FooDiva interview last month. With that top of mind, we waltzed, or should I say tangoed…more on that later…into his latest Dubai restaurant, Signature at the boutiquey Melia hotel on a Friday evening just after 9pm only to find one other table occupied – luckily it’s an intimate 60-cover restaurant. Escorted to our table hidden behind a sheen of organza curtains, we did feel rather special…but…FooDiva had been recognised…[sigh]…I guess, wig shopping is next on the agenda after all.
After rearranging ourselves to accommodate over-exuberant air conditioning, our order of dirty vodka martinis turned up with gin…not a good start. So off he trotted to remix. The menu is a biggie, and true to Sanjeev’s words, “there may be elements which bring surprise, a smile, that’s what I call sparks of brilliance – otherwise we are copying. So Signature is all about finding new things in the traditional…let’s step back and make it relevant for today’s needs.” Primarily North Indian, but with many a twist. We smiled at Sanjeev’s words of wisdom peppered throughout the menu. Good to see most mains with a choice of two portion sizes. Sadly FooDiva spotted the much over-fished hammour – why oh why when there are so many local sustainable fish options here in Dubai? We need restaurants like you to champion the Choose Wisely campaign pretty please.
We shared an appetiser of spicy crab ‘tikki’ cake with a spot of anari cheese, fried scallops, a teeny bed of tabouleh and a drizzle of tomato chutney. The scallops was hands-down an exceptional choice – crunch your way through the spider web of vermicelli ‘kateifi’ strands of pastry and bite into a soft and succulent scallop. Gateway to heaven perhaps? Sadly as wholesome as the crab cake was, nothing else could compare – but the marriage of Indian with Arabic flavours does indeed work.
For mains, we first opted for “my special gharha creation for food lovers.” Gharha earthen clay pots allow for a slow steam cooking process which retains the flavours and nutritional value, creating rich, earthy dishes. Instead of a traditional tomato-based butter chicken, Signature slow cooks the poultry with lemongrass, heaps of butter, cream and yoghurt, finishing it off with zataar. Once you try this dish, FooDiva guarantees you’ll be a lemongrass convert even though we quibbled at the rather meagre morsels of tender chicken – a little more wouldn’t go amiss. The accompaniment of naan with sundried tomatoes and olives makes for perfect dipping. Note here, the waiter did try to upsell more naan – really?…there’s no need. A portion of steamed rice went a long way in soaking up that fragrant buttery dream.
Our second main – “a traditional duck roast I was introduced to at my Syrian Christian friend’s house,” – duck stewed and then seared on a tawa (a flat cast iron saucepan). FooDiva half-expected a dry roast, but instead was pleasantly surprised at a hugely succulent duck with a rich and tangy ginger, coriander and chilli sauce dripping off the bone. Gosh if the scallops were our gateway to heaven, then this dish marks our new life in paradise.
Simply too full to order dessert, but as we finished off another martini in the cute little alcove of a bar, Chef Akshay served up a complimentary dish of mascarpone phirni (rice pudding) with parmesan figs, strawberries and raspberries.
Not my cup of tea, but then again FooDiva doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth for fancy desserts - friend indulged happily though.
Sadly service whilst sweet and smiley, was far too over-attentive with many a waiter repeating the same, old questions - but yes I appreciate it’s partly because FooDiva was recognised – so quoting my dining companion, “the staff need to back off a bit. I was there to eat and chat with you – not to constantly reassure them that their lovely food was indeed lovely. Discretion is under-valued and not understood in this part of the world.” But surely, experienced service staff should be at ease with any diner?
Luckily by the time we left nearing midnight, Signature was abuzz with diners – clearly a late-night fuelling spot. Am feeling lenient this Ramadan so given sublime food, sparkling with brilliance in a cosy setting – and all at a very affordable price – here’s to a four out of five FooDiva knife rating. Just make sure to relax that service and drop the upselling. If you live in New Dubai, don’t let the Port Rashid location put you off – worth the drive – especially if you’re after a nightcap or two in Dubai’s darker district.
Despite Cinderella time, Argentinian tango night in neighbouring Marco Pierre White’s Titanic called – couples so in tune with each other’s every move…oh my what a mesmerising, sensual sight…I’ll be back with my dancing shoes…wig…and my prince of course.
Have you experienced Signature? And for FooDiva Friends who prefer home-cooking, what dishes would you recommend concocting from Sanjeev’s 100 Favourite Hand-picked Recipes book?
Signature is located at the Melia Hotel, Port Rashid, Bur Dubai. T; +971 4 3868111 E; email@example.com Licensed. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Price per head with a couple of cocktails and including a 20% RoundMenu discount AED 234 – damn good value! Click here for the a la carte menu.
In addition, a three-course menu including soft beverages priced at AED 160 is available for both lunch and dinner until September 15th.