Monday, July 18, 2011

A foodie in the UAE: Asha's

Sam and I became huge fans of Indian cuisine during our years in Cambridge (Massachusetts), a city awash with mouthwatering, all-you-can-eat Indian food buffets at student-approved prices. We had high hopes for similar prospects in the UAE, given its proximity to India and large Indian-expat community. So several months ago when a reader asked if I could provide a recommendation for a good Indian restaurant in Abu Dhabi, I was saddened to realize I couldn't think of anything.

We usually try new restaurants based on word of mouth or online reviews, but what we've heard and seen in the Indian-food department has been lacking. Even a search for reviewed Indian restaurants in Time Out Abu Dhabi returns only two results for the island, both of which serve only vegetarian dishes.

So when a colleague of mine, who happens to be of Indian descent, suggested we try Asha's in the Khalidiya Mall, we took it to heart. I had passed by it a half a dozen times before and noticed its tastefully colorful decor, but having been duped into eating sub-par food by fancy interior design more times than I care to count, I had hesitated to go in without an endorsement first. Now having one in hand, Sam and I went at the next available opportunity.

Apparently, it's a fairly large chain, with locations in the UK and Middle East, owned by Bollywood singer Asha Bohsle. We are usually snobbish about restaurant chains (especially one located inside a shopping mall), preferring to patronize locally-owned establishments, but this place deserves praise. Don't let it's mall location put you off; it's a full-service dining room, sparkling clean and easily accessible on the ground floor.

A meal will certainly cost you more than it would in the mall's food court, but not as much as it would in a hotel (especially since it doesn't serve alcohol), and believe me when I say 50 dirhams per dish is money well spent. We've eaten there twice now, and it has been consistently outstanding in every respect.

Just after seating, the waiter brings freshly-fried papadums with three relishes (hot pepper, cilantro, and sweet mango chutney). Warm and flaky, this complimentary starter is the equivalent to unlimited chips and salsa served at Mexican restaurant. Similarly, you have to pace yourself so you have room to eat your main course.

Piping hot garlic naan, perfectly steamed basmati rice, vegetarian mutter, and our personal favorite: butter chicken, so rich and tender you won't feel a need for dessert.

Eating at Asha's will be definitely go on the list of things we'll miss about Abu Dhabi. Try it - you'll thank us!

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