Review: Punjab Grill Abu Dhabi, adventures in spice
Get in, we’re going on an adventure…
Like all fine art, gastronomy works best when it connects with you personally, when there’s a coherent story informing the design, an interplay of themes, passions, and a well-executed narrative behind the chewing.
There has to be an element of, and I apologise in advance for this terminology, journey.
And my culinary voyage at Punjab Grill began with me throwing down a challenge to the restaurant. I suffer from a relatively severe nut allergy, which can be quite restrictive with some forms of Asian cuisine.
Chef Sandeep Ail was undeterred however, saying that the restaurant is happy to cater to specific dietary requirements with just a few hours notice.
So here I sit, in this stylish modern Indian brasserie, a few steps away from the postcard waterfront of the Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal’s Venetian Village.
A palate-warmer arrives at the table, a selection of poppadoms alongside eight individual house-made condiments. Chef Ail, tells me the restaurant aspires towards a zero food-waste policy, and with dips like the superb orange chutney which is made from left-over orange peel, a strong subplot is already starting to form.
Plate number one is farm-fresh burrata, served with Punjabi aubergine bharta, red pepper chutney and a South Asian interpretation of cornbread. It’s a declaration of intent, a complex series of nuanced flavour layers. The UAE-made burrata is the delicate dairy centrepiece around which the dish is staged, the aubergine croquette pairs perfectly and the lightly-spiced cornbread is a creative win all of its own.
A serving of tandoori shrimp follows next, it comes with a small serving of seafood salad and a tomato rasam bisque-esque sauce on the side. Despite the fact it’s my (one) job to transcribe the experience of eating this food, it’s a tough task to complete. The deliberate interplay of spices and evolution of flavour profiles is bewildering at times, but in an entirely positive way.
We try a modern interpretation of a Mughal chicken dish, which arrives in wisps of wood chip smoke and is flanked by apple curry and raita; then a Malwani duck breast with sol kadhi and narangi sauce; a signature biryani; and a final savoury serving in the form of tandoori lamb chops, with daikon chutney and rogan jus.
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It’s a glorious cacophony of intelligently-crafted mouthfuls. It’s hard to pick a winner, but the slithers of rose-pink duck breast are probably the climax of the meal, lightly courted by the sweet, citrus of the narangi sauce.
Verdict: Every single culinary element on each dish is plated with purpose, it’s designed to be evocative of a direction the chef intends to lead us. It is a journey, and it’s up there with the best in the capital. 4.5/5
Punjab Grill, Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal, open daily 12.30pm to midnight, a five-course chef’s table experience is available for Dhs350 per person. Tel: (02) 449 9839, venetianvillage.ae