Of all the things that the British Empire brought back from its 200-year rule in India, curry was perhaps one of the more surprising ones that stuck.
Centuries later, Indian food in the UK is a little different. Its spicy chilli bite has been muzzled, and dishes are usually a mish-mash of creamy sauces, coloured with alarmingly bright food dyes – sometimes they’re even served with chips.
Yet still, the UK’s love for spice remains, and in 2011, Brits voted the chicken tikka masala as their favourite national dish.
So you understand why, until I moved to Abu Dhabi, I had no real understanding of Indian cuisine beyond the occasional bright red chicken tikka served in an aluminium tray. I certainly didn’t know the myriad regions, spices and dishes that make up India’s complex culinary map – and I had no idea that such a vibrant food culture could exist in the Middle East, borne here by droves of Indian expats.
But four years of living in the capital has opened my eyes to new flavours, textures and spices, all best eaten scooped onto a piece of hot roti.
My new zest for the cuisine is one of the reasons I’m excited to try Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor. Located at Nation Towers, the restaurant combines the diversity of Indian cuisine with a fine-dining and innovative twist that extends to its décor, where crisp white tablecloths are accented by bright red chairs.
We start things off with poppadums served with a range of chutneys such as pineapple and tamarind, which provide a tiny taste of the restaurant’s approach to modern Indian dining.
Next, we try a delicately presented trio of kebabs. One, chicken stuffed with pesto and Parmesan, is succulent and aromatic, while a seekh kebab packs a punch of spice. The final one, white fish, melts in the mouth.
The main course is where the restaurant reins things back in to classic Indian cooking, with fragrant curries served in earthenware pots. The butter chicken is rich and tomatoey, the meat fresh with smoke from the tandoor, while the prawn and coconut curry is velvety and gentle. The mutton curry, by contrast, bursts with aniseed, and the black lentil dhal, best eaten scooped on the garlicky bread we’re served, is creamy and fragrant.
Dessert comes in yet another three, with bitesize portions of saffron rasmalai, rose-scented rice pudding and a spiced carrot halwa. All three are gently sweet without being too heavy – the perfect end to a meal.
With some bold flavours and beautiful presentation, Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor certainly showcases the amazing diversity and flavour of Indian cuisine in an elegant way.
Need to know:
Location: Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor, Nation Towers, Corniche West
We say: Classic Indian cuisine with elegance
Cost: AED 450 for two
Opening times: Daily noon-11.30pm
Contact: 02 304 8374, signaturebysanjeevkapoor.com
WORDS Camille Hogg