Armani Amal

There’s something different about Armani/Amal. The haute Indian restaurant is unlike any other outlet that takes up residence in the Armani Hotel, yet I can’t explain the difference. On the surface, the decor is nearly identical: Amal shares the same understated colour palette, furnishings, lighting scheme and infuriating Roman blinds (it’s the Burj Khalifa! Why cover up half of what should be the most amazing view in the city?). And yet, where the other Armani restaurants feel sterile, Amal feels modern. I didn’t even have to set foot in the restaurant to realise that not only is it unlike anything in the hotel, it’s also unlike anything in Dubai. As my date and I were led to the entrance, one of the Armani chaperones asked if we’d like to sit for a couple of minutes in the lounge and listen to some live sitar music. It was perhaps the best presentation of live music I’d ever seen in an Indian restaurant; often, when it’s merely a background to an Indian meal, it can be (depending on the volume) either unnoticeable or a little intrusive. Here, in this cushy little lounge, it was breathtaking. Everyone present actually wanted to hear the music, which made it that much more enjoyable. After several minutes, my date and I ushered ourselves off to the main dining room, where we could fully appreciate how different the place was. As is typical with every outlet in the hotel, service was infallible; waiters decked out in tailored suits nearly floated from table to table. I was curious to see how ‘Indian’ the food here would be. At other high-end Indian restaurants in town, dishes have a decidedly Western touch (Indego’s asparagus and goat’s cheese samosas are a case in point), but a glance at the menu hinted that Amal wasn’t going to be quite that experimental. I opened with one of the more fusion-style dishes: a tandoori duck spring roll (though in truth the shell more closely resembled a samosa). I was a little disappointed by this starter – I felt it had sacrificed too much of its national identity, not in shape or form so much as in flavour. I couldn’t pick out any of the Indian spices I love; if they were present, they were overwhelmed by the flavour of bell peppers. My date’s breaded prawns were also culturally generic. Mains stuck more closely to form. My companion ordered a sea bass moilee. This is one of my favourite Indian dishes, but while the sea bass was perfectly cooked and well spiced, there was a mere dribbling of the gravy – the best part of any moilee. An extra splash of the sauce would have made the dish a hit, but as it was, we couldn’t help but be a little disheartened. For my main, I’d chosen a braised lamb shank in a Hyderabadi curry. This was a powerfully tangy dish, and I imagine the liberal use of tamarind was what marked it out as Hyderabadi cuisine. The meat itself was cooked to perfection – it slithered from the bone and shamelessly withered on my fork. But again, the kitchen had played it safe; the usual Indian bouquet of spices was absent. This dish, like the many that preceded it, didn’t represent the culture so much as nod meekly to it. Desserts were a more fruitful affair, partly because they married tradition and innovation more successfully. My aam ka phirni – rice pudding topped with minced mango – featured familiar, homey lashings of cardamom and some added sprinklings of pistachio and gold leaf. The texture was creamier and less gelatinous than the original, but otherwise it stuck to form, and was the better for it. My date’s apricot cream had its own personality – it wasn’t trying to be something it wasn’t. Boasting chunks of fruit set amid what tasted like an apricot cloud, it was an easy winner. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Armani/Amal. I did; it was comforting, and the food was, technically, beautifully prepared. But the dishes tasted too tempered for my liking. I don’t demand tongue-tingling spice, but some more nuanced seasoning could have given the meal more character and made it something truly exceptional, as opposed to something merely very nice and supremely endearing. The bill (for two) 1x Large bottle of water Dhs30 1x Prawns Dhs80 1x Duck rolls Dhs75 1x Hyderabadi gosht Dhs140 1x Sea bass Dhs160 1x Aam ka phirni Dhs40 1x Apricot cream Dhs45 Total (including 10 per cent service) Dhs570

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