DUBAI With its red brick façade and thick window bars, Saibaa restaurant in Oud Metha looks just a like traditonal Konkan house more than an eating joint. The similarity is heightened when you step inside because even the waiters’ uniforms bear an uncanny resemblance to the dress worn by natives of the Konkan region.
The unpretentious décor, the white cotton kurta-pyjama and unmistakable oblong Gandhi cap are meant to enhance the ambience of the restaurant and give it the earthy feel of a house in Konkan — a rugged coconut-palm rich strip along India’s western coastline.
Konkan cuisine is a homogeneous mix of Malvani and Goan cooking styles, but the fare at Saibaa is predominantly Malvan, characterised by liberal use of coconut, coriander seeds and kokum — a berry that gives dishes a distinct flavour and taste.
I have to admit my previous experience with Indian coastal cuisine wasn’t particularly good so I approached Saibaa with a fair degree of trepidation. But when the food was served, whatever doubts I had were quickly and forever banished.
Let’s begin with starters — stuffed pomfret (Dh25) and kingfish fry (Dh20) — to be precise. Devoid of any fancy accompaniments, they tasted absolutely delicious, particularly the pomfret which was stuffed with juicy prawn goodness and a finely ground green masala.
Given the exhaustive menu, ordering the main course was a bit of a challenge. On the chef’s insistence, I settled for suka (dry) mutton and Saibaa’s special kombdi wade (Dh25 each). The latter, my generous host and restaurant owner Sonali Shinde told me, is the native dish of Malvan, a small town in the southernmost district of Maharashtra.
The suka mutton was too spicy for my liking, but the kombdi wade was finger-lickin’ good. The dish consists of traditional Malvani chicken curry (kombdi) served with a fluffy, shallow-fried bread made of rice flour (wade). I relished it with gusto.
The restaurant has plenty of choices for crustacean cravers too, beginning with mud crabs, shrimp and lobster.
The place also serves a host of vegetarian dishes. I sampled masala bhindi (crisp fried ladyfingers: Dh25) and quite liked it.
By now my stomach was groaning with over-indulgence. Mercifully, Saibaa has something called sol kadi (Dh4) for such big after-meals. Made from kokum peels and coconut milk, the spicy pink-coloured digestive drink is indeed magical because it soothed my system within seconds.
As I left the restaurant, I realised why Saibaa has endeared itself to a vast and diverse clientele in such a short span of time. The restaurant opened its first branch in 2010 in Karama before branching out to Oud Metha with a much bigger outlet early this year.
“We stick to the basics and try to recreate the same flavours that you find in a traditional Konkan home. I guess that’s the secret of our success,” said Shinde.
I couldn’t agree with her more.
Location: Oud Metha Building, behind Lamcy Plaza