Amidst an ever increasing number of restaurants that use molecular gastronomy as a crutch to stay relevant in this cut-throat industry, it becomes an exhaustive enterprise to tell one meal’s flaky fritters from another’s crispy crumbles.
So it was perhaps with slight trepidation that we approached Kulcha King’s revamped menu. Why try to reinvent the wheel, we wondered, especially when the chain is already well loved for serving wholesome Punjabi comfort food to homesick Asian expats?
Heading down to the chain’s Karama branch on a weeknight, a quaint red-bricked interior welcomed us with walls peppered with vintage artworks. The outlet, which is perhaps a little more intimate than some its older siblings, still packed a full house on a Monday evening.
The new menu, which was introduced a few months ago, has retained some of its popular bestsellers, with several new fusion treats now occupying space in the thick leather-bound book.
We started our feast with a fresh mango lassi and the Amul Cheese salad, while my dining partner opted for the prawn koliwada kebab, a batter fried Maharashtrian seafood delicacy that requires the fish or prawns to be marinated in a special chutney, infused with local spices and herbs.
The prawns, according to my partner, were easy on his delicate palette, but lacked the heavy infusion of flavours that Maharashtrian koliwada cuisine is renowned for. The Amul Cheese salad, on the other hand, was hands down, one of the best I’ve ordered in a while. Nestled on a bed of crispy green lettuce, freshly sliced cucumbers, capsicum, fresh cherry tomatoes and Parmesan shavings were warm, herb-infused cheese balls that simply melted in the mouth.
Thankfully, the dressing was a simple sprinkling of salt, freshly squeezed lime and a drizzle of olive oil, which gave the salad just that extra subtle flavouring, without making it overpowering. The chapatti croutons were an added touch.
Debating whether we should stick to the traditional mains or mix things up a little, we decided to order a kulcha as a second starter, which has earned the restaurant its name and popularity over the years. The new menu offers variations on the traditional stuffed flatbread that’s baked in a brick oven — think kulcha pies and tacos.
We went down the conventional route and opted for a traditional kulcha, stuffed with masala gobi (cauliflower) and onions. The crispy flatbread, served with a chickpea curry and tamarind chutney, never disappoints. Although, personally, I prefer to substitute the tamarind with the yoghurt-mint chutney that gives each bite a spicy kick.
As we struggled to finish those last few flavourful bites of the layered kulcha, we debated whether we should admit defeat and give a pass on the mains; but one look at that creamy paneer do pyaza and we were hooked.
Some may disagree, but for me, an indication of a restaurant’s culinary talent lies in the texture of their paneer. A chewy, almost leathery bite is an immediate sign that the paneer has been pulled out of the dark recesses of the deep freeze and tossed into a curry. The softer, almost melt-in-your-mouth texture is an assurance of the freshness of each bite. Thankfully, Kulcha King leans towards the latter.
The do pyaza or double onion curry was a distinct blend of spices, with just the hint of subtle sweetness of the layered bulb and pieces of paneer that seemed to have soaked up the flavours in perfect unison. We scooped it up with garlic naan and washed it down with the remnants of our mango lassi.
Those of you who prefer to sample a little bit of everything on the menu can opt for the royal or the king thalis; kids have their own Jungle Book inspired thalis to choose from — we recommend the Bagheera one.
Check it out!
Location: Various outlets across Dubai
Price for two: Approximately Dh120
All major credit cards accepted.