How do you keep a restaurant fresh and vibrant? Three years since Tresind opened, the modernist Indian concept has found its place as a family favourite, so the midyear challenge for head chef Himanshu Saini is less about creating showy elaborate food than augmenting a selection of classics.
For this year’s summer menu, now available at the Shaikh Zayed Road venue, the focus returns to quality food that’s beautifully plated. The smoke and mirrors the restaurant and its ilk are associated with have largely been confined to its showy younger sister, Carnival by Tresind.
Saini reins in the dry ice special effects and keeps his molecular techniques behind the pass so the effect is on the taste buds and not on the eyes. It’s less theatre than usual but he’s kept enough pretty elements to please your Instagram followers.
Andhra-spiced tofu kebab.
A sundried tomato and ricotta phulka starts things off nicely. Served under a magnifying lens, this bread course-cum-amuse bouche is more taco than naanza. The classic tomato and ricotta combination is lifted by pickling juices and sliced olives for a sharp, slightly spiced and balanced finish. I instantly want another, but my bread fix comes with a fine papdi (a thin roundel fried bread) topped with dehydrated watermelon carpaccio with litchi and tarragon and infused with apple wood smoke (there’s a chicken tikka version for meat eaters that regulars might remember from last summer). It’s sweet, subtle and smoky, so that’s two wins off the bat.
A deceptive-looking Indian cheese platter follows. Hidden away in a Camembert box is a gooey paneer panacotta, with some quite excellent dips: there’s a tart cranberry chutney, a sharp coriander pesto and a refreshing aubergine spread. Since Tresind’s opening, Saini is more confident about experimenting with international flavours and techniques, and there are nods to Mexico, England and Europe.
But globalisation can falter, and a John Dory dramatically steamed tableside in the Thai style is overwhelmed by the chilli and galangal, desperately in need of a plain citrus side instead of the searing pomelo salad accompaniment. The stumbles are few, though, and some arise from last-minute requests.
As ever, the team at Tresind is up to a challenge. At our table of four were a vegan and a vegetarian, both gluten-free, plus one diner who doesn’t eat egg and one ‘normal’ person. We’re not sure how the kitchen managed it, but an endless stream of dishes arrived without a single hiccup and at the same time (faultless service from Sagar, Arya and team).
Perhaps we should have rung ahead with our demands: the eleventh-hour vegan requirement meant that a vegetable khandvi (chickpea rolls) came with a spicy Malvani gravy instead of a planned yoghurt curry — cuisines from two different states didn’t combine well. On the other hand, a crunchy Andhra-spiced tofu kebab — instead of wagyu or paneer — was a spur-of-the-moment star, the curd mellowing out the heat of the southern Indian spices. Those who haven’t suddenly turned against beef in the light of current affairs in India will relish the smoky wagyu skewer version.
Unlike most other modernist Indian restaurants, where the starters and desserts are innovative eye-catchers and the mains rely on a love of comfort fare, Saini keeps his big plates interesting too. A kadai lobster topped with snow peas, asparagus and peppers was the star of the evening: dressed in jewel tones, it was so delicately spiced that the richness of the lobster came straight through. Break the bank and order this dish — you’ll send the shell back stripped clean.
The showmanship returns with dessert. How do you change up the classic jalebi-rabri combination? Simple, run the syrupy condensed milk topping through a tabletop fountain — perfect for dipping the crunchy saffron pretzels into.
As we sit back and reflect on the meal over a bit of betel-infused candyfloss, our verdict is that the entire menu is just a little too sweet, but there’s enough newness to bring us back several times this season. Even better, we don’t leave clutching our groaning bellies. After nearly a dozen courses, that’s an achievement Saini and his team should be very proud of.
Cuisine: Modern Indian
Credit card: Yes
What: Summer menu – a la carte; nine-course tasting menu at Dh250++
Where: Tresind, Nassima Royal Hotel, Shaikh Zayed Road