Three tiny, innocuous dots arranged symmetrically on a puff pastry strip atop a banana leaf on a straw mat.
I take a bite and the flavours explode, sweet and sour, tangy and salty, hot and cold, a carnival of tastes and sensations that slam the senses into a time warp, transporting me to my childhood, to days spent in Kolkata and Mumbai in India, revisiting a bucket list of confectionary and sweetmeat shops that the mind conjures up in split seconds. Chef Vaibhav Sawant studies the myriad of reactions flitting across my face with quiet amusement, happy with the desired effect of his creation.
“It’s just a deconstruction of the samosa,” he says simply. But how can so little do so much, the slim puff pastry strip topped with spicy potato mash and peas dressed with chutney drops prompting a trip down memory lane. The near-flawless execution follows up on an equally incredible amuse-bouche of mango pulp floating on a base of coconut water, visually perfectly mimicking the contents of a raw egg and aptly served up in ceramic egg shells within a bird’s nest. It’s a cunning feat of molecular gastronomy that leaves diners happily fooled, craving for more.
It’s all part of an elaborate 12-course non-vegetarian chef’s tasting menu, a symphony of flavour, a near-endless retinue of well-researched dishes from across India, punctuated by some fascinating interpretations in molecular gastronomy undertaken by Chef Vaibhav and his team. Welcome, then to Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai.
Jiggs Kalra is the first Asian to be to be inducted into the International Food and Beverage Gourmet Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. A renowned Indian food columnist for more than four decades, the restaurateur is quite happy to have the food at his restaurant do all the talking now.
Launching Masala Library in India with the intention of providing food connoisseurs a window to the amazing tastes, authentic flavours and essence of Indian cuisine, the fully booked restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi are an indication of how successful he has been in plating up his ideas to a discerning clientele. Launching a branch last month in Dubai, the region’s foodie capital, seemed apt, a logical step that is part of an elaborate expansion plan into the region, and the world.
Like dad, Kalra’s son, Zorawar is equal parts foodie and restaurateur, overseeing operations at the first Masala Library restaurant outside India.
Commenting on the ethos behind the Masala Library brand, Zorawar says, “Since its commercial proliferation, Indian cuisine has come to a point of stagnation. Being an avid lover of our robust cuisine, my father and I consider it our mission to reintroduce Indian food in a new avatar. This vision and aim helped create Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, a signature fine-dining concept.”
The restaurant serves progressive Indian cuisine, says Zorawar, retaining the traditional elements of each dish while using modern culinary techniques, cooking styles and unique presentations. “We use molecular gastronomy as an integral part of the menu to enhance the flavour and visual appeal of the dish, as well as to introduce an element of surprise,” says Zorawar.
With an ambience that offers enough props as fair conversation starters – cue the massive, ornate wooden pillars and the gigantic murals dominating the restaurant walls or spectacular Dubai Canal views from the restaurant’s location on the fourth floor of the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai – the surprise element is not just served up on a plate, it’s all around you.
However, visitors sampling the menu are left in no doubt that it is the food that sets the pace.
Open to experimentation
So, while the jhal moorie cookie (novel interpretation of an Indian street snack), caviar malai prawn and wagyu pathar kebab (chef’s take on a succulent cut of beef served up tableside, delivering theatrics and taste in spades) come highly recommended, the innovative streak is expected to see a build-up in coming months as the team of chefs hope to tap into the immense reserves of Middle Eastern ingredients and flavours, integrating and incorporating them into an already elaborate Indian restaurant menu.
“The Masala Library menu here in Dubai is between 35-40 per cent different from the menus in Mumbai and Delhi,” says Zorawar. “It’s a result of the different tastes and preferences of the city’s clientele as well as access to the incredible ingredients that Dubai allows.”
From start to finish, the dishes and the interpretation of flavours are spot on, the attention to detail part of a culture in culinary innovation inculcated into the chefs at Masala Library.
“Before the launch of Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra in Dubai, we worked on the concept, conducting numerous food trials and tastings for almost eight to nine months,” reveals Zorawar. “This resulted in a selection of highly curated dishes with elements of molecular gastronomy that genuinely add value to the dish without taking away from its flavour profile.”
11 courses on, fully satiated, as I dig deep into my reserves and reach out for the last course, a splendid dessert of jalebi caviar, reinterpreting a famed sweet from the subcontinent, everything that Zorawar says about the dishes, and the restaurant rings true.
Masala Library delivers the best of what Indian cuisine quintessentially stands for on several levels – hearty, soulful fare illustrated on an expansive canvas of taste – while successfully offering a new and rapidly expanding global clientele what they expect from a dining experience: Innovation in cooking fine-tuned into an art form.
Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is open daily, 6pm to 11.30pm. For reservations, call 04 414 3000. Twelve-course tasting menu is priced at Dh245, or Dh385 with four glasses of paired grape. Vegetarian option is also available for Dh215. Book your table today.