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Masti food review: An elevated playing field

Image Credit: Supplied/ Masti

Restaurant Review: Masti

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  • Avg. Cost per Person:

    250 Dhs
  • Location:  

    Shop S 29, South, La Mer, Jumeirah , Dubai
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Burrata? Yay. Biryani? Nay. If that isn’t startling enough, the tapas-style sharing plates further reinforce the audacious new positioning of Masti Cocktails and Cuisine, the licenced new Indian restaurant at La Mer Dubai.

MASTI-292 - Upstairs Bar Lounge Interior 2

Masti translates to mischief or fun, and with playful dishes and intriguing brews, Karnataka-born New York-based Chef Hari Nayak serves up a cheeky but divisive take on subcontinental fare.

The clever strategy has drawn its fair share of punters in the six weeks it’s been open, including Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, earlier this week. But is it worth the hype?

That’s what we set out to find out when invited down on a nippy Thursday evening recently. With bright, retro-fusion interiors and quirky accessories, the split-level venue caters to all kinds of crowds. 

There’s family-friendly space downstairs with a raucous bar and licenced area above. Both levels have indoor and outdoor seating (carry a pashmina), and there’s a discreet juniper-focused hideaway for those looking for something more intimate.

 The Ground floor at Masti.

Once you’re settled in, you can journey through a tasting menu or pick and mix from cold and hot plates. If you really want an adventure, though, you’ll be unable to resist ordering a heap of things. Keema popsicle? Beef carpaccio? Saag paneer lasagne? Chicken bharta? Who puts these things on an Indian menu?

But then, we eat modern, trendy food at cafes and posh restaurants — so why should Indian food be any different? Where Masti seeks to distinguish itself from the city’s modern Indian crew is with its unapologetic hipster-forward fare.

Unsurprisingly, the approach works. We get our fill of smoke, mirrors and illusory experiences at the bar (where thankfully the gimmickry ends — although you will want to video some of the cocktails) before we settle down indoors for a journey that will take our palates all over the planet.

Since we’re beside the seaside, seafood is a logical start. A foamy lime sorbet perks up a plate of oysters but a dash of rock salt really makes it sing, taking me straight back to childhood and introducing my Western friend to a rarefied version of the gola, an Indian street snack. A follow-up of razor clams with a garlic miso reduction is creamy and just a smidge too sweet.

 Citrus Oysters

Nayak has lived in the US for nearly 20 years, something that comes blazing through in the Brussels sprouts, an East Coast mainstay. Tempered with mustard, soy and ginger and topped with toasty hazelnuts, these nutty savoury flavour bombs are worthy of any festive table.

I steer clear of the tandoori chicken bao, which my friend wolfs down. It’s a little too bready, he says, but he loves its tamarind undertones and the fact that it’s steamed and has grill marks.

 Tandoori chicken bao

Nayak likes to play with smoky flavours, something that comes through in espresso-tinged chicken wings and in his butter chicken and burrata pizza, which my friend wants to pack up and take home: the burrata supplants the mozzarella perfectly, he says, and the chicken is perfectly done.

My gluten issues lead me to seek consolation in a delicate truffle-laced beef carpaccio, a tangy, timely riposte to Indian current affairs. I move quickly to a Goan-style seafood sausage, which is Nayak’s attempt at combining two classics from the coastal paradise — with just a hint of Raechaedo spice, some saffron mayo and a crunchy prawn papad, it just about does the job.

I find my happy place in the smashed roast potato — piquant, garlicky and super comforting, it’s hygge on a plate.

The keema popsicle jars slightly. This clever kebab trick nicely combines succulent, clove-infused meat with a quinoa crust, but the mint chutney is aggravatingly hot. 

 Keema popsicle

More successful is Nayak’s version of meen pollichathu, banana leaf branzino or European bass steamed in a banana leaf — it’s frisky, flaky and done to a turn. 

 Banana leaf Branzino

Finally, because no Indian meal is complete without rice, we end on a Mediterranean note: pesto pulao topped with pine nuts that infuses the room with its fragrance, each delicate grain a nod to the impending global conquest of Indian food.

Nayak clearly understands spicing — you know what you’re eating with every single dish, and nothing is overwhelmed either by a heavy hand with the ingredients or by the chef’s peripatetic appetite for other cultures. Masti will change the way you look at Indian food, but you’ll pay for your pleasure.

Check it out!

Masti Cocktails & Cuisine is open from noon to midnight.

Cost: Expect to pay Dh500 for two.

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