As another Ramadan sun sets on Dubai, approximately 10,000 eateries spring to life offering opportunity for hungry customers to break their fast.
Many of these restaurants offer their own version of an Iftar dining experience, even if Iftar has no traditional place in their culinary schedule or culture. With just 1.93% (535,489)* of the population in the Punjab identifying as Muslim, I wondered if this restaurant’s Iftar experience was just a gimmick to encourage early dining? I don’t know the answer to that question but never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I jumped at the invitation to attend Iftar at ‘Punjabi by Nature’ in Oud Metha.
As with most Dubai buffets, it’s a self-service situation. With various concoctions congealing in those stainless steal serving troughs, I can’t help but be reminded of dreadful 1990s sales conferences in miserable motorway motels in the English Midlands. They always employed the same semi-heated serving salvers too. And I still have the same misguided fear of searing off my fingertips on the super-heated metal as I lift the lid to access the grub.
It seems that nothing much has changed since those motorway motel days. Those serving dishes – apparently known as ‘chafing dishes’ in the trade – still don’t sufficiently heat the food and tonight was no exception. Iftar in this restaurant starts at 7pm (a little earlier than the Dubai sunset) and finishes at 8.30pm. My regular dining companion and I arrived at 7.48pm and while I recognise that’s already halfway through the allocated time slot, the food was barely lukewarm. Many of the serving dishes had been thoroughly plundered by the other diners and I felt that we were grabbing at the leftovers.
Let me tell you though, I wish I had been queueing at the restaurant door from 6.30pm because what the food lacked in temperature, it truly packed in flavour. Temperature aside, I cannot find fault with anything that I ate. From the perfectly formed small patties of the Hara Bhara Kebabs and the soft, fresh Sarson Paneer to the crunchy deep-fried onions (Birista?) and Tandoori Khumb (button mushrooms in red masala) … all delicious. That was just the appetisers. The kindly waiting staff brought plenty of freshly-baked roti bread; a wonderful accompaniment to the Aloo Methi (potatoes and fenugreek), Lamb Rogan Josh, Malai Kofta, and the Lamb Biryani.
The standout dish for me was the Kadai Chicken. I had two big, healthy portions. Spotting a hot fresh batch being transported from the kitchen and with the agility of a chinkara, I leapt to the silver serving dish. Thankfully my second helping was not only perfectly-cooked but also piping hot.
The restaurant manager joined us for a chat, explaining that Chef Vineet Kumar has crafted a menu that changes daily throughout Ramadan and that each dish acknowledges the rich heritage of the Punjab region. While the food might nod towards Punjabi heritage, the squirrel cage bulbs, exposed brickwork, framed jokes and bright primary colours of the restaurant certainly point towards the modern.
At 8.30pm, directly after the Iftar slot, their popular a la carte menu kicks in and is served until 11pm. We contemplated staying but with such full bellies, it was a short-lived crazy thought.
There are still a couple of weeks left of Ramadan and it’s easy to recommend Punjabi by Nature. The manager revealed that “competition is fierce in the area but we’re cheaper than Downtown”. He is completely correct. At just AED68 for their Iftar experience including water and soft drinks … Punjabi, so goody!
Staff & Service 7/10
Overall experience 7/10
Review: Nick Stephenson
[* 2011 Census of India]