Mon, 28 May 2018
Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa’s new Indian restaurant, Rivaaj, is steeped in tradition much like its food.
Walking into Rivaaj felt like being transported to a time of opulence and royal elegance of the Mughal Empire, a theme that spreads throughout the entire restaurant. The décor is a luxurious blend of maroon and gold, with ornate chandeliers and walls adorned with gold-framed paintings of Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, in whose memory the Taj Mahal was built. There are two private rooms – Zameen, with low traditional seating, and Maharaja, a cosy room ideal for intimate gatherings. There’s even a miniature Taj Mahal at the far end of the restaurant, where my dining companion and I were seated.
We were promptly served spicy poppadoms with a selection of condiments and greeted by restaurant manager Ayush Agarwal, who explained the concept behind Rivaaj, saying: “It’s not just the food, it’s the journey. Guests can enjoy Indian cuisine and culture and see what India is all about.”
He went on to tell us about renowned head chef Javed Qureshi, who specialises in North Indian Awadhi cuisine and comes from the well-known Indian Qureshi family of chefs – his grandfather was a master chef at the famous Bukhara restaurant in India. After explaining the drinks menu to us, he recommended some of Rivaaj’s own Masala Creations, such as Homemade Jaljeera (Indian spiced lemonade), Masaledar Thanda (Coke with tandoori masala) and my personal favourite, Masala Margarita.
As we sipped on our drinks, executive chef Indrajit Saha came over to take us through the menu. Anything named Al Rivaaj (marked with an ‘R’) were signature dishes, which we tried in our sampler of appetisers. Anar Badam Ke Aloo (R), potatoes with almond and fresh pomegranate was one of my favourites. Crispy potato skins and perfectly spiced filling topped with pomegranate not only made it look royal but also gave it a refined taste. Tabkh Hara Kebab, Bengal gram and spinach cakes, and Paneer Khas, exotic cottage cheese chunks filled with mint chutney, were equally tasty. Murgh Al Rivaaj (R), a version of chicken tikka with a special marinade, was served on charcoal embers, lending it a lovely, smoky taste. Finally, Jhinga Al Samreen showcased tiger prawns with onions and coriander roots.
While still reeling from our delicious starters, chef Qureshi made an appearance to explain his signature dishes. Raan Al Rivaaj (R), whole lamb leg marinated overnight and cooked with the chef’s secret recipe, has gained massive popularity since the restaurant opened. Apart from the extremely tender meat, the star of the dish was the rich and aromatic gravy, cooked overnight in bone broth with a blend of hidden, rare spices.
Chooza Makhani (R), small chunks of chicken tikka cooked in rich tomato gravy, was a tad tangy but perfectly spiced, and would give your standard chicken tikka masala a run for its money. Gandana Ka Saag, chopped spinach tempered with garlic and red chillies, stood out as every mouthful burst with subtle underlying flavours of garlic and spice. Last but not least, Adraki Gobhi, cauliflower tempered with ginger and whole crushed spices, and Dal Al Rivaaj (R), black lentils cooked overnight, both came tops on flavour.
Our feast was accompanied by various biryanis, made deliciously moist with saffron cream, and assorted breads. The entire meal was perfectly spiced, even for my dining companion, whose spice tolerance is rather mild. Moreover, every course was paired with Indian grape, Sula – Rivaaj being the only restaurant in Bahrain to serve it.
Although bursting at the seams, we somehow made space for desserts: a decadent trio of Kheer Shan E Rivaaj, Indian rice pudding with dry fruits; Kulfi ice cream; and the ever-popular Gulab Jamun.
A special mention goes to Gaurav Kumar, outlet in-charge, who impressed with his friendliness and vast culinary knowledge.
Rivaaj offers a true taste of authentic Awadhi cuisine, fit for a king, and a first for the island!