A journal, inspired by my love for my daughter, that embraces quality food, service and experiences which make life worth living. In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, " I cannot rest from travel. I will drink life to the lees." Seeking that incredible dining or hotel experience and writing about it. Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Tamba changes Indian dining landscape in the capital - World Trade Centre Mall, Abu Dhabi
You don't even have to step into Tamba to know it is different. Stand at the door and you will see it. You will feel it. Be bold and go inside. Allow the eye-catching hostesses to guide you to your table. Feel the house music as you walk down the narrow corridor. Bask in the low light. Stop and have a look at the stylish couples around the bar, as a barman pours another bubbly rosé. This is Tamba. Indian dining redefined in Abu Dhabi.
Tamba, which means copper, certainly allows you to appreciate its copper motif, especially in the large temple bells around the bar area, but it is all very tasteful. There is nothing kitschy about it. Rather than overkill with copper, they allow the tamba feel to come through in other areas, none more so than the green oxidised copper colour that greets you around the restaurant. It is noticeable in some of the seats around the restaurant, but significantly, it's also evident in the two large tandoor ovens - incidentally they oxidised naturally; this laces the restaurant with rich symbolism and an aesthetic element I have seen in only a handful of restaurants in the city.
In response to my question as to the size of the restaurant, Shipra Pradhan, the charismatic restaurant manager tells me it allows 180 guests. However, they have manipulated space so well, that you never feel the size of the restaurant. Bear in mind too that there is a terrace. The best seat in the house for me is undoubtedly close to the bar, the heartbeat of the Tamba. Saying the kitchen is the heartbeat would be such a cliché. For me, it is he bar which symbolically announces Tamba as a force in Abu Dhabi.
My waiter introduces the dishes to my guest and me. I am immediately seduced by the waiter's ability to converse in a relaxed manner, his knowledge of his product, professionalism, well spoken manner and his anecdotes - all in the first 5 minutes. Now, I have had the pleasure of meeting a few really good waiters and waitresses, but let me say that based on my first 30 minutes, I had encountered such a unit of staff here in Abu Dhabi at only one other restaurant - pretty impressive considering Tamba has been open for only a couple of weeks. Yes, I know that as an invited guest I often have the captain or supervisor waiting on me, but my interaction with 4 waiters is a fairly decent pool to reach my findings. Rupesh Shetty, the Restaurant Development Manager, has clearly spent a lot of time hand picking his diverse staff, representing 15 nationalities. He understands how diners value staff who know what they are talking about and his choice of staff reflects a desire to satisfy this need in guests.
The menu could not be simpler. It works on two fronts. It makes the guest's experience so much easier. There is no need to wade through a mini-thesis of dishes and their history. This is why you have excellent staff who can fill in the blanks. There is also something old school about a menuof one-liners. The dish is what it says. Nothing flowery in its description. This takes succinctness to another stratosphere.
The concept is a sharing one, and dishes are served as they are ready. We start off with a selection of Raw items from the menu. We have the Seared salmon in an Indian citrus sauce, with tangerine inside the salmon. Dry pomegranate seeds add some more tanginess and obviously texture. Citrus all the way in this dish. A Prawn, papaya and pomelo salad is also served. The prawn is cooked on the robata grill, giving it a Japanese twist. White radish, honey, orange and of course coriander round out a dish that screams wow! The radish makes this a fabulous dish as the bitterness that we appreciate in radish is prominent and brings something different to bear on the prawns.
Finally, the Spicy tuna with churmuri features beautifully cured tuna with avocado, topped with churmuri, a rice crispy type ingredient typically found in south and east India. I love the subtle but telling way Chef has married the tuna and India.
We have the Pongrácz Rosé NV, a gorgeous salmon pink rosé from South Africa, that comes in at an excellent price and offers an excellent pairing option. For me Prosecco is usually a natural pairing option, but so is the rosé.
The music, meanwhile, is integral to Tamba. DJ Celine plays a set that moves between house and commercial funk-soul-dance. Her music is hardly obtrusive, but you know it is there, with the volume at the right level. She has a presence and cannot be ignored, but ultimately lets her music selection do her talking.
Even a high-end establishment like Tamba though needs something fun and light on its menu. While you will not see 'chaat' on the menu, it is their Okra kurkure. Deep fried strips of okra are shredded and dusted with garam masala. It is crispy and crunchy as you make way from the top to the bottom. Then, after mixing it with a sauce of masala, yogurt, onion and tomato at the bottom. If you have been intrigued by a vegetable like okra but have been put off by the way it is cooked, try it here. It is done in a very accessible manner. Finally, make sure you try the Lamb kofta and foie gras, with magic chutney. This is another dish that serves as a metaphor for Tamba - bold, creative and forward looking.
Tamba is not a restaurant based on curries or that has curries as the highpoint on the menu. However, there is one dish that comes closest to giving guests a traditional Indian meal, and that is the Smoked chicken, tamatar gravy - this is what the rest of us would commonly call Butter chicken. The twist though could not be more pleasing as honey pepper burrata is added. So, where butter chicken would usually be creamy anyway, the use f burrata does something magical to it. But that is not all. You know how you enjoy butter chicken but are often faced with a dry chicken breast? Well, Tamba uses chicken supreme, and it is noticeably different when you try it.
I am looking forward to the Grilled Chilean seabass, but as I often write, I am also anxious because I don't want it overdone. As it is served, sprout salad, packing spices like cumin and coriander, together with desi pesto, make this dish something unique. But thankfully, they do not mask a poorly cooked seabass. On the contrary, it is moist, breaks apart effortlessly as I use my fork - I could not have asked for a better piece of seabass.
As dinner reaches its end and with dessert on the horizon, I can't help feeling how much soul this restaurant has. You need look no further than the narrative around the dessert. I will not ruin it for you, but will encourage you to stay for dessert. I think you will be quite taken in by the origin of the desserts!
Tamba fills a void in Abu Dhabi and fills it with aplomb. While high-end Indian dining is not new to Abu Dhabi, this concept certainly is. However, it is not just a concept. It is actually very well executed. The trend in Dubai has been a move towards restaurants that offered a lounge and bar experience as an alternative to sitting down and having a meal. Two years ago this concept came to Abu Dhabi and since we have had a few new additions to the city. Tamba is the only Indian option and that gives it a niche. Having said this, the food is not your typical Indian fare though, so it will have wider appeal.
Tonight I had some glorious dishes that will appeal to a younger and more hip demographic that that will transcend race and colour. The service was knowledgeable and intuitive while the music set the tone for the night. I can see people talking about Tamba as not an Indian restaurant, but simply as a restaurant. And that is what food is also about isn't it? If it breaks down barriers and stereotypes, it has achieved something on another level. Welcome to Abu Dhabi. Tamba, extraordinary.