Based in the picturesque Venetian Village at The Ritz-Carlton, Punjab Grill is Abu Dhabi’s only 4.9 rated restaurant. And I just had to find out why. Locating the place is dead easy thanks to Zomato and Google Maps. At this time of year finding a table for lunch on a weekday won’t need a prior booking but I recommend you call to make the booking anyway just so you get to talk to the young lady who takes the call. Without wanting to give any more away, let me assure you that it is a genuinely smile-worthy experience. She is a peach of a person and the other reason I chose to take a detour to the Punjab Grill on my way back from Abu Dhabi.
The interior of the restaurant is confusing because it’s not Indian…at all. It’s almost as if the designers looked up fine dining in the encyclopaedia of interior design, ticked all the boxes and handed it to the fitting team to put together. Not only did it not identify with anything Indian (or Punjabi) but I felt it was cold and…yeah, just cold. That’s not to say there’s anything at all wrong with the interior, it’s actually very grand and opulent, OOT in an Abu Dhabi sort of way. It’s just does nothing to link you with the cuisine.
Punjab Grill is a contemporary Indian restaurant which flirts with fusion just enough to bring out a blush. And I like that about it because, unlike its anonymous interior, the food is recognisable as Indian. Hugely talented master chef Sandeep Ail has resisted the temptation of being creative for the sake of being different, something too many young, goo-goo eyed chefs do to make an impact these days. So whilst he offers a fresh, modern take on the classics, they remain thankfully familiar. He also affords his recipes the luxury (and respect) of time, marinating his kebabs and slow cooking his curries to perfection.
Dressed in colours of the Indian flag, the Chicken Tikka Trio is a good example of what I mean. This succulent tandoori delight comprises of fillets of Classic Chicken (orange), Murgh Malai (white), and Mint & Coriander (green), each as distinctly different in colour as they are in taste – a masterclass in the art of marination. The gravied Meat Punjab Grill on the other hand is premium Indian mutton, slow cooked in a lightly spiced (tomato and onion I suspect) brown sauce to OMG cotton tenderness. And like this, it just goes on and on, dish after dish, flavour after flavour of culinary jadoo. Chef Sandeep truly has a magical hand.
Service is exemplary. I cannot remember the last time I walked in to a restaurant and was greeted as warmly, seated so swiftly and seamlessly, and then introduced to a restaurant, its chef and their menu so thoroughly and eloquently as I was at the Punjab Grill. All credit to restaurant manager, Max and his amazing team who create a platform on-which one can truly enjoy Chef Sandeep’s masterpieces. For me they turned a meal into an experience, and that experience into an occasion. This review however would not be complete without special mention of young Mumbai-Se Saurabh, whose polite, respectful manner, HUGE in-depth knowledge of the menu and cuisine, and articulated descriptive skills had me literally salivating as he talked me though each dish. He was the perfect host.
So is it worth a 4.9? That’s a hard question to answer…especially after the bubble I’ve just blown. The honest truth is that I don’t know the culinary scene in Abu Dhabi well enough to give a meaningful answer. Dubai is a different matter though. Dubai is a different world. A world where you have Tresind on one side of SZR and Jodhpur on the other. But the good news is that Punjab Grill is coming to Dubai…soon. In fact it’ll be opening not far from the two heavy weights I mentioned above, in swanky Habtoor City no less. So you’ll have the opportunity to experience, judge and rate for yourself. In the meantime however, I strongly encourage you to try the existing Punjab Grill in Abu Dhabi, easily one of the best Indian restaurants I have visited this year. No, it’s actually one of the best restaurants I have visited this year – period.