Dil Se Desi is one of a handful of Indian restaurants in Dubai which specialises in Bengali food. Sadly, my favourite, DG Kolkata Kitchen, closed down some time ago so it was with some excitement that my friend Augustine (born and brought up in Kolkata) and I sought out this new find. Located in the lobby of the little-known Pearl Residence Hotel Apartments on Street 18 in Mankhool, Dil Se’s interior is an exercise in Plain Jane mediocrity. The fact that we were the only ones in the restaurant for lunch did little for its ambiance. If you come by car note that there is AED 5.00 per hour paid parking available in the basement courtesy of a chirpy Afghan gentlemen who found it hilarious that I spoke both Dari and Farsi and knew enough Pashto bad words to make him blush.
I could tell from the ear-to-ear smile on Augustine’s face that the menu included all his favourite Bengali dishes. Our waiter, a bubbly young sardar by the name of Jasmeet, fuelled his enthusiasm with descriptions of each dish so deliciously detailed it could shame many a food blogger. Even my mouth started watering hearing this kid go, and I didn’t even know half the stuff he was talking about.
We started with breaded and fried Bhetki, which is what Bengalis call barramundi or Asian sea bass. Their Bhetki is make like a giant fish finger and is served with a to-die-for mustard sauce. It was so good I actually ordered a second portion.
We had to order a Chingri Malai Curry, which is a Bengali prawn curry made with coconut milk and flavoured with spices. Popular throughout Bengal, it is usually served during weddings and celebrations. History buffs will quickly point out that it was also very popular among the British in Calcutta. My late mum would make this, though she omitted the coconut milk because of its scarcity in post-revolution Tehran where we lived at the time. The prawn curry I had at Vasai Local in Karama the other day reminded me of her so much. I can’t wait to take my sister there. It’s funny how taste can tap into memories.
Sadly, the Chingri Malai Curry was nothing like the real thing; it had no more than a few puny prawns which looked like they had drowned in the oily excuse for a sauce. Maybe I have grown fussy with age because Augustine was having a good ol’ time with the very same curry, having made a slurry of it and his rice. Our Muger Dal, another pukka Bengali dish, made with moong dal and vegetables (in this case motorshuti or green peas), was served in typical Bengali fashion, two or three courses into the meal. It arrived just ahead of the crunchy Bhindi Kurkuri I ordered. Now it was my turn to go to town. The peas in the dal give it a slightly sweet taste which the bhindi offset perfectly. I could eat this every day.
What kind of a Bengali restaurant doesn’t serve sweets? Not even Mishti Doi or Meetha Dahi as it’s called in Hindi (that’s sweet curds to you and me). And that basically sums up my feelings towards Dil Se Desi – disappointed. The place lacked ambiance. The food was hit and miss. They had no desserts. I had to pay to park. The silver lining was young Jasmeet. His enthusiasm and friendly professionalism made up for a lot of the restaurant’s shortcomings. If it weren’t for him, I would have given this restaurant a Ravenous Rating as low as 2.0/5.0 but I will give it a 3.5 instead. Worth a visit? Most definitely. Just remember to let Jasmeet order.
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Xerxes physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join me on Instagram @ravenousxerxes or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.