Food Review: Mohalla adds a bit of spice to Dubai Design District

This Dubai eatery takes Indian street food taken up a notch


Ambica Sachin

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Published: Wed 9 Feb 2022, 1:52 PM

It may be named Mohalla, but don’t mistake this modern-ethnic Indian restaurant located in the hip Dubai Design District for anything as pedestrian as your neighbourhood street food joint.

That’s not to imply that community eateries don’t necessarily dish out some finger-licking worthy food. But Mohalla certainly takes it up a notch.

A lazy Sunday afternoon saw us cruising past the street side restaurant conspicuous by its rustic outdoor seating arrangement. It’s the new weekend of course and as diners walk in and out we manage to snag a sun dappled spot near the glass windows to enjoy the last of the winter afternoon, and gaze at the ethnic coir mats that serve as a cool eye-catching ceiling deco.

A stunning black and white hand painted illustration of a busy Indian neighbourhood dominates one wall of the restaurant, drawing our gaze as we await our appetisers.

The Avocado Papdi Chaat arrives first — generous dollops of freshly mashed avocado studded with ruby red pomegranates and bhel with tamarind-sweet chutney drizzled over it. The towering avocado mash can be a dampener for those who enjoy small bites but that’s what Indian chaat is all about — an unabashed open mouthed gulp that encapsulates the whole gamut of flavours, from sweet to sour and salty. Keema’r Doi Bara — deep fried mince meat kebabs on a bed of thick labneh scented with lemon and mint oil and garnished with fried garlic and pine nuts remind us of the Middle Eastern dish — kibbeh — though head chef Advait Anantwar informs us later during out post lunch chat, that it is also inspired by a Bengali dish. The kebabs are packed with mincemeat and flavoured with pine nuts and the combination of meat on thick yoghurt is a comforting one for those who enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine.

The Soft Shell Crab Thepla that follows is a bit heavy on mayo but that’s what makes this creamy, crunchy dish so universally appealing. At the most it may seem like a misnomer in an Indian eatery but as we are just discovering Mohalla exults in plating up old familiar dishes dressed in appealing new ways that is a culinary adventure for the palate. As if the kitchen had heard our inner rumblings our main course arrives — a comfortingly familiar dish — Pancho Dahi Chicken, (reasonably priced at Dh55) — a whole leg of chicken braised in a rich yoghurt-black pepper gravy that is the result of browning onions to that perfect rich shade. Mopped up with the churchura paratha it captures old school Nawabi cuisine at its best.

The Rava Fried Sea bass is appealingly crunchy revealing a soft succulent flesh underneath that is unencumbered by any overpowering spices. The confit raw mango sauce (an offshoot of an Israeli dish we learn) upon which the fish is served offers up an earthy dose of sourness that requires a little getting used to. But the bold flavours underline Mohalla’s USP — as evidenced by the now bustling restaurant — that while it offers up comfort food for those who seek it, it is not afraid to venture into unchartered territory with its quirky mix of flavours and aesthetic plating.

The Cardamom and Date Cheesecake comes plonked on a rustic steel plate much like what you’d find in most Indian households that has been dimmed by constant scrubbing. The cheesecake has an appealing pudding like texture and the hint of cardamom is offset by the slightly sweet date syrup with the poached date in orange juice offering up a fitting tribute to the UAE and marrying a distinctly Indian flavour with an Emirati staple.

Mohalla is the kind of place where you go for a taste of India, and come away with much more than that — an intrepid take on an old recipe that piques your palate and satisfies the gastronomic adventurer within you.

Mohalla is located at Dubai 
Design District. A meal for two costs approximately Dh300

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