Back to the Future Dinner!

Level 1, Water Front,
Dubai Festival City Mall,
Dubai Festival City,
United Arab Emirates

19th May, 2017

We interrupt this restaurant review for a special announcement…

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly but in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom….

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
An excerpt from ‘Tryst with Destiny’

…and with this late night, ten-paragraph speech, India signalled, to the rest of the world, its intent to usher in a new era – an independent era, one devoid of any British or European influence – political or otherwise. In the end, the pen did turn out to be mightier than the sword (despite the latter putting up a good fight). It is the latter of the aforementioned influences that this review aims to focus on – the otherwise, or to be more specific in this case, Anglo-Indian cuisine. History remembers the British colonization of India as a period characterized by exploitation and violence. I, for one, would tend not to argue with such statements, primarily because I  never paid much attention in my history class to develop a sound defence for the British.  That being said, I find myself in a precarious situation of returning to the ‘colonial motherland’ for at least another 42 weeks (nothing compared to their 200 year rule!), and it might do well to dwell on some of the positives (well, at least one).

Britain’s ‘extended’ stay at the Indian subcontinent (the now InterContinental!) was not unlike that of a guest at a five-star hotel, who believes it to be well within his rights to raid/pillage/plunder the hotel room of its amenities, in particular the bathroom. Soaps, conditioners, toothbrushes, toilet paper…you name, he’s got it packed in his suitcase, ready to take it back home. In the case of the British, they took their rights one step further – par exemple, the Kohinoor diamond, which the British not only “borrowed” from India but continue to charge these same Indians to come and see it (glass box and all!). All was not lost, however. The British were kind enough to leave something behind. What? They did? Well, given that their stay lasted for nearly three centuries, it isn’t too far-fetched to think that these “guests” must have felt just a tiny bit homesick at some point in time, certainly from a culinary perspective. Rather than take the long trip back home for a short vacation, they decided to modify the local cuisine to their liking. And lo behold! The birth of the Anglo-Indian cuisine!

The result was pleasantly (and surprisingly) lasting. Indian cuisine, even to this day, presents traces of these colonial culinary modifications. From soups peppered with spices (the Mulligatawny) and vegetables cooked in a rich tomato gravy (the Jalfrezi) to the everlasting Chutney and the British-phenomenon we call ‘The Curry’. These creations, certainly not meant to withstand the test of time, have found their way into our homes, onto our shelves, and certainly into the kitchens of many restaurants – including Peppermill.

The city of Dubai is a cornucopia of restaurants and places of entertainment. If there’s one thing that Dubai has got in abundance (and then some), it is Indian restaurants. While certain restaurants have managed to set themselves apart from the rest – either through their technique or menu (or prices!) – diners often experience a sense of “Déjà-vu” as they dine at one of the innumerable Indian restaurants the city has on offer. So what sets Peppermill apart from the rest? Is it their scientific cooking techniques? Their exorbitant prices? Unfortunately (or fortunately) no! The answer lies in the cuisine on offer at the restaurant. As I had stated earlier, Anglo-Indian cuisine might be an outdated term, but the lasting effect of its creations has been quite remarkable. Not unlike certain sections of the Indian population, these ‘creations’ found their way across the Arabian Sea and into the kitchen of Peppermill. It was this unique claim of the food being inspired by Colonial India that attracted me to the restaurant, not to mention the tantalizing photos of the food uploaded on to the internet.

We (a party of six) arrived at the restaurant – located on the first floor of the Dubai Festival City – at a quarter past seven. We were greeted by the receptionist, who took us to our reserved table inside. As we sat down, I noticed that we had a clear view of the Dubai Creek – home to an apparently exciting light, sound, and fire show. However, until then, it was time to browse the menu handed to us by the waiter. The menu was certainly not scarce of choices – dishes ranging from north to south India and even extending slightly northeast. Naturally, it took us a while to decide our order. As we waited for the waiter to arrive at our table, we could hear a slight thumping noise coming from outside. The bass was on, and the show was about to begin. It was mid-way through the show when we finally placed our order for the appetizers and the drinks. 

 ( From left to right ): Kalimpong Chicken Shuijiao; Fattoush Ala Indie; Chicken Chettinad; Chaat Platter; Paneer Makhani; Mutton Pepper Fry; Kesari Rasmalai
(From left to right): Kalimpong Chicken Shuijiao; Fattoush Ala Indie; Chicken Chettinad; Chaat Platter; Paneer Makhani; Mutton Pepper Fry; Kesari Rasmalai

The drinks were the first to arrive at the table – two Peppermill Shikanjis, one Virgin Margarita, and one Berrylicious. As we awaited the appetizers, my eyes were fixated on the TV screen opposite our table. Playing on the tele was Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape to India – a fitting show for a place like Peppermill (for obvious reasons). I might be reading too much into this when I say that it probably was a gimmick by the restaurant to build up diners’ appetites by having them watch the show. Whether or not I am correct is irrelevant; however, it seemed to work perfectly. Gordon’s Indian adventure had my mouth salivating and my hands reaching out for my drink to quench my hunger. It was surely pure coincidence that the waiter brought out the pre-appetizer – Boiled peanuts wrapped in newspaper cones – just as Gordon Ramsay was walking down the streets of Mumbai.

Our appetizers arrived shortly after – the Fattoush Ala Indie salad, the Chaat Platter, and the Kalimpong Chicken Shuijiao. Of the three dishes that we arrived at our table, the latter was certainly the most intriguing of the lot, and definitely has a deeper connection to Colonial India than the others. So, I shall start there. The Shuijiao is an East Asian dish, which was probably brought into India during the colonial period, when Kalimpong served as a gateway between Tibet and India. Essentially, the dish is an extravagant version of North India’s favourite snack – the Momo! (not an abbreviation for Mohammed Salah). Four steamed chicken dumplings served on top of a rich red broth of burnt chilli and celery. The dumplings were steamed to perfection, evident by the fact that they didn’t fall apart as we picked them up using our forks. The broth was intense with flavour, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it was so much so that at times it overpowered the flavour of the chicken dumplings. In the end, our bowl was still a quarter full of the broth. Perhaps a smaller portion of the broth would suffice.

The next appetizer up for review is the Fattoush Ala Indie salad. The Fattoush, in a general sense, is a Middle-Eastern bread salad combined with mixed greens, radishes and tomatoes. Unfortunately, there was nothing “Fattoush-y”(?) about the salad served to us. While the other components – the mixed greens, radish slices, tomatoes, cute cucumber ribbons, and tiny bits of feta cheese – were all present, the salad lacked the crunch required for it to be called a Fattoush salad. The last dish on our table was the Chaat Platter. Sat on a long strip of banana leaf, which was placed on a long wooden board, were some of India’s favourite chaat dishes (snacks) – Paani Puris, Samosas, Crispy Fried Palak, Baby Potatoes, and Dahi Vadas. It must have been good because by the time I could reach out for a piece of the Chaat, I found myself grabbing for scraps. Oh well! I guess this means another trip to the restaurant.

 Madras Kaafi Madras Kaafi

Once the plates were cleared, we opened the menu, once again to find ourselves facing a tough task to decide the dishes for our main course. For the non-vegetarians, our burden was slightly eased by my sister’s persistence to try out the Chicken Chettinad and the Mutton Pepper Fry. It wasn’t too long before the rest of the table (the you-know-whats!) had decided their dishes – the Soya Chaap Masala, Paneer Makhani, and Dal Makhani.

 The main course arrived in due time, without any fuss. The only dishes that I will be reviewing on this post will be the ones I’ve tried; i.e. the non-vegetarian dishes. All that I can say about the vegetarian options is that they were well received but there wasn’t any dish that really excited me enough to want to grab my spoon and take a spoonful (or more). The Chicken Chettinad was another dish that has its roots buried deep inside Colonial India. Chettinad cuisine originates from a community known as the Nagarathars (a name similar to a Star Wars creature), who are traditionally vegetarians. Well, they were, until the colonisation of South India by the Dutch and the French, whose presence greatly influenced the cuisine, to the point that non-vegetarian ingredients were entrenched into the Chettinad cuisine. See! Colonisation wasn’t such a bad thing, after all! The Chicken Chettinad, served in a small rust-brown earthen pot looked the real deal, right from the onion-tomato marination to the few sprigs of roasted curry leaves on top. The chicken was well-cooked – moist inside and crunchy on the outside, and the dish was fortunately not overpowered by the addition of coconut milk as is the case with certain South Indian dishes. While the Chettinad dish was certainly inspired by Colonial India, the Mutton Pepper Fry was the dish that stood out. This was primarily due to the addition of the fried and spiced idli pieces that accompanied the dish. The mutton, in and of itself, was fried to perfection – chewy (wuuuahhhaaaa!) just to the right amount. The spices were well-blended and the pepper was certainly not too overpowering, spicy to just the right extent. The idlis, which were fried with certain spices – probably gun powder – were still moist and soft on the inside, while remaining firm and crunchy on the outside. Both, the Chettinad Chicken and Mutton Pepper Fry, were the perfect dishes to accompany our deliciously thick Malabar Parathas.

Despite being nearly full to our stomachs, we still managed to keep room for desserts, and in this case dessert was in the form of a crustless cheesecake, more popularly known in the Indian subcontinent as Rasmalai. Two small cheesecakes doused in a rich saffron-infused cream, served in a small marble bowl, were presented to us. Now, I have been fortunate enough to not have experienced a bad Rasmalai. There have been few that have been overly sweet or have been quite small, but not to the extent wherein I have been revolted by the dish or have had to throw away most of them. Rasmalai has, and continues, to be my safe option when dining at an Indian restaurant given my good luck with the dish. Most of you are expecting a ‘However…’. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my good fortune with this Bengali dessert continued as the dish was well prepared by the chefs at Peppermill. The malai (cream) was neither too thick nor too sweet, while the Kesari (saffron) was adequate enough to provide the fragrance but not completely overpower the dish. While my sister and I gorged on the dessert, the rest at the table decided to order the Madras Kaafi, because why not? I’m not a Coffee or Kaafi drinker, but you know you’re in for a good one when it’s served to you – piping hot and all – in a steel glass, standing in the centre of a small steel bowl. Once served, my father began the customary tradition of pouring the coffee from the glass to the bowl and back (several times) to initiate the cooling procedure. It was the perfect moment to take my phone out and shoot a reverse video (as is seen from the gif above).

“Marty: Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, uh, are you telling me you built a time machine…out of a DeLorean?
Doc: The way I see it, if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

Time travelling is a concept that is, unfortunately, still very much a theory. There have been numerous uncanny predictions made by the Back to the Future movies that have eventually turned out to be true – the use of personal drones, hoverboards, video phones, etc. So why is not possible, rather probable, that a time machine can be built out of a DeLorean? If such a machine was to be built, which period in time would you venture out to? I certainly know where I am headed! Peppermill has made sure of that. 

Peppermill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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