Table for Four

Podium Floor,
Bay Square, Business Bay
United Arab Emirates

12th May, 2017

“Well, shake it up, baby, now (Shake it up, baby)
Twist and shout (Twist and shout)
C’mon C’mon, C’mon, C’mon, baby, now (Come on baby)
Come on and work it on out (Work it on out)

You know you twist your little girl (Twist, little girl)
You know you twist so fine (Twist so fine)
Come on and twist a little closer, now (Twist a little closer)
And let me know that you’re mine (Let me know you’re mine)”
– The Beatles (1963)

The Twist. What started a scary natural phenomenon (…er!), transitioned into a trendy dance move popularised by rock ‘n’ roll in the 1960s, moved into the silver screen to shock and bewilder audiences, and has in recent years become a household “moniker” in the culinary world.

A recent Harvard Business School graduate (because it’s always Harvard) sought to achieve his life’s ambition of opening and managing his own restaurant in NYC (because…). Primed with the right tools and skills – not to mention a brief professional stint in culinary management – he felt that it was an opportune moment to make his dreams a reality. For weeks on end, he sat at his desk, crunching away on his laptop, formulating his business plan. It began with the cuisine predicament – after all it is NYC – there’s hardly a cuisine that hasn’t been covered. This was soon followed by dilemmas with respect to human resource, capital, location, menu (yada, yada, yada). It was a month before the business proposal resembled anything like a finished product. Satisfied with the hard work he had put in, Mr. MBA decided to put to use his contacts/network in order to gain face-time (no…not the iPhone app) with several investors. The pitch to the investors was ready – the opening up of a luxurious Peruvian restaurant in the heart of NYC; a brigade of chefs headed by one of the top celebrity chefs on TV; and hope of becoming a profitable business in the next 2-3 years.

After a dozen unanswered phone calls and a dozen more voice-mails, the graduate finally had a breakthrough. An interested potential investor, eager to enter into the restaurant business was willing to dedicate a small fraction of his time to hear the young graduate out. Excited by the news, the graduate decided to dress his best and began practicing his pitch in front of the mirror. On the day of the meeting, he felt confident that he was about to gain the green he needed for his business (and I don’t mean vegetables!). The meeting, which was held in the lobby of a 5-star hotel (because they normally do!), began with promise. The graduate managed to allay any fears that the investor may have had when it came to returns and profit and any other financial matter. This, however, was merely the tip of the iceberg. What goes up always comes down, and this was not an exception. The topic soon shifted to the operations of the business, and the investor asked him the most important question of them all – “So, what cuisine are you planning to offer your diners?” and the graduate replied “Peruvian.” The investor was silent. His eyes were still fixated on the graduate. Several seconds passed by as they two stared at each other. The investor was the first to speak. “And?” he asked, his hands replicating a movement similar to the man in the picture on the right. “That’s it. Authentic Peruvian cuisine.” replied the graduate though with a slightly puzzled expression smeared across his face. “I’m sorry but I don’t think this project is viable and I withdraw my interest. Thank  you for your pitch!” retorted the investor, with not too subtle a disappointed look. “Why the change of heart?” asked the graduate, now truly perplexed. “Well…to be honest, I was expecting some sort of a twist in cuisine – like Peruvian with an Indian twist. That’s the new trend nowadays and to be fair, I do not think being direct is the best option in the current culinary world. Sorry!”

Ah! Alas the Twist has claimed another victim. Don’t worry, the graduate turned out fine. He’s fictional you see, just like in those stories that your mum or dad used to read to you at night to make you fall asleep, and so I could give him the happy ending he wanted, if I felt like it. For instance,  the graduate managed to tweak his restaurant model slightly to include this added “twist”, found another eager investor, and is currently managing his luxurious Peruvian-African restaurant in downtown Manhattan. It doesn’t really matter! What does matter, however, is how this little exposition ties in with my dinner the other day.

The investor is right to an extent. In recent years, there has been an overwhelming shift in the type of food being served across restaurants. Hardly anyone goes the direct route; i.e. sticking to just one cuisine – even if they do there is always an added element of molecular gastronomy or scientific methodology that gives the restaurant a unique flavour. And so it is with the restaurant I had the pleasure of dining at on one hot and humid evening in Dubai – Tableya. 

Tableya – the first thought that popped into my mind was “How do you pronounce it?”….is it “Table Ya”? or is it “Tabley a”? This remains a puzzle to me even now. Anyway, I first heard of the restaurant when my cousins had visited Dubai, and we were looking for places to go and eat. While the pictures on their site were quite tantalizing, their limited menu had put us off and we decided to dine elsewhere. A couple of weeks after they had left, we found ourselves in a similar situation – finding a place to go out and eat. This time, however, given that we were only a party of four, we found that a limited menu suited us just fine. 

Located on the first floor at Bay Square – downtown Dubai a.k.a the heart of Dubai – Tableya has gained a reputation for ushering away those brave enough to land up at their doorstep without any reservation. While we were certainly brave, we were definitely not stupid. In the sense, we were brave enough to not make a booking but were smart enough to land up at the restaurant early enough (7 pm) to find an empty table for four. As we sat outside, and enjoyed the moderately warm and humid climate, we saw the restaurant get busier and busier by the minute. However, there was one section of the restaurant that was completely empty and I found it surprising that the receptionist did not usher anyone towards that section, as if there were an invisible “No Entry” sign.

There was no time to dwell on the matter, however, as the waiter arrived at our table holding four one-page menu cards. The items on the menu were quite distinct – clearly, the primary cuisine of the restaurant was Indian, but there was a noticeable element of Arabic flavour with each dish (at least in writing). Guess this Harvard graduate learnt his lesson! Given the limited choices in the menu, we did not take too long to decide our order. Yet when the waiter was about to take our order, we were told that some of the dishes that we had hoped to devour were unavailable. Limitations on a limited choice! Searching for alternatives was no difficult task (there were only five-six options!).

 ( From left to right ): Kataifi Chaat; Paani Poori Shots; Hanging Wada Pops; Adana Seekh Kebob; Butter Chicken Fatayer; Lamb Boti Chettinad; Citrus Garden
(From left to right): Kataifi Chaat; Paani Poori Shots; Hanging Wada Pops; Adana Seekh Kebob; Butter Chicken Fatayer; Lamb Boti Chettinad; Citrus Garden

The first dish to arrive at the table was the Kataifi Chaat. The Arabic infused, Indian inspired, fast-food, one-bite amuse-bouche was brought in in spectacular fashion. Placed on a steel ironing board, we had to wait for the copious amounts of dry ice to clear out into the humid atmosphere before we could see the actual dish. A short tiered dish, the Chaat comprised of a heap of woven semolina topped with a dollop of a mixture of two chutneys, topped with a single pomegranate seed. It was clearly meant to be gulped down in one bite, and we duly obliged. The dish – certainly tantalizing in presentation – was even moreso in taste. The mixture of the semolina and the chaat chutneys worked well with each other, our tongues tasting the sourness and spiciness of the chutneys followed by the sweetness of the pomegranate seed.

Once the table was cleared, the second dish of the evening arrived – the Paani Poori Shots! While the pooris and the filling were served in a plain bowl, five glasses of differently coloured paani (water) were served on a dry-ice covered plate. While the dish was perfectly adequate (nothing spectacular) in taste, we had a lot of fun trying out combinations with the various waters – something reminiscent of a ’90s kids science show! Of the five glasses of water present, my personal favourite was the garlic and yogurt water (Mr. White), followed by the mint (Mr. Green) and tamarind (Mr. Red) waters.

The main course arrived roughly fifteen minutes after we were done with the Paani Poori Shots. The highlight – in terms of presentation – was undoubtedly the Hanging Wada Pops. A unique twist to an Indian classic fast-food, I think it best if we start here. The Wada Pops were reminiscent of the early eighteen century, when pirates were hung by rope for their crimes; moreso with the smearing of ketchup (“blood”) below on the wooden plank. The wadas were crisp and hot, which would have been more enjoyable on a cold, rainy day but even though we had to settle for the opposite, the dish was still quite enjoyable, and extremely filling. The wadas were well seasoned inside and the topping of chutney on top of each wada was an added bonus. It certainly didn’t make us miss Bombay!

We come now to the Butter Chicken Fatayer. The Fatayer, the broader and squarer Middle Eastern cousin of the Panini, was served on a grill below a giant carving scissor. Beside the Fatayer were three small cups of chutneys to go with the dish. The dish was ordered by my sister, who at any given Indian restaurant would opt for the Butter Chicken option – her ‘go-to’ dish. The dish was certainly unique and required a limited amount of manual labour as my sister had to cut through the bread and divide the entire Fatayer into tinier squares. However, once done with the partition, she completely devoured the entire dish, saving and offering me only a mere morsel to taste. The naan bread outside was crisp and not too rubbery, as is the case sometimes. The chicken was well seasoned with masalas and soft and succulent. It was a pity that there was not a piece left on the plate once my sister had her way with it.

The Lamb Boti Chettinad was definitely the odd one out, in the sense that it had a certain South Indian element to the flavours. The lamb pieces were served on a bed of curried mashed potatoes surrounded by thinly sliced pieces of radish and masala-rubbed banana chips. The lamb was succulent and juicy, the spices were well blended into the meat. Given that Chettinad food is known for its spiciness, I was careful to eat each morsel of my lamb with a side helping of the mashed potatoes, which perfectly dumbed down the spice levels. The last dish on the table was the Adana seekh kebob, which did not look too impressive given that there was only one piece of kebob on the plate. My dad was certainly disappointed, however, the fact that the paani pooris were quite filling and that my mum was unable to finish off her wada pops, he did not complain about the size of the dish. The kebob in and of itself was succulent but it was not enough to satisfy one’s hunger.

With the main courses done and our stomachs filled up to the brim, it was time to go overboard, and by that I mean order desserts. There were only two options to choose from from the menu – the Citrus Garden or the Who Spilled My Coffee. We opted for the former. It took a while for the dessert to come – perhaps as the garden was yet to grow! When it did arrive, however, it looked an absolute delight. A colourful mix of some of India’s famous sugary delights crowded next to one another to make it seem like a garden – it was as if someone had played Holi on the plate! No sooner had the spoons been placed by our sides than we began to dig into the dish and savour the various treats on offer. My favourite was the Mango Rasmalai, while my sister – a Passionfruit addict – dove straight into the Rasgullas. Once the main sweets were gone, we attacked the various citrus candies that played a somewhat supporting role in this “garden”. The plate was polished and clean once we were done, our stomachs now bloated but our taste-buds delighted and satisfied.

With our table cleared, we requested for the cheque. Once the bill was settled, we headed back down the elevator and towards our car, satisfied with the service and meal that was offered to us that hot and humid evening. Over the next six months, we sought several opportunities to dine at Tableya – especially as the weather got better – however we were saddened by the fact that the restaurant shut itself temporarily for renovations (and it still is temporarily closed!). While this is not the most ideal situation for admirers of the restaurant such as my family, it would provide some indication as to or the reason for the invisible “No Entry” sign that plagued my mind during our visit to the restaurant. But guaranteed that when the doors open again and the tables and chairs are set once again at Bay Square, we shall be there. “You’ve got a Table ya?” (Humorous no?!)

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *