Avasa Indian Kitchen - Saadiyat Collection, Abu Dhabi

Independent. That is the Hindi origin of the word 'Avasa' in this context. If you visit Avasa Indian Kitchen, part of the upmarket Saadiyat Collection at St Regis on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, you will certainly experience that approach to dining. You will have one of the nicest Indian dining experiences in the city. Because it is part of the this relatively unknown but growing development next to The St Regis, I felt like a bit of a pioneer. But the fact that Avasa has been around for about 8 months means there are no growing pains here: they have honed their art and have settled into a routine of fine dishes and service that is homely but professional.

I think it is easy to go overboard when creating a high end Indian dining establishment because Indian culture is as old as life itself and there are so many aspects that can be included in the decor. I am pleased to say that Avasa Indian Kitchen strikes that balance between creating an Indian ambience without going the gaudy route. The restaurant retains a  simple feel thanks to the wicket furniture outside, but as you go inside you will see a marriage of the simple and decorative with gorgeous furniture. On one of the walls is an opulent gold plate - no, again not gaudy - it is juxtaposed by 8000 Indian bangles of various colours dangling in front of it in a piece that could have been taken from an art exhibition at Manarat Saadiyat, a nearby art gallery complex.  Finally, the explosive colorful paintings  create a sense of a restaurant embracing both the past but also grounded in the present, creating a very contemporary restaurant experience.

Intimate seating.  
Inside seating is bright but tasteful. 
Colourful abstract pieces set Avasa very much in the present. 
But, who goes to a restaurant to stare at the decor? How does Avasa deliver on food and service? Because of its independent leaning, it is able to showcase food from all parts of India, rather than be locked in to a specific region.

We started off with an amuse bouche that was essentially a lentil dumpling stuffed with yogurt and mint sauce, with tamarind sauce on top with a bit of coriander garnish. This was a celebration of subtlety in taste and  a continuation of my journey of understanding Indian cuisine.

For starters we ordered palak and cheese tikki which is a flat croquette of cottage cheese and spinach, the Punjabi fish tikka,  which is a North Indian spiced fish that is charcoal grilled and also the potato samosas. While we enjoyed all three, the fish and samosas stood out. They were  tantalizing. The fish was not too spicy, allowing you to appreciate the natural taste of the fish, while the samosas showed how much one can do with potatoes. Delicious indeed.

Lentil dumpling amuse bouche.  
The pic does the potato samosa no justice.
Avasa, a licensed restaurant, boasts a very good wine list, but my eyes stayed focused on an Indian wine. I felt compelled to have the Sula Shiraz, originating in the Nashik region about 180km north east of Mumbai. I was surprised not only by the fact that india produces wine commercially but that it was quite a lovely medium bodied wine with gorgeous aromas of spice and tobacco. Nice.

It proved to be a perfect accompaniment to my main which included the Dhaba style lamb, a typical street style curry and the intriguing pomegranate lamb chops, described on the menu as lamb with 'sour pomegranate, saffron mashed potatoes and sweet house chutney'. My daughter tried the Kashmiri mutton korma (parents take note) because it was less spicy than the other main dishes.  And just for good measure, we also had to taste the Goan prawn curry. Finally, our waitress surprised us with a dish she described as Hyderabad style mutton biryani. She felt it was a dish we had to try. As I write this, I realise that we ate a lot! That was the problem. Avasa has so many inviting dishes on the menu that I wanted to try everything.

The Sula Shiraz surpised me by its intensity.

The verdict? My favourite undoubtedly the Dhaba style lamb which had a bit of kick to it. Lamb beautifully cooked. The biryani had the most interesting presentation - Chef covers the dish with flatbread dough and cooks it, allowing the taste and aroma to be trapped inside. At the table, the waitress then removed the bread and served it. Loved it.

The biryani with a bit of curry from the Dhaba lamb and mutton korma. 
To end off dinner, I had the trio of dandi kulfi, consisting of mango, cardamon, and pistachio flavored fruit ice cream with homemade fruit caviar. One word: creamy. So creamy and surprisingly, not too sweet.

Kulfi with fruit caviar.
No it's not coffee - masala chai. Loved the cup.
My signature request when I have Indian food is masala chai. The moment the cup was placed in front of me, the aroma of the ginger wafted to my nose. The aroma lingered without overpowering and this was reflected in the taste.

So, the decor and the food excellent were both superb, how did the service measure up? From my blog posts you will know how big I am on service: serve me a stone but do so with grace, elegance and knowledge, and I will return! The first thing struck me about our waiting staff was how well spoken they were. Mayank and Angie moved around effortlessly, bringing our dishes and engaging us on a variety of topics. They both made entrances and exits at the most appropriate of times, and were adept at sensing our needs. In addition, Angie was very good with Mitsuki (7 years old), making her feel at ease and encouraging her to explore the menu. She did not over-do it though, which I think is a hard balance for waiting staff to strike as they try and engage young diners. Angie and Mayank made me feel I was indeed in a kitchen with familiar people talking over a meal, while all the time delivering very professional service.

This diner looks shy, but was thrilled to meet Chef. 
Avasa Indian Kitchen proved to be a memorable experience. Was this so because the manager engaged his guests? Was it because we met Chef and had a look around the kitchen? Was it because the food scored high on taste and presentation? Was it a result of the rich menu and wine list? Could it be because of the fabulous waiting staff we encountered? Maybe it was all of these. What I do know is as I write this, I can close my eyes and at will I can be transported back to a dining experience I will be talking about for days to come!

The low down

Avasa Indian Kitchen
The Collection at St Regis on Saadiyat,
Abu Dhabi
02 674 2221

Starters 40-85 Dhs
Soups and Green 35-43 Dhs
Tandoor 58-120 Dhs
Curries69-98 Dhs
Sweets 32-42 Dhs

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