Beautiful Indian dining in the city - Ushna, Souk at Qaryat al Beri, Abu Dhabi

The moment I walk into Ushna something happens. On this being my third visit, even though I know what to expect, I still feel a connection to the restaurant - the warm glow that the colours emit? The familiar sincerity of the staff? There is something indefinably alluring about Ushna. I stop analysing and pause for  a moment or two or three and take it all in.

I am greeted by their spice box, something that is available to guests celebrating special occasions. But I prefer the name used by staff - 'grandmother's box'. I am sure you can relate to this. Remember that special box in Grandma's house that had so many surprises? Well, this is their version of it. It is filled with spices and as I touch the spices and smell my hands - it sets the tone for my dinner in many ways. Spices. Spices. Spices. The significance of the box is that without spice, there is no Indian cuisine. A unique something that makes any special occasion even more celebratory. 
After being seated and offered a menu, I am served an amuse bouche - a Tahi kebab of yoghurt, bread crumbs, tomato chutney and spices. This together with my welcome cleanser of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom bring to my palate what I enjoyed when I smelled some of the spices in grandmother's box. A nice connection. 

An affordable glass of Jeio Prosecco gets the evening started on the bubbly side. For anyone curious, prosecco is a great pairing for Indian food due to its mild sweetness that balances the spice. Sensitive to the theatre of bubbles, my fantastic waiter for the evening, Basanta, pays the prosecco a lot of respect by gracing it with the theatre it deserves. 

My attention turns to the starter. The starter is a selection of items from the menu. A Cafreal spiced  scallop is served on a bed of lentil khichdi, a lentil-rice base packed with flavour. The highlight for me is the green spices puree - some fine green spices that are brought together. Delicious. I then have a lamb patty of shredded lamb or Resha Galouti. The delight in this dish is when I bite into it and am met by yoghurt and chilli - a surprising centre indeed. Finally, a dish that looks really interesting, is the Amritsar fish and chips. I say 'interesting' because of the history between India and Britain. However, it is the one starter that does not quite make it. There is too much England in it and not enough India. I feel it needs something that makes it Indian. A bit more spice? 

The service is at Ushna is a big part of why they have won so may plaudits over the years. Observing staff interact with guests I can see that attention to detail matters a lot to them; the little things like noticing a guest has dropped his napkin on the floor and returning with a new one before the guest has noticed. The restaurant does not have a high turnover of staff, always a good sign, and my waiter Basanta, is again my waiter this evening. As was the case the last time, his service is timely, unobtrusive and balanced. 

For our main course, my guest and I have a trio of curries - the Paneer tikka lababdar, Murgh (chicken) kali mirch and the boneless Lamb kadai masala. The paneer is a vegetarian's delight. The key, the paneer, is nicely cooked ensuring that a dry piece of cheese is not hidden by a great curry. The paneer has all the moisture you want. Next, the boneless lamb is exquisitely cooked - tender pieces of lamb that just fade away as I chew it. Tomatoes with  a mild sweetness cancel out any heat there might be from the kadai masala. Fresh ginger, though, leaves the dish with that something extra in terms of flavour. Finally, we have the chicken and it, like the lamb, is cooked, leaving it with a lot of moist tenderness. 

Masala chai of course
Value for money by-the-glass options
Ushna has been around for about 6 years now. In Abu Dhabi, that is a lifetime of you are still competing for best Indian restaurant in the city. A respect for traditional dishes that come from all regions in India, amazing service and  a manager who quietly moves around checking that everything is running smoothly make it a great destination. I have not mentioned one thing, and that is the location, for good reason. I would eat at Ushna even if it was in a mall, but the fact that it is located along the Maqta canal with to-die-for views of the Grand mosque is an added reason why it is an outstanding restaurant. Terrace seating in the cooler months coming up makes it an enviable place to dine. 

All in all, Ushna is one of the top 3 Indian dining options in the city, and for an overall fine experience, you have to try it. 

The low down


The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri,
(next to Shangri-la)
Abu Dhabi
02 5581769

Average price for 2 excl drinks 250-300AED

Disclaimer: Brandon Stoltenkamp is a  hotel and restaurant writer based in Abu Dhabi. He was at the restaurant by invitation.