New menu experience at Rangoli - Yas Island Rotana, Abu Dhabi

If you have not been to Rangoli, the north and south Indian restaurant at Yas Island Rotana in Abu Dhabi, you are losing out. The restaurant gives you two distinctive experiences, with the largest part of the restaurant giving direct views of the pool area through the floor to ceiling windows. Then, there is a  section that is more intimate and has an element of romance about it - it is marginally darker and with fewer people accommodated. It is here where my daughter and I sit to try a couple of dishes created by Rangoli Specialty Laxmi Kanth Kadiri.

As always, I start with a  glass of prosecco, one of about 27 by the glass options - equalled by only one other Indian restaurant in the city. I have a glass of Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, incidentally, one of two Proseccos offered by the glass. There is something about the mild sweetness that comes through in a  Prosecco that favours it as a pairing with Indian dishes. Great value too. 

The evolution of something special

Having been to Rangoli during Ramadan where I had my one of my two best Iftar experiences in the city, I was intrigued by some of the new dishes I was told about. 

To get this evening started, it is a concept that chef is excited about - something he is happy to do for guests on request. Chef starts us off with a selection of Indian chaat, or street food. A large tray of specially prepared ingredients is brought table side. My daughter is excited - who would not be when one looks at about 18 small dishes packed with ingredients? 

A black slate is placed in front of us and Chef starts to add the ingredients. First, we have the Aloo tikki - it is a snack made out of boiled potatoes, onions and curry spices. Chef adds ingredients and talks us through every moment. It is engaging. Chick pea masala, the aloo tikki, sweet yoghurt, mint chutney, tamarind sauce, fine chickpea noodles and fresh coriander - you can imagine the flavours just by reading these ingredients. 

Chef continues with his second chaat, the Moradabai dal ki chaat - again, he adds ingredients to the slate. This time, the ingredients promise something different with this lentil based snack. Lentils, masala, mango and lime are then topped with the standard elements in chaat - tamarind sauce, fresh coriander and chick pea noodles once more, amongst others. 

Finally, Chef makes Papri chaat or Papdi chaat as it is sometimes called.  This traditional fast food is especially popular in Northern  India. This boiled potato based dish is different from the others in that it is prepared on a papdi, fried flour crispies. Cucumber adds a refreshing quality, while you can expect the usual toppings that finish off a typical chaat. 

The end result is just special. Radish, pickles and pomegranate seeds complete the presentation. While it is served on a black slate and has that fine element to it, the relative abandonment with which chef has created it means I still feel I want to get in there with my hands. My daughter and I both get in with gusto, licking fingers and lips. The beauty of this dish is that it is more than a dish. It is an experience. It is an experience that begins the moment Chef arrives with his ingredients to the time we lick our fingers. Furthermore, having tried all high-end Indian restaurants in Abu Dhabi, this is a first time for me when I see a dish created at the table to this extent. It is bold and modern while keeping the flavours. 

For our intermediate dishes, we have lamb done two ways - both on the menu. We have the Tawa ki champe or Grilled spiced lamb chops. Imagine grilled Australian Mulwarra lamb chops with Chef's spices, cooked leaving it moist and tender. My daughter had most of this because of its spiced down level. As for me, I have the lamb from the specially created section on the menu for those who like things spiced up a bit - Mamsam meriyal masala - lamb that is just as tender and flavoursome as what my daughter has, but with greater complexity of spices and a bit more heat. I think this section on the menu is great news for those who are tired of trying Indian dishes that cater for foreigners' mild spicy palates. 

The final intermediate course is an interesting one indeed. The Min Moilley is a fish dish with sea bass perched on a  spiced bed of mashed potato, in a  coconut curry sauce with a hint of turmeric. Overall, a very nice interpretation of what is a Kerala fish curry. 

By way of a palate cleanser, we have a Berry sorbet, presented in a way that again reflects Chef Laxmi's penchant for care and detail. With a sip of prosecco, just a nice mix.

For our main courses, we have a mix of the old and new. Murgh Makhani or Butter chicken and Dal makhanwala are two of the old dishes we try - these dishes remain so immensely popular because as modern a take as Chef Laxmi has on some dishes, these are dishes you do not mess around with and he knows that. They both possess the quintessential elements that make these dishes a must order. Incidentally, rather than a full-size portion of each, we have two smaller portions of each so that my daughter can enjoy it at a spice level that suits her 11-year-old tongue. I like this sort of flexibility in the restaurant. The third dish is a new one - Aloo udaigiri - a wonderful potato based dish with generous use of red chilli. 

Finally, dessert. In many ways, it encapsulates the modern approach to Indian cuisine at Rangoli. One of the most integral ingredients of the chaat we had earlier, known for its aromatic qualities and distinctive taste, Coriander, is the centre piece of dessert - Coriander ice cream. Beetroot puree, raspberry crumble, blueberry sauce, berry compote and lemon crumb adorn the plate with fresh berries. In the middle is a sensuous green ball of coriander ice cream. Before you try all of the elements together, have a bit of the ice cream and seek out the balance. You will not be disappointed. It is right on the line! Then, have a bit of everything on your spoon and the mantra for the evening, an explosion of flavours, started with the chaat experience

There are more Indian restaurants than any other type of restaurant in Abu Dhabi. There are around 15 of what I would regard as high end. The challenge is to make yourself stand out. This Rangoli showed this evening through Chef Laxmi. I have eaten often at Rangoli, but it has been my last 4 visits that have really shown me the 'modern' side of this Indian restaurant. Respect your dishes and tradition, but create special dishes that reflect innovation and creativity. And we are not talking liquid nitrogen here. It is still about the basics. Creating and plating dishes tableside is no longer the domain of traditional cuisines like French and Italian. Rangoli is taking Indian cuisine in Abu Dhabi in that direction too. And I love it. 
The lowdown

Yas Isand Rotana,
Abu Dhabi
+971 2 656 4000

Average price meal for two 300AED

Brandon Stoltenkamp

Disclaimer:  I had dinner at Rangoli as  a guest of the restaurant.