Ushna - Souk Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi

Contemporary Indian cuisine. That is how Ushna markets itself. It is part of the Qaryat Al Beri complex in Abu Dhabi, and as I approach the restaurant, a couple of questions float through my mind. Is it not hurt by the fact that it is a stand-alone restaurant, without the backing of a big brand hotel? In going for a contemporary take on Indian cuisine, does it succeed? Does it live up to the name 'Ushna'? As I am greeted at the door, my questions are answered to a large extent. I can't help noticing the countless awards it has won. Ahead of me I see a bar with the mixologist holding a cocktail shaker, creating a drink. To my right I see a cosy sitting area with a cabinet holding cigars. Before even being seated, I have a very strong impression of Ushna. A few questions remain unanswered, but I am welcomed and shown to my seat.

The art adds to the warmth at Ushna.
Integral to the contemporary feel is the bar. 
Part of the orange and red motif in Ushna - all about warmth again. 
Orange and red predominate. Paintings reflect the same colours. Oh, definitely 'Ushna' I think to myself - It is indeed warm and welcoming. The colours, I continue thinking to myself, will be even more poignant in the cooler winter months. My waiter for the evening, Ryan, through a very easy going manner, extends the idea of warmth. So, yes, 5 minutes into my visit, it lives up to the name. Warmth is not something you can fake. I feel it in abundance here.


The evening starts of with the usual papadums and a lovely selection of mint chutney, beautifully hot mixed vegetables, chickpeas and sweet tomato chutney. Small portions, just enough to stimulate the palate. Next, my amuse bouche arrives. It is onion baji, an onion fritter. Mint, tamarind, sweet yogurt and coriander  all explode in the mouth - the kind of amuse bouche that makes you want to have 2, 3 or even 4, but the night is young, so I resist.

As I wait for my starters, I peruse the wine list. The contemporary nature of Ushna is again revealed through the wine list. It is as comprehensive a wine list as one could want, and let's not forget that Ushna is a stand-alone restaurant. The choice of Champagnes available too is impressive, including the fabulous Louis Roederer "Cristal" 2005. I also spot another favourite of mine, the South African Meerlust Rubicon, an exceptional wine. I go over to the bar and discover that there are more than 70 different types of Vodka. Contemporary yes. Just before the starters arrive, I have a quick look at the family section. I fall in love with the swing style seating options available. My daughter will love this, I reflect to myself.

The amuse bouche - onion fritter.
My starters arrive. I have tasting portions of the Usmaa scallops, the chemeen polichattu and the reshi galouti. The pan seared scallops on a lentil and rice sauce  are  as creative as they are delicious; subtle flavours here. The resha galouti, with seasoned yogurt, just dissolves in my mouth. The pomegranate just adds that bit of zest making it even tastier. Finally, saving the best for last, the chemeen polichattu is tremendous. It is basically tiger prawns wrapped in banana leaf. The prawns along with  the tomatoes and caramelised onions make a very nice combination. So, not only does it overwhelm with presentation, but also taste.

Ryan, meanwhile,  is a waiter who moves around with a humble kind of swagger, while effortlessly talking about the menu. And while I decide not to have anything from the excellent wine selection, Ryan is on top of his art and is able to talk extensively about  the wine on offer. Nice indeed.

My mains 
Shrimp in coconut sauce. 
As diverse in colour as in taste. 

I am just about ready for my mains, and I opt to go for some classics. While it is contemporary, I also want to see how Chef interprets more traditional dishes. Chef prepares small portions of some truly classic dishes. I am presented with Daab Chingri, Gosht Khada Masala, Dal Makhani and Murgh Makhani. The daab chingri, shrimp cooked in coconut milk and presented in a hollowed out coconut, is marvelous. The coconut milk stands out for its distinctive taste and creaminess. The Gosht or lamb, is cooked with a classic Indian spice, garam masala and with vegetables including cherry tomatoes and button onions. The garlic and ginger complete this dish. I ordered it spicy, so there is quite a bit of bite. I love it. Next, the dal is very simple but tasty. Creamy and lightly peppery, I enjoy this with the naan. Then I enjoy it again. And again. Finally, it has to be the Murgh Makhani or butter chicken. It is as good as it gets, and I am surprised by how much I like the subtle cardamon in the butter chicken. It is mildly spicy, so I can really appreciate the chicken.

Dessert, of course, has to include masala chai, and Ryan, sensitively tells me he has not added sugar to it because the desserts will be quite sweet. Not only is he knowledgeable and engaging, he shows initiative. Nice again. The gulab jamun, a traditional fried dumpling known for its sweetness, is perfectly warm and as I bite into it, I enjoy the safron - delicate yet intense for me. Wonderful. I sip on my masala chai and realise that it is the perfect accompaniment for me. The gajar ka halwa, more of a Punjabi dessert, consists of fresh carrots simmered in milk with nuts and cardamon. It is a revelation for me. The crunchiness of the nuts contrasts well with the carrots. It is sweet, but ever so slightly.

The night ends as I walk to the window to look across the canal to take in the picturesque Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The remaining question has been answered. I believe that integral to Ushna's success as a restaurant is the fact that it does stand alone. When I left for dinner that night I was thrilled that I was not going to a  hotel. Don't get me wrong. From my posts you will know that I love hotel dining, but this was a pleasant change for me. Its elegantly relaxed approach to contemporary Indian dining works so well. As I say my goodbyes, I turn around and look at the bar, the kitchen, the staff and the colours again, and my final thought is captured in one word: outstanding.

The low down

The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri,
Abu Dhabi
02 5581769

Starters 45-75 Dhs
Mains 50-160 Dhs
Desserts 36-42 Dhs