Clean Eating With Elevated Flavours

Nirvana has a new vegan menu and Fernanda Langhammer went there to try the plant-based version of some authentic Indian dishes.

The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, is always an excellent destination for exquisite food options. There are 16 eateries (with exciting pop-up concepts) offering an array of cuisines, such as Mexican, French, Thai, Italian, a fine-dining steakhouse and much more. But I went there this time to try the new vegan menu at Nirvana, the well-established Indian restaurant. As a former vegan, I was super excited to investigate their take on the concept. I brought along a connoisseur of vegetarian Indian food as my dining companion for an in-depth experience and the hotel’s Food and Beverage Director, William Fily, also joined us.

The entrance to the eatery sets the tone: an intricate wooden structure with two bronze elephants welcoming you into a portal that transports you to India. With decadent décor inspired by the country’s palaces – many of the panels and elegant arches carved in wood take their influence from the Rajasthan region – there is a royal vibe in the air with a lot of deep-red accents. The seating area displays black chairs with golden details and sofas in paisley prints with fringed cushions. The kitchen is behind glass framed by the same wooden structure, and in front of it is a duo of musicians playing traditional folk music with a mix of Bollywood instrumental tunes. The live music performed with the conventional instruments tabla and sitar, creates a pleasant visual and sonorous atmosphere, adding an extra touch to this impressive dining room.

The menu has a lot of recipes originally from the north of India, where Executive Indian Chef Mahipal Singh comes from, as well as many of the smiley staff. Mohamed Mohsen, the Restaurant Manager, and Manoj, our waiter for the night, were responsible for delivering the food to our table and explaining each item with enthusiasm. Chef Mahipal has been the maestro of Nirvana for the past 21 years, so he knows exactly what his guests are looking for; the demand for vegan options influenced the creation of the special menu. Some signature dishes will also be added to the carte during summer, offering sensational new options to the well-established selection of dishes.

In this ambience of good music, fantastic company and excellent service, the dishes started to reach our table. Instead of the traditional bread and butter from Western restaurants, at Indian eateries, you get poppadom (a crispy, deep-fried or cooked with dry heat dough) plain and with black pepper, accompanied by mint and mango chutney that I couldn’t stop returning to throughout the dinner.

The cold appetiser was the Kachoomber Salad, made with diced carrots, cucumber, avocado and bell pepper and dressed in lemon juice, olive oil and chaat masala. According to my dining companion, kachoomber means small pieces and the dish reminded me of a ‘garden’ tartare – it was crunchy and refreshing with a subtle spicy kick. The warm appetiser was Chowk Ki Tikki, a pan-fried potato and pea patty served with tamarind, mint and raspberry chutney. Per my connoisseur companion, this dish is a popular street food that, at Nirvana, got an extra layer of flavour with the addition of the raspberry chutney. This was one of my favourite dishes; it was warm, the shredded pieces of potato gave a delightful texture to the small patties and the spices were spot on. I could eat this every day!

It was time to explore the mains. Chef Mahipal explained that the menu is available à la carte, so each dish is served separately but, for us that night, he prepared a sample of them all so we could taste everything. The star dish of the night for my friend was the Pindi Choley, a traditional Punjabi chickpea curry that is not too creamy but more on the dry side. The addition of dry mango powder gives a delightful tanginess to the recipe. My favourite main followed, Bhindi do Pyaaza, which is okra cut into small pieces and cooked with lots of onions and Indian spices. The okra was crunchy and the sweetness of the onions contrasted beautifully with the earthy flavour of this vegetable, which I really enjoy when cooked well. For a potato spree, we had Aloo Gobi, potato and cauliflower with spices and herbs, and Jeera Aloo, potatoes prepared with cumin seeds.

Of course, a dal (a typical dish made with split pulses) was mandatory and we were served Dal Tadka, composed of yellow and black lentils cooked with herbs and spices, garnished with cumin, garlic and coriander seeds. It was creamy and the particularity of this dal is that the spices are tempered separately and added when the pulses are cooked. The spread was accompanied by Jeera Rice, which was very fluffy and aromatic, and a selection of flatbreads: Missi Roti (a gluten-free option) and regular Roti.

To end our journey into this spectacular plant-based menu was a fruit platter with strawberries, blueberries, melon, watermelon and dragonfruit. But Chef Mahipal had one last card in his sleeve, a vegan version of Sabudana Kheer, a creamy and thick pudding made with tapioca pearls, almond milk, sugar and cardamom. The saffron drizzle, raspberry and roasted hazelnut made each spoonful of this version of a rice pudding even more delightful.

Nirvana means achieving a state of enlightenment, and I can say that the vegan feast was full of flavour, delicate and well-balanced with the right amount of spiciness that took our tummies into a state of peace and happiness. If you are a regular guest, stay tuned for the new additions to the menu – if you are not, don’t miss out on dining like a Maharaja!

For more information or to make a reservation,
please call Nirvana at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain on 1758 6418.

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