Nuanced flavours, impeccable service and a luxurious ambience are what Melissa Nazareth experienced at Nirvana at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain.
Many of my colleagues and friends who are not Indian and have dined at Nirvana speak highly of it. After this gastronomic journey, I can confidently say that this bijou venue at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain will be loved by both, Indian and international palates alike.
An opulent setup with crimson hues, silk drapes, wood-carved panels, golden accents and paisley-printed upholstery, reminiscent of an ancient Indian palace, welcomed us. The classical Indian instrumental music playing in the background complemented the vibe.
In Sanskrit, there’s a saying, ‘athithi devo bhava’, which means a guest is akin to God. The adage underpins the importance of hospitality, a virtue that’s visibly ingrained in the service at Nirvana. A team of people waited on us, catering to our every need. We were guided to our seats and selected a table in the main dining area. However, I noticed many guests seated in the private sections, with partitions studded around the central space. Minutes later, Manoj, one of our servers, brought a basket of poppadoms – the plain and pepper-infused varieties – and a tray with mint and yoghurt chutney, mango chutney and pickle as dips.
While we whetted our appetites, I observed the tandoors, or ovens, which can be seen from the dining area through a window. Our grills and naans were being cooked there and, soon after, arrived at our table. Tashtari-E-Tandoor, a platter of chicken tikka, lamb kebab and grilled prawns, was the perfect start to our royal feast. Each of the components was outstanding. Redolent with cumin, chilli and other spices, the meats were succulent and cooked to perfection. The prawns, bouncy and seared on the edges, were rendered flavourful with a delicate marinade that didn’t steal their spotlight.
Jheenga Til Tinka, deep-fried prawns served on skewers, had a nice crunchy texture from the batter, which was sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. The sweet chilli sauce dip was nothing like the ones available in the market. Rich and fruity, with a jam-like consistency, it cut through the fried goodness.
The good ol’ Punjabi Samosa plate came with mini-sized parcels of happiness, stuffed with a moreish potato and pea filling. The pastry, flaky and crisp on the edges, hid a surprise – golden raisins – a pop of sweetness when you least expect it. This was served with a tart tamarind chutney, which I overdid until I was uncontrollably salivating – who could blame me!
I was in need of a drink and was recommended a trio of lassis – mango, sugar and mint and spices. They were exceedingly refreshing, an antidote to Bahrain’s extended summer. They weren’t too thick, just the right consistency to wash down our delicious spread with every sip.
It was now time for the main course – a selection of luscious curries with fluffy naans. Our naan basket, or Milijuli Tokari, had the plain, buttered and garlicky varieties. Hot out of the oven, they soaked in the gravy as I mopped the Murgi Makhanwali or butter chicken, which Manoj told us is Nirvana’s signature dish. Using tomatoes as the base, it was infused with light spices and had a creamy taste. I’ll be honest; I would have liked it to be slightly spicier. In fact, you can request for any dish to be more or less spicy, and the nice people at Nirvana will willingly oblige. I will remember this when I return.
Whenever I’ve eaten Indian food at a restaurant, I’ve observed that the curries are more in keeping with North Indian recipes, and so, I was elated when our server presented Erha Kari, prawns swimming in a creamy coconut gravy with pungent undertones of mustard and a tempering of earthy curry leaves. We were told it has South Indian influences, but it tasted wonderful with the Northie (an Indian slang for Northerner) naan. Our next curry was a vegetarian one but quite the contender to its meaty predecessors. Made with black lentils and red kidney beans that are slowcooked with spices, butter and cream, Dal Makhani gets its silken texture and intense flavour because it’s simmered for hours. I ate it like a soup, and it felt like a warm hug.
Rice is a staple in many Indian cuisines, so we had to do a rice dish. Our chicken biryani was cooked dum style, where the pot is sealed to create pressure so the contents cook slowly, rendering them even more flavourful. The chicken, juicy and tender, was the perfect accompaniment to the grain that had taken on its flavours. The many spices at play composed a symphony so nuanced that I was lost for many moments after every bite.
The show stopper was Chef Mahipal Singh’s Raan-E-Mastan, a goat shank that sat majestically in a pool of the most flavourful curry I’ve ever eaten. Raan refers to the leg part and Mastan, I’m guessing, is derived from masti, meaning fun. This dish was, indeed, fun to devour, with the meat falling off the bone – it’s slow-cooked for hours. It isn’t on the menu but is part of a selection of special dishes served only on weekends.
Another weekend wonder we tried was Masala Chai Brûlée, a spin on the classic dessert. I could actually taste spiced tea, but very subtly. The acidic berries on the top balanced the sweetness. We also had Teen Tarke Ke Mithas, a trio of gulab jamun – a cake-like sphere made with milk solids and soaked in sugar syrup; rasmalai, a similar treat but spongier and infused with milk; and kulfi, an ice cream with nuts.
Nirvana, the word, refers to a state of ultimate contentment, and that’s how I felt when I left. As we Indians say, pet full, dil khush (a full stomach means a happy heart)!