Doha’s culinary scene just keeps on evolving. Located a few doors up from Mannai, at the start of Salwa Road and at what I still refer to as ‘Ramada Junction’, and almost opposite the Jarir Bookstore, is where you will find one restaurant leading the way in showcasing regional northern Indian cuisine – the newly opened Amara. Stepping out of the heat, the décor is a blend of modern meets traditional. No harsh lighting here and although the music is of the tasteful Bollywood soundtrack variety, there is nothing to give away the fact that we are in an Indian restaurant.
Amara occupies a spacious room, softly lit, with green walls, a colourful tiled floor and an artistically created wall made up of draw-fronts that maybe once, in a previous life, housed many of the spices and ingredients used in Indian cooking.
Scanning the menu is easy because they use one of those new-fangled technology tablets where you just tap your dish on the screen. The full spectrum of Indian dishes is here and includes all your favourites, including my benchmark, rogan josh. I know that if they get that right, then everything else will be ok.
A small bowl of papad, a sort of mini-papadum, arrived on the table, along with some mint chutney and sweet and sour tamarind sauce. Nizam and Sadeq are on hand to guide me for the evening and recommend what, to the uninitiated, may appear to be mere tomato soup, but is officially Tamater Dhaniya Shorba. While a little thicker than soup it was quite light, with a hint of coriander and very tasty.
Nizam and Sadeq recommended trying a small variety of starters so, next was the Amara signature dish, murgh tikka – six generous pieces of chargrilled chicken, marinated with yoghurt and the chef’s Amara special secret mix of spices, served on two skewers. Now the chef, Arbind, was getting into his stride and, no sooner had I expressed my satisfaction, than he turned up with another two skewers, this time having marinated the chicken in mustard. By golly that tasted good! And then a random lamb chop. The real surprise though is the delivery, as what appears to be a smoking miniature tandoori oven made from beaten metal is delivered to the table with the juicy chunks of chicken still on the skewers, absorbing some of the charcoal flavour from a couple of glowing embers deliberately left in the bottom.
No pondering over the main course as its mutton rogan josh for me – aptly described as lamb, simmered with onion, tomato and Indian spices, it’s a classic known as the ‘prince of curries’ and which, dear reader, I recommend you try. Don’t be put off by the word ‘mutton’ as that’s where the flavour is. I like it with saffron rice but I had to have an Indian tandoori roti bread to get into the hands-on, scooping-up experience – give the eating irons a break, you can use them at home.
Chef Arbind expertly sources ingredients each day and brings them together using both traditional and contemporary techniques. These secret recipes take six years to master, he said, and hours to cook.
By now I was wishing I’d worn my elasticated suit but, on your behalf dear reader, I felt compelled to finish off with dessert. And who doesn’t love Kesari Badami Phimee? That’s saffron flavoured rice pudding and, to my surprise, it was a cold dish. Delightful on the palate though.
There’s a nice selection of mocktails to keep sipping while you sit back, enjoy the music, admire the custom-designed tiled floor (deliberately dulled to simulate aged tiles) and take in the overall unhurried ambience. The staff all take immense pride in their traditional cuisine. I am sure they are on a mission to elevate Indian food to a new level.
Now groaning under the sheer volume of food I’d eaten, I staggered back to the car. You’re never going to leave Amara hungry. Simple sophistication, from start to finish
If you are anything like me you could eat curry for breakfast. The days of the old fashioned ‘curry house’, with flock wallpaper and heavy red curtains are long gone. Amara, which, by the way, means ‘ours’ and is intended to create a sense of ownership among the staff, puts a creative and delectable spin on traditional dishes, from start to finish.
Get down there and tell them I sent you …
Review by: David Moore
International man of mystery, beachcomber extraordinaire, raconteur and bon vivant
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