I am a huge Asha Bhosle fan, I am. Yes, I may have only hard a few of her songs but the ones that I have heard (four to be precise) are in my opinion some of the best Hindi songs ever produced.
The first AB song I heard was ‘zara sa jhoom lun main’ from Dilwalay Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995. It was the first Bollywood film that I watched more than once. I remember thinking that the singer could be slightly older if not 16 like me. Little did I know that she was 62 at the time.
The respect I have for this woman is huge. First, as one of the greatest Hindi singers of all time and then as an entrepreneur and business woman. She broke stereotypes and created record breaking hits but also managed to turn her lifelong love of food into a flourishing business. With branches in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Birmingham and Manchester, she quite literally seems to have taken the world by storm. Like many other great success stories however, Asha’s the restaurant can trace its origins back to Dubai.
To be honest, I have been to Ashas twice before and the food really wasn’t all that special. I returned this time because a couple of people had asked me if it was a good Indian restaurant and I didn’t want to base my answer on past experience.
Before I get to the food, let me say that I felt a bit warm and fuzzy whilst going through the menu. There were personal notes and anecdotes sprinkled throughout which explained Asha Jee’s inspiration for various dishes or took us back to where she had first tried a particular recipe. Personal touches like that might be the reason behind the restaurant’s exponential growth despite serving ordinary fare at extraordinary prices.
We ordered the Lamb Curry Awadh (classic lamb curry), Dhaniya Murgh (coriander chicken), Bhindi do Piaza (Okra cooked with cumin – seasoned with bishop seeds) and the Kebab Sultanpuri (pan fried spiced mint lamb cutlets). Our waiter asked us if we would like the food to be spicy and we said ‘Yes Please!’ in unison. I remember saying, make the lamb ‘extra, extra spicy please’, to which our waiter gave a reluctant nod of approval. He told us the waiting time was 25 minutes which made me very excited because it meant the food would be prepared freshly on site and not driven down from some central kitchen as someone had suggested to me earlier.
So we started with the very presentable and geometric appetizers (cone shaped poppadums) and colorful chutneys. I loaded a poppadum with what looked like a mango chutney and some mint sauce expecting an explosion of sweet and spicy filling but sadly, all I could feel was the different textures of the mango, the salted papad and the mint sauce. I’m not making this up – there was absolutely no taste at all. The achar (pickled mango) was however full of flavor and God knows we shoved plenty of that down our throats. We were hungry so we shut up and polished the plates clean, mango and all.
The lamb curry was a bit bland but the quality of the meat was good and the curry was not watery. It did have a distinct Awadhi flavor and despite not being a contender for the ‘best curry in the world’, it did the job it was supposed to do and I wouldn’t mind having it for lunch again.
The Sultanpuri Kebabs were the most creative bit of our order. The pan-fried lamb cutlets were stuffed with chopped onions and mint leaves and there was also a surprise filling of cheese in them! This was not bland like the lamb curry and was hands down the best dish of the evening. Despite It costing 70 AED for 3 little cutlets, it could be the only reason I ever return to Asha Jee’s restaurant again (other than satisfying my fan boy cravings of course).
It was pretty much downhill after that. I expected the coriander chicken to be some chicken laid down on a bed of coriander leaves or at least garnished generously with coriander and I expected it to be a bit spicy like we had requested multiple times. It was instead an over cooked, rubbery (once frozen) chicken floating in yellow cashew paste with no sign of a green leaf for miles. They did remember to add something sweet to it though (it could have jaggery). Needless to say, we could all brave not more than one bite of this delicacy.
The bhindi do piazza was once again bland. It was so bland that I wished they would have added some jaggery to it as well. Any kind of flavour would have been nice – sweet, sour, spicy or whatever.
One thing that I have to give credit for is that we asked for some parathas midway, after we unexpectedly ran out of nans and the waiter remembered to ask us if we wanted wheat or white flour parathas. This was the coolest thing ever because wheat parathas have such a home cooked feel to them. Also, it took about 4 minutes for us to get piping hot parathas after placing the order which was appreciable. So even though all nans and parathas were 14 AED a pop (I can get a whole paratha kebab roll with cheese down in Barsha for that much but that wouldn’t have the blessings of a living legend) they seemed worth that at the time.
Would I go back? I’m not too sure. Maybe not for the food or the service but definitely for the whole vibe and the atmosphere. After all, everyone does need a bit of Asha in their lives. 😉