Milas – An Emirati feast.

View my food journey on Zomato!

Imagine my awkwardness when a friend visiting from abroad wanted me to suggest an Emirati restaurant which served authentic Emirati food and I couldn’t even come up with one name. It was actually quiet embarrassing, especially with me being a food blogger and all. “Where should I send him”, I thought. A shawarma restaurant maybe. No that was Syrian, right? How about a hummus restaurant? That was way too Lebanese.

Hence began my quest for an Emirati restaurant which I could recommend to others and after a couple of misses I eventually ended up at Milas.

Dubai Mall is probably the last place I would go to for a meal. There is nothing wrong with it! It is the first place I take my guests from overseas to show them what ‘My Dubai’ is all about and it has almost every type of restaurant serving almost every type of cuisine. It’s just that I’m a bit averse to braving traffic jams and hordes of tourists just to get a meal.

Luckily, Milas restaurant in Dubai mall is not anywhere near the mad crowds. It is in the Village precinct, a sunlit, indoors area which is an attraction by itself because of its open-air streetscape. The tree-lined walkways and fountains are reminiscent of a European street with cafes and restaurants all providing street side seating.

We were a huge party so we ordered a little bit of everything but there are 3 items on the menu which we could just not have enough of. One was the Chicken Lalmaas and the other two were the Hunter’s Lamb Leg and Lamb Biryani.

Chicken Lalmaas at Milas

The chicken Lalmaas was nothing like anything I had ever had before in my life. Imagine chunks of chicken in a tomato gravy resting on a bed of puffed wheat, pomegranate, cashews and tiny bits of avocado. Now imagine the most amazing smoky flavor binding everything together. Nothing too intense. Just enough to compliment the freshness of the pomegranate seeds and leave you wondering “what the hell just happened in my mouth?!”

The Hunter’s lamb leg had been slow cooked for hours before it got to our table. The meat was so tender that it fell of the bone as soon as you touched it but it held on, maintaining decorum until the last moment. It was almost as if it was doing its part in keeping the presentation intact but was forced to disintegrate upon the slightest touch. The juicy meat was layered with a chunky tomato gravy which was amazing because all we had to do was take some pita, smother a little melted lamb on it and voila! We held in our hands what was probably one of the tastiest lamb

wraps, on this side of the desert.

The lamb biryani was a complete shocker for everybody and we almost didn’t order it. I honestly didn’t expect it to be anything at all but since I do happen to be the original Biryani Ninja, it is sometimes out of my control. Whenever I see the words ‘Biryani’ written on a menu, my ninja senses take control and I inadvertently end up ordering it.

Most of the times it is a complete disaster but luckily for everyone at our table, this time was different. This was not the ‘Dum’ Biryani you get at Indian and Pakistani restaurants or the Stir Fry type thing you get at Brit Asian restaurants. This was a creamy lamb gravy layered on top of aromatic rice. It was made of choice lamb meat that had been cooked to perfection in Arabic spices. Its tantalizing flavor had infused deep into the rice. It was so unique and so good that the Milas lamb biryani has now officially made it to my Top 11 Biryanis in Dubai list.

Spicy Date Margarita at Milas

There is one last thing I absolutely have to mention here. Whatever you do and wherever you eat at the Dubai Mall when you visit next time, please do take some time out to head down to Milas and try the Fiery Date Margarita. This is the most unbelievable drink I have had since I discovered the salted caramel shake somewhere. It basically uses the same principle of shocking your taste buds by combining salt and sugar. Except this takes it up a notch by combining sweet Arabic dates with hot Mexican chili. It does not just shock and awe your taste buds but this ice blended drink creates a sensory overload that you recover from only once the brain freeze kicks in. This experience must be at par with the feeling you get when you are speed skiing down a slope at 200 km/h with Solumun’s ‘I want to party’ remix blasting on your Beats headphones. I couldn’t think of any other way to describe it.

Milas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Best Biryani in Dubai. The official top 11. 

Indian/Pakistani Cuisine has made its way into British lives like Donald Trump made his way into the White House. For years it wasn’t taken too seriously and now nobody seems to be able to get rid of it.

Edited 18th March 2018.

View my food journey on Zomato!

As much as I want to live on the edge and eat only at restaurants that use ingredients like magic budwig, raw fish eggs, a force fed goose’s fatty liver or any of the other wonderfully weird things that I can’t make head or tail out of, it is sadly not possible. I enjoy being adventurous once in a while but nothing matches the pleasure derived from sampling different renditions of a dish that you are familiar with.

For some, it may be an old fashioned cheeseburger and for some a bowl of ramen but for me, it is a textured medley of rice, meat and spices; also known as a biryani.

There are numerous different ways of cooking a dish and not all biryanis are created equal. Since I am a bit of an expert on the subject, I have taken it upon myself to list 11 of the most exquisite Biryanis in Dubai.

11) Gulabo – Damascus Street, Qusais, Dubai – Spicy Chicken Biryani – AED15.

This is a quaint little hole in the wall sandwiched between the quirky ‘Billo Ice Cream’ and half a dozen hardware stores. What they lack in seating capacity (they actually have two chairs and a table) is made up with good, no nonsense food. Better known for their Karachi Bun Kebabs, I think their Spicy (yeah man!) Chicken Biryani is a force to be reckoned with. Couple that with an AED15 price tag and we have a definite winner.

10) Kabab Rolls, Al Barsha (multiple locations) – Meat Biryani – AED36

Kabab Rolls started the whole BBQ roll trend in Dubai (hence the name). It is a lively joint in the streets of Barsha that is quiet popular for its cheap lunch buffet. While I enjoy an occasional Bihari Roll (must try ) from here, I tend to stay away from the buffet. What these guys do really well however, is the biryani.

Like India, Pakistan also has a multitude of subcultures and the local cuisine is influenced by lands as far off as the Persian and the Ottoman Empire. Each of the provinces has it’s own rendering of this dish.

The standout winner here is the Meat Biryani which is made in the traditional Sindhi style of cooking. It is basically a dum biryani with mild spices and saffron but the meat is slightly pre-cooked before being layered with rice (as opposed to the Hyderabadi style where the meat is mostly raw).

09) Gazebo – Bay Avenue, Business Bay (multiple locations) – Gosht Hyderabadi Biryani – AED47.

Not too long ago, believe it or not, Gazebo was my go to place if I craved a good Biryani but as always, unprecedented growth may not be a good thing. Despite somehow losing their mojo along the way, Gazebo still serves one of the best Biryanis in Dubai. That is not a small achievement considering that there are probably a thousand restaurants with just as many different interpretations of the dish but this place could have been a contender for the top spot on this list a couple of years ago.

A true Hyderabadi would never try to please others at the cost of losing his identity. The same goes for their biryani as well. There was a serious dearth of masala and absolutely no chilli powder in Gazebo’s Gosht Hyderabadi biryani. Most of the rice was white and bland, untouched by whatever masala there was. No self-respecting Hyderabadi chef would cut out on the masala or compromise on the heat just to reach out to a wider palate (or even to save a couple of bucks) . Despite that, Gazebo still managed to edge out the 30 odd biryani restaurants that I have visited in the past 3 months while doing my research. I guess I am a sucker for good presentation.

08) Student Biryani. Barsha (multiple locations) – Mutton Biryani – AED26

If Billboard could have Elton John and Samantha Fox on the same top 10 chart, I can have a Fast Food type Biryani joint together on the same list as a Michelin Star chef as well. The type of biryani and the classification of the restaurant do not matter. What matters is the quality of the dish.

Student Biryani achieved a bit of a cult status in Karachi before they ventured out to Dubai. Legend is that they used to sell biryani to college kids from a mobile food cart. Word of this supposedly awesome Biryani spread far and wide and people used to come from all over to sample it. Fast forward to today and the company operates multiple restaurants in Karachi, Sharjah, Dubai and Toronto.

I love a good success story and their Biryani is pretty good too. I am a little unsure if it is good enough to spawn an international chain of restaurants. If you want to see the fast food methodology at work in a biryani restaurant, Student Biryani is the place to be. You get served within 10 minutes, the strength of the ‘masala’ (spices) can be controlled easily and they have more combos there than there are banks trying to sell you new credit cards in Dubai.

07) Shahi Mahal, Al Faris Mall, Near Dubai Bowling Centre, Al Quoz – Meat Biryani – AED16

‘Shahi Mahal’ translates to Royal Palace and for a while, I felt I had teleported to Nawab Nizam ud Din’s court in Hyderabad. It was great while it lasted, but then I was asked to pay 16 dirhams for my meal. That didn’t feel regal at all and back I was in Al Quoz.

Yes, tucked away somewhere in the back alleys of Al Quoz is a place which serves authentic Dum Biryani for AED 16 per serving. The aroma, the texture and the flavour of this Biryani are second to none. You can see tender meat sandwiched between layers of fragrant basmati rice as it gets to your table. You can tell that this Biryani was left to cook on low heat for a long time. What you can’t understand is how they manage to be profitable at this price point, especially when you see the quality of ingredients being used. I think I know now why the Mughals went bankrupt.

06) Brit Balti, Al Barsha (multiple locations) – Special Biryani (lamb chicken prawns and omelet) – AED56

The Koh-I-Noor wasn’t the only Indian thing taken back by the British to make their own. The Chicken Tikka Masala was probably invented in Southall but for some it will always be an Indian dish.

Indian/Pakistani Cuisine has made its way into British lives like Donald Trump made his way into the White House. For years it wasn’t taken too seriously and now nobody seems to be able to get rid of it. It is loud, colorful and not everyone seems to agree with it but that doesn’t seem to bother it too much.

Brit Balti is my favourite Desi-Brit restaurant in Dubai (Yes, there are several of those down here). It is appropriately peculiar, incredibly experimental and unapologetically British. The winner here is the Special Biryani. It is not a Dum (layered and cooked on low heat in a sealed clay pot) Biryani but a sort of a stir fry of rice, spices, lamb, chicken and prawns with an omelet added for good measure. Not at all how a purist would want a Biryani to be but good enough to make this one of the best Biryani joints in Dubai.

05) Milas Emirates.    Al Nasr The Village, Dubai Mall  – Spicy Lamb Biryani – .AED89

This was not the ‘Dum’ Biryani you get at Indian and Pakistani restaurants or the Stir Fry type thing you get at Brit Asian restaurants. This was a creamy lamb gravy layered on top of aromatic rice. It was made of choice lamb meat that had been cooked to perfection in Arabic spices. Its tantalizing flavor had infused deep into the rice and it is the only Emirati Biryani on this list!

04) Dum Pukht, JLT – Mutton Biryani – AED60

I can imagine how unsettling it could be for a ‘Best Biryani in Dubai’ contender, especially if you are a small-time restaurant that can’t seem to sort out its ventilation woes. Even more so if you are competing against Michelin Starred chefs, a Biryani behemoth with outlets as far off as Canada and a restaurant chain that employs more than a couple of hundred people in the UAE. From the looks of it though, Dum Pukht seems unfettered by the competition.

Not the kind of place you go to for an upscale fine dining experience but they have definitely cracked the biryani code. They use a metal handi (pot) instead of a clay vessel but the recipe seems to be the same as it was hundreds of years ago. The distinct scent of freshly ground spices enchants you as the subtle fragrance of basmati rice pulls you in. Sealing in the aroma is the secret to a good Biryani and this restaurant has got that all figured out.

03) Rang Mahal by Atul Kochhar,  JW Marriot Marquis – Hyderabadi gosht ki (lamb) biryani – AED140.

It is about the value proposition and the presentation but most of all, it is about the experience and good food. The cost of eating a Hyderabadi lamb Biryani here is AED 140 (most expensive on this list) but the opportunity of sampling the wares of one of the world’s biggest chefs is priceless.

Atul Kochar has 2 Michelin Stars and is one of the world’s most famous chefs but you already know that. What you don’t know is that ‘Rang Mahal’ is not the ‘behave like you are about to dine with a Michelin Star Chef but don’t forget to breath’ kind of a place. It is more of a ‘Oh Beehave! But have some fun while you are at it’ kind of place.

Ali, my friend from Hyderabad would have been proud to call this Biryani authentic. A bit of nostalgia kicked in as a familiar fragrance filled the air when it was being served. Saffron had infused every single grain of rice and the meat was ever so tender. The masala (spices) were well balanced and they had made it extra hot on request. Just the way Ali’s mom made it on every Friday.

02) Bhoujan, Motor City Dubai – Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani in Handi – AED50

There may have been a tear in my eye while I carefully chewed on my first bite straight from the clay handi (pot). Tradition (and manners) dictate that I should have waited for it to be served on to my plate but a whiff of the aroma caught me off guard as soon as my server removed the seal.

It was the perfect Dum biryani and the presentation was second only to more expensive restaurants on this list. Excellent value proposition with a generous amount of meat (just as the Nawab would have liked it), a side dish of ‘mirchi ka salan’ (green chilly curry) 3 chutneys and a raita (spiced yoghurt).

As I savored every bite, I realized that I may have finally come across the underdog that could unsettle the heavyweights. I couldn’t stop smiling because I had discovered the gem that would take on some of the biggest names in the culinary world, all from that little shop in Dubai Motor City.

01) Ashiana by Vineet Bhatia, Sheraton Dubai Creek – Dum Biryani with dates –  AED108

vineet bhatia dum biryani

I smiled as I walked through the Mughal inspired entrance of Ashiana. This was the world of a man who was clearly rooted in tradition so I immediately formed an opinion on how the Biryani would be. A part of me was a bit disappointed though. I had travelled to the other end of Dubai just so I could surround myself with the greatness that is Vineet Bhatia. The forward thinking genius who had helped to transform the way Indian food was perceived in the West and in doing so had become the poster child of contemporary Indian cuisine yet here I was, walking through a Mughal walkway while admiring the Mughal art that adorned it’s walls.

I could see that Bhatia had tried to stay closer to his Indian side, probably so because he thought that was what the customers wanted. He did add a twist to everything though; take for example the purple beetroot chutney that was served with poppadums while we waited for our Biryani.

This could have been just another very good Dum Biryani but it was not. It did not try to entice me with the aroma and please me with the intimate sensation of a home cooked dish. It took it a step further. This was clearly the work of a nonconformist. The spices and the juicy meat were complimented with the most subtle and sweet taste of dates. Not only was this a great combination but I think it had some symbolism, dates being the national fruit of UAE and Biryani being the unofficial national dish of the sub-continent. In fact it is the dish that still binds together two countries that have been separated by decades of war, mistrust and politics and this Biryani had just added a third to the list.

Ashiana Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato