REVIEW: Little Miss India
Finding Little Miss India feels a bit like completing a treasure hunt. Colourful signs send guests winding through the corridors of Fairmont The Palm until they stumble into a venue bedecked in hanging baskets, antique tennis rackets, a statue of a monkey holding a lightbulb and, the piece de resistance, a bar shaped like the back end of an Indian truck - psychedelic colours and all. Add in a real-life allotment sitting proudly in the restaurant's courtyard - clumps of coriander, chilli, aloe vera and rosemary are all grown here - and this is clearly one of Dubai's more quirky eateries.
Strange as it seems, it still feels refined; the design is wacky, but not tacky and, fortunately, the food dazzles as much as the décor. Little Miss India's pride and joy are its twin tandoor ovens, a pair of huge gold barrels standing proudly on display. Placed behind top-to-toe glass, it takes the "open kitchen" concept to another level - the chefs really have nowhere to hide. It seems a brave move but these are true tandoor specialists, boasting decades of experience between them.
What they perform here is something close to alchemy. Lovingly marinated seafood, meat and vegetables are inserted deep into the clay cauldron. We don't know what goes on in there but what emerges are consistently enchanting plates. The mixed kebab platter offers a great sample of the tandoor; highlights include plump prawns, which are rested in yoghurt, saffron and turmeric before cooking, while the complex spicing of the lamb shish provides layer after layer of developing flavour.
The cuisine is Awadhi, from Lucknow in Northern India, and there are obvious Mughali influences too - the style favoured by Indian restaurants in the Western hemisphere. It means there are some familiar dishes on the menu with korma, bhunna and rogan josh all making an appearance. It's not just your simple curryhouse fare, though. The Bhunna Gosht Adraki is particularly satisfying; the lamb braised with brown onions is wonderfully tender. Mint and coriander - straight from the allotment - brings a real freshness to the rich sauce.
The side dishes are made with just as much care. Black food seems to be in vogue at the moment in Dubai and the black lentil dal certainly captures the zeitgeist; the lentils are left in the tandoor oven for 48 hours to soften, which results in a creamier consistency and a deep, smoky flavour. The vegetable pulao rice, meanwhile, is not sparsely peppered with tiny morsels of veg but generously laden with thick, rough-cut chunks.
For those who are craving something doughier, the dessert of stuffed Gulab Jamun is one to gobble up. Sweet and sticky Indian-style doughnuts with saffron and pistachio are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The Phirnee Rulee is a less stodgy but equally tasty alternative - coconut cream and blueberry infused rice pudding covered with a brown sugar crust.
A place of fascinating contrasts and intriguing details, Little Miss India's appeal lies in its ability to combine the familiar with the fashionable, the old with the new. Nods to the past may be prevalent, but this is a restaurant with a future as bright as its interiors.
Little Miss India
Where: Fairmont The Palm
Contact: +9714 457 3457, website