I found myself in Dubai last month, for work – “Influencing” nothing or no one. Staying at Voco Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, I ate dinner twice at Trèsind Studio; the fancy extension to the hotel’s fine dining Indian restaurant, Trèsind. Set within a comfortable and modern dining room, the latch-on “studio” space is blissfully free of the tired and threadbare clichés of Anglo-Indian restaurants, decorated with potted greens and draped foliage. The new addition to the restaurant allows chef Himanshu Saini the freedom to take his food beyond the Trèsind menu with an approach that is more inventive, experimental in places, while remaining loyal to his country’s cultural and many culinary regions. But this isn’t India.
For such a new and advanced city, Dubai’s culinary offering remains sluggish; a decade-or more behind others
For such a new and advanced city, Dubai’s culinary offering remains sluggish; a decade-or more behind others. It’s skyscraper dining, bottomless brunches and sushi by the pool, forcing you to ask how a young chef can flourish here? Restaurants must cater to the cluster of no-class, filthy-rich residents and the crass international wave of hungry tourism. So, an ambitious chef wishing to stamp their authority and follow their culinary heart is forced to please the paying mob. This means a litany of gobsmacking imports that guests demand: wagyu, foie gras, truffles – the city is awash with truffles. Himanshu does his best to balance such demands, pouring his efforts into dishes either side of what’s expected and his interpretation of modern, progressive Indian food.
As small plates arrive there is a brief, pithy story behind each; no long fairytale of the chef’s struggles or inflated-ego rhetoric – as experienced elsewhere in Dubai – but just enough to engage and interest. There’s a pani puri with Greek yoghurt and dill, a street-food staple the food historian Pushpesh Pant attributes to having originated in modern-day Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in Northern India. The pani puri is traditionally filled with flavoured water called imli pani. This incarnation comes with cucumber water presented tableside, poured into a tall, funnel-like glass – including the misty theatre eye-roll of dry ice. A really fantastic chaat is filled with a pumpkin-squash mash, and zucchini blossom from the Greenheart organic farm in Dubai – proving that growing produce on a large scale in the UAE desert is possible. Then another one-bite morsel and a lamb tart with turnip, marigold and the peppery note of nasturtium leaf, from another local organic farm – this time in Sharjah, the UAE’s third-largest city. It’s all impressive, regional and varied Indian cooking, a brilliant cornucopia of seasoning and outré ingredients. The balance is spot on, the spicing subtle and assured.
There’s a smoked chicken skewer with a butter chicken broth; a dish that is thought to have originated in Himanshu’s hometown of Delhi. The chicken is cubed on the skewer, basted in chicken fat while the broth actually outshines the meat – yes, a broth! When I mention this to other diners, we agree: this guy does one hell of a broth. It was so good that I asked for another. Six small bites in and there’s a chini ka paratha topped with a red current and strawberry berry chutney, foie gras and shaved black truffles, from Norcia in Italy and France’s Périgord region. It’s a jolt in proceedings, and a departure from the introductory courses. Likewise, a serving of Blackmore wagyu in korma curry, with yet more shaved black truffles. These latter dishes are great but didn’t click into the stream of early courses, ones that clearly comes from the chef’s heart.
Vegetarian options are as good as the meat ones. A crunchy achappam deep-fried cookie, from the shores of the Malabar coast – thought to have been influenced by Dutch and Belgian waffles – is served in the shape of a butterfly and filled with a parmesan ice cream, dotted with balsamic vinegar and fig. It’s cold, creamy, acidic and sweet; another assured demonstration of flavour balance. And the popular Maharashtrian snack kothimbir vadi includes fennel and a tangy tamarind curry, adorned with a huge prawn. Himanshu encourages the use of your fingers and hands, with course after course popping in the mouth to reveal an emphasis of balance and texture, all with that needed crunch to cut through and stop the process of food becoming mush. Everything has that spiky kick of spice, creeping up on you.
Pudding was a moreish pineapple payasam with pink peppercorns and fresh coconut ice cream. Then, a celeriac tart with an ambitious dollop of umami black garlic ice cream that was too bitter for me, followed by a one-bite chocolate pebble with a thin casing that concealed a cold coffee and vanilla liquid, my mouth awash with a cooling mocha freshness. Finally, once the lights had dimmed and Old Blue Eyes burst from the speaker with his rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon”, a glowing white orb is brought to the table with a smooth, bubbly aerated cocoa butter cube on top, dabbed with local honey from the mountains of Fujairah, on the UAE’s east coast. It melts in my mouth like the classiest of Aero chocolate bars. Kanchenjunga tea, named after the third highest mountain in the world (in India), is served to freshen and finish.
Nothing here was a twist, a take, a reimagining or a deconstruction. It was food about advancement, taking an ingredient or favoured Indian recipe and moving it forward. Himanshu’s approach is about the constant investigation of the enormous variety and ingenuity of South Asian cuisine, along with those added plates to please pretentious gluttons. It’s about exploring and progressing what Indian food can be; not a celebration of the past or a tired rolled-out recipe, some old-time favoured classic, but always with an eye to the future. In terms of presenting Indian cuisine through a new lens, introducing the delicate art of spice and balance, the restaurant is a testament to the young chef’s forensic appetite to learn and adapt. If there is a better pan-Indian restaurant in Dubai than Trèsind Studio, I haven’t eaten in it. In fact, it is probably amongst the best Indian fine dining restaurants in the world – possibly the only one open at the time of writing – and I hear that the outpost in Mumbai is even better. C
Trèsind Studio, Voco Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Rd, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
+971 58 895 1272; tresindstudio.com