FACT’s Muhammad Asad Ullah made his way to Qalamkarri at Banyan Tree Doha to try out the new menu, curated perfectly the Indian way (adaa), bringing together contemporary flavours from India’s multifaceted cuisines.
I walked into Qalamkarri right after they had introduced their new menu. I settled on one of the plush fuchsia tables lining the walls and, facing the skyline of Doha, offering a spectacular view from the 25th floor of the hotel. Named and inspired by Kalamkari Art (a traditional Indian art form that involves block or hand printing) the restaurant brings together contemporary flavours and cooking techniques.
Qalamkarri explores some of the finest flavour-packed regional dishes of India. Amid colourful chairs in the art deco-inspired interior — with lots of bird and peacock patterns in sight. We kicked things off with Chicken Samosa Ragda (an Indian street food recipe where crispy warm chicken samosa is topped with spicy cholle, chilled yogurt and mint chutney), Paan Patha Aloo Chaat (a traditional North Indian favourite made with Betel leaves, pan fried potatoes, and ground spices), Amchur Makai Ka Salad (a simple sweet corn salad), Paneer Pasanda (shallowfried, stuffed cheese in a smooth, creamy onion-tomato based gravy with a twist of spinach gravy on the side), Fish Koliwada Chips (a recipe that hails from the Maharashtra region in India and includes simple fish marinated and fried in thick batter and masala), Chettinad Prawn Mini Dosa (a taco-styled burrito with flavoursome prawns), Chicken 65 (the immensely popular South Indian-style boneless chicken with yogurt-based curry), Bhatti ka Lobster (a lobster marinated in Indian spices, grilled and smoked… a delight!) and Kache Nimbu Ka Jhinga (prawns marinated in lemon).
My favourite has to be the Chicken Samosa Ragda, so crispy, crunchy, deep in the flavour of tamarind sauce and dangerously moreish. Food was the ultimate cultural melting pot here at Qalamkarri. With every dish it seemed that the chefs had combined the flavours of Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, Kolkata and Kerala all in one menu. It was fascinating how the variety stemmed from heritage influences. Each dish had its own story to tell and the chef’s Indian tadka elevated the flavours with creativity.
Take for instance the Chicken 65, although it’s a South Indian dish, the yogurt gravy was so Punjabi in style that it reminded me of kurri-pakoda. These appetisers and starters left me belly-full and yet yearning for more, so, I was happy to see the mains. The best food stops conversation. It grinds to a pause even the juiciest news: one must stop, swallow and savour. And such was the case here. The constant winner throughout the meal was the texture and rich spicy flavours. Our Achari Baigan Chops (lamb chops marinated with pickling spices) were wonderfully tender in the middle and gloriously charred on the outside (especially around the bone). The chops were so rich in chaat masala that as the meat melted in the mouth one could witness the fragrance and kicking taste of Indian spices.
The other standout main was Konkan Punjab Tawa Fish, in which two types of grilled fish (one in green sauce, which is traditional to Maharashtra, and the other in traditional masala, a very Punjabi style) were served. This has to be the most beautifully presented dish on the menu. An affair of two states, together on one plate, all piled into gorgeously grilled fish — a nod to the head chef’s traditional Indian cuisine speciality. And the Naan! Ah! Tandoori Kulcha, Garlic and Coriander Naan and Zattar Naan were so juicy yet tender that you could easily pair them with any of the starters/mains served or even just nibble them on their own — some of the thinnest and crispiest breads we’ve seen around in Doha.
Oh, where the fish dishes were seriously excellent here, we paid special attention to the Tandoori Murgh Tikka Biryani. It’s a hell of a feast, spiked with swish Indian ingredients bursting with aroma and flavour. Before we move on to the desserts, the innovation of drinks here needs to be said out loud. They were based on exotic flavours and we tried the signature mocktail which was creamy, coconutty with a punch of apricot. So divine! For dessert, the Gulab Jamun Cream Brulee was to die for.
Traditional Gulab Jamun paired with cherries and raspberries on a bed of cream brulee. Who knew the contemporary take on such a dessert would be so, so delicate? Delicate enough for me that, even after trying all the appetisers, starters and mains, I got halfway through the big bowl of this which was followed by Trio Kulfi Ice Cream in flavours of saffron, pistachio and traditional rabbri. Like all things truly Indian, you will also enjoy the Bollywood music in the background.
It’s usually instrumental but, if you’ve been a Bollywood fan, there’s no way you won’t recognise the songs. In the elegant dining room, high in the sky, Qalamkarri brings together Qatar and India in a magical cohesion. From the beginning of October Qalamkarri will be serving lunch daily, as well as dinner and will also introduce a Friday brunch. ✤
GO: CALL 4410 3310 OR WHATSAPP 3992 0808 FOR MORE INFORMATION OR RESERVATIONS OR FOLLOW @ BANYANTREEDOHA AND @QALAMKARRI FOR UPDATES.