Apart from being one of the best bands to grace the early 90s, Nirvana is a slippery thing. Originally a Buddhist concept, Nirvana translates literally as ‘blowing out’ and refers to the Buddhist ideal of freeing oneself from greed, hatred and delusion. Making Nirvana an interesting choice of name for a restaurant that serves some of the best food in Bahrain. In Nirvana at the Ritz-Carlton, there’s very little in the way of blowing out. Stuffing in, pouring down, gobbling up, yes. But the only blowing out one is capable of when dining here is when the plates have been cleared and you realise you just ate twice your body weight in curry thanks to the food being so exceptional.
Nirvana, unusually for a hotel restaurant (which tend to be cavernous affairs), is tiny. A handful of tables and small stage for the band are enclosed in an ocean of red fabric punctuated with intricate wood and metal craftwork. The setup whisks you from the austere European atrium of the hotel lobby into the palatial den of a maharaja. In terms of atmosphere, the restaurant is spot on, helped not a little by the fact it is non-smoking.
Menus at Indian restaurants can read like a list of characters from the Mahabharata, overwhelming diners not completely familiar with the boundless landscape that is Indian cuisine. Indeed, I have never understood how a kitchen with staff of, say, five can possibly cook from a menu so vast without causing everything to taste the same, which very often is the case. The menu at Nirvana is welcomingly compact: five starter options, a couple of soups, a navigable range of meat, fish and vegetarian mains and a small selection of desserts. From the outset, the experience was quality over quantity.
To begin we ordered onion bhajis and the milijuli shakhar mixed starter. The onion bhajis of my youth were greasy fat dollops of battered onion, the savoury equivalent of a deep fried donut. The onion bhajis of Nirvana are delicate, fragrant, and as light as a feather, with only the crisp exterior suggesting they had ever seen fat. The mixed starter followed suit.
Tempted by the quality of the entrees, we ordered from our superb waiter an array of mains: a kashmiri lamb rogan josh, a hammour-based macher johl, along with the vegetarian bhindi do pyaza, aloo banarasi, a dal makhani, and vegetable rice. Ordinarily, such a quantity of food would overwhelm two people. But in Nirvana the dishes are delicate and relatively small – there’s no drowning the diners in lashings of sauce, which has made Indian cuisine synonymous with bloating and inertia.
Thanks to the fact that cheap Indian food is so ubiquitous across the globe, it can be easy to lose sight of how good the cuisine can get. The food at Nirvana is delicate, the flavours intricately balanced, the vegetables not cooked within an inch of their life, and the presentation stunning. It’s not cheap, but you certainly get what you pay for. Indeed, if there is a heaven, I’m praying it will taste something like this.
The bill (for two) Milijuli Shakahr BD5.000 Onion bhaji BD4.000 Kashmiri lamb rogan josh BD7.500 Macher jhol BD9.500 Dal makhani BD5.000 Bhindi do pyaza BD4.500 Banarasi aloo BD3.500 Vegetable rice BD5.500 2x Roti BD2.000 2x Evian water BD7.000 Total (incl. tax/service) BD64.602
Time Out Bahrain staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com