Restaurant review: A Restoran

The Stripe Team
Published : 17 Jan 2016, 04:35 PM
Updated : 17 Jan 2016, 04:35 PM

A Restoran occupies a space in Dhaka's restaurant scene that straddles both comfort and cuisine, challenging its diners to cultivate their tastes in the distinct nuances of European dishes.

Though described as thematically European (more appropriately Continental) in cuisine, A Restoran's menu stretches to include respectable and defining dishes from English, Portuguese, and French culinary traditions.

Entering the restaurant, one can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of pastiche. The rooms are not recreations of the palatial dining halls of Europe or Victorian parlours, but are aesthetically evocative of their underlying moods all the same. All set to the tune of mellow old school jazz.

With different rooms centred around different visual focal points — Indian woodcut murals, Victorian wallpaper, porcelain hung on walls, and the lovingly recreated bone china birds in the tearoom — there is a trend towards rooms shaped around moods and ambience suited to specific occasions.

Whether those occasions include a candlelit dinner between lovers or a family gathered around the table on a Thursday night, there will be an ideal room to accommodate with comfort and purpose when the individual need arises.

A Restoran's Chef Ashfaq Siddique not only felt strongly about the importance of comfort and atmosphere, but extended his vision further, centring them on the values of serving good fresh food. Tired of outings to the overabundant Chinese restaurants, the lacklustre pedestrian fare of fast-food, and the noisy chaos of lounges or popular eateries like Nandos, he strove for difference.

For him, the goal of cuisine was to seek the atypical and go beyond the tradition of "Curries, Kebabs, and Biryanis", as he so succinctly put it. Continental is certainly a different take, with many establishments in Dhaka not catering to the particular tastes it can offer.

Though Italian in the form of Pizzas and Pastas has certainly permeated our collective cultural palate, the same cannot be said, for example, of Swedish or French, with the closest exception being at restaurants of hotels like Radisson or Westin.

What distinguishes Continental cuisine is an emphasis on preserving the subtle and fresh flavours quality ingredients bring to a dish. For a restaurant to be able to produce an unique, subtle, and well-made version of a humble classic, serves well to highlight the prowess of the kitchen.

A Restoran boasts a menu featuring the likes of salads, paté, steaks, roulades, baked and grilled fish, pastas, and even stew. It goes without saying that the dessert menu is equally diverse with cakes, crumbles, and cream.

So we sat through a full course dinner, sampling A Restoran's take on entrées, meat, seafood, and dessert, and came out with almost unanimous praise. The fantastic flavours on show delighted as much as the presentation of the carefully composed platters.

Entrée — Pan Seared Scallops

An absolute delight. The seared scallops in their full springiness, was wonderful atop their chewy potato rounds. The salty-sweetness of the juicy scallops were complemented by both the tart purée of beetroot and freshness of dill, a herb suited to garnishing seafood.

Sweet flavours of the sea feel fresh when cut with a little acidity and saltiness — the citrusy lemon juice, here, served well in dressing the crisp lettuce. It was a wonder tasting how each piece on the plate contributed a contrasting flavour, texture, and colour.

As a delicacy, this is a must have.

Seafood Main Course — Baked Sea Fish

The humble baked sea fish is elevated by a mélange of interesting choices. Though a homelier and more comforting take overall, the tangy and juicy sea fish fillet's flavour was kept as the keynote to the dish alongside the salad and waxy potatoes.

The fish fillet is lightly grazed with Hollandaise sauce so as not to overwhelm, and arranged on a bed of buttery couscous sprinkled with dill, the dish felt rich and lent a lot of warmth.

Delicate flavours in the soft and fluffy couscous and crisp vegetables were preserved by contrasts in warmth — everything except the fish was kept at room temperature. The couscous was sweetly buttery when lukewarm. The crunchy green beans, soft salty-sweet peas, and crisp broccoli were blanched and sautéed perfectly to remove any bitterness without compromising on the bite.

Meat Main Course — Rib Eye Steak

Rib eye is an excellent cut, but we were not prepared to be served an English Sunday Roast. It was a delightful and quintessential touch to see attention placed on classic staples, with white beans and Yorkshire Pudding in addition to salad and potatoes.

The rib eye steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare doneness. On cutting into the steak, we were greeted with a tender and pink centre encircled by a nice crust. Much of the juiciness came from the jus of the meat, with savouriness imparted by the Béarnaise sauce. The beef was coated in herbs and cracked black pepper for those little charred bites of flavour.

The touches of warm white beans, soft butter, and Yorkshire made me wish (a little gluttonously perhaps) that there was a little gravy 'canoe' on the side. Especially after a Yorkshire so fluffy, light, and chewy for soaking in the meat juices and stray pepper, we were left craving for a couple more to spear on the end of our forks.

Dessert — Crême Brûlée

A French classic.

Crême Brûlée, a custard dessert with a surface of hard caramel, is a small spectacle unto itself. Served slightly chilled, we found the custard dotted with vanilla pods very smooth and creamy in texture.

The sweet notes of vanilla in the cream was absolutely delicious. But the perfection of consistency and flavour was marred by the caramel layer which was too bitter. Though the only detractor, measured use of the blowtorch would have undoubtedly yielded excellent results.

Having only opened in October 2015, we heard Chef Siddique's goals in expanding A Restoran's service in tea-time desserts and a few judicious additions to his menu. Rest assured, the degree of skill on display at their kitchens proves their dedication to food, presentation, and variety in cuisine that cultivates local tastes.

Catering with a few more options in their excellent seafood and meat dishes along with vegetarian tastes (perhaps some Gnocchi, Ratatouille, or Bruschetta?) would be an opportune moment to introduce even more refined dishes for Dhakaiites to savour.

A Restoran's present selection undoubtedly serves the palate well. We relished every bite. And we are certainly excited to see what their kitchen brings out next.

House 1, Road 18, Block A, Banani

Dhaka 1213, Bangladesh

Reservation by phone: 01777-773300

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher