Junoon: A Passion For Good Taste
Junoon is a New York restaurant that combines a love of traditional Indian flavors and modern fine dining cuisine. About five months ago, an outlet opened up in Dubai at the Shangri-La Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road. With a name that means ‘passion’ and a location named after a mythical paradise, one expects the food to be nothing short of exemplary.
That’s also a good word to describe the décor, which has a predominant palette of walnut brown and rich purple, with some splashes of gold. A trellis-like pattern covers the back wall, representing the ‘Tree of Life’, which is apparently a running theme of the restaurant. The wall is decorated with golden sconces and there is a large wooden column in the center of the main dining room, continuing the theme. An open kitchen by the front of the restaurant adds a bit of flair to the space. The vibe is very serene and calming, perfect for a quiet lunch.
We take a seat at the far end of the restaurant, giving us a good view of our surroundings. There are quite a few lunch options to choose from, including a two and three-course set menu and a thali, with tasting portions of a few main dishes. While that does seem tempting, we opt to go a la carte. To start things off, the manager recommends a glass of Spooky Manja, one of Junoon’s signature mocktails. With a mix of muddled berries, passion fruit, pineapple and vanilla, it has a cooling and rejuvenating effect that’s ideal on a hot summer’s day.
We have an appetizer of Eggplant Chaat, thin slices of eggplant flash-fried and dressed with yogurt and tamarind sauce. The dish is topped off with crispy fried onions, chaat masala and fresh coriander. It’s reminiscent of the classic Papri Chaat, a Northern Indian street food delicacy, with a tantalizing blend of sweet, sour and tangy flavors. The taste of the eggplant is subtle, lingering in the background and tying all the other flavor notes together. Eggplant often tends to be heavy and quite greasy, so I’m surprised at how light and crisp it is. I polish off my plate without hesitation.
The lightness of the starter leaves us sufficiently hungry for our main courses. Brussels Matar is a stir-fried mix of Brussels sprouts and sweet peas, with spring onion and turmeric for an added flavor boost. It tastes very much like a cabbage and pea dish I’ve often had at home growing up. The Brussels sprouts add a bit of crunch, but don’t give the dish much of a distinctive flavor. The Paneer Do Pyaza more than makes up for that. Tangy yogurt curry, the vibrant taste of fried onions, and fennel seeds add tons of flavor to the dish. I almost always get a black dal at Indian restaurants because it’s good comfort food and has a standard, familiar flavor. The Junoon Black Lentil kicks that flavor up a few notches, with deep earthy notes and a little acidity from tomatoes.
The main dishes are accompanied by Yam Biryani, which gets a nice dose of sweetness from yam cubes, caramelized onions and saffron. We also have the Mushroom Kulcha, Amritsari Kulcha and the Junoon Spiced Naan. Each kulcha uses a variety of spices that leave the flavors a bit scattered; the mushroom, for example, is almost imperceptible. The naan adds a little twist with Gruyere cheese, which works well.
As we ponder dessert, our server recommends the Kulfi Tasting, a trio of different flavored kulfi: cardamom, guava and curry leaf. We order it immediately as the idea of a curry leaf dessert piques our interest. Cardamom kulfi is a fairly standard dessert, but this one has a bolder flavor than I would have expected, making good use of a cardamom powder garnish. The combination of sweet and tart in the pink guava goes nicely with the creamy kulfi, and it’s topped with a sweet crisp pancake to counteract the sourness. At last we get to the curry leaf, which has a surprisingly mild flavor and a very herbal quality, similar to green tea ice cream. It proves to be the surprise favorite, both for the novelty and the unusually pleasant taste.
Tradition and modernity come together seamlessly at Junoon, exciting the palate with unconventional flavors while backing that up with more recognizable tastes. In terms of both preparation and service, their passion for great food is evident.
Veggie Friendly: ✔ Vegan Friendly: X
Pros: Very relaxed atmosphere, friendly and attentive service, great food
Cons: The vegetable kebabs are only available for dinner, the dessert selection for lunch is a bit limited
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