WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT: MINT LEAF DUBAI & CHEF VIVEK KASHIWALE
Mint Leaf is a fine dining Indian restaurant that started over in the UK back in 2003. With two popular locations in London, they decided to test out the Dubai waters a couple of years ago by opening up the sprawling Mint Leaf Dubai in DIFC.
This place was already on our radar because we were familiar with the London restaurants (more on that below) but Mint Leaf Dubai is definitely a hidden gem. It’s one of those word-of-mouth places that you hear about in conversation instead of through big, flashy PR. They’re not about trying to become trendsetters; they know what they’re good at and pull it off with quiet confidence.
Situated on the 15th floor of the South Tower of the Emirates Financial Towers, when you step out of the lift, you’re greeted with a huge negative of a woman with mehndi designs on her hands. (You’ll see these mehndi swirl patterns elegantly incorporated throughout the restaurant design, from the bar to the wall panels and even the ceiling.)
Massive floor-to-ceiling windows give you an unending gaze of the city skyline (particularly pretty at night!) and the interior is sophisticated and moody with dark wood finishings. Chill out on one of the sofas in the lounge as you sip on a cocktail or grab a seat at the long curved bar near the terrace. The dining area is spacious with plenty of room between tables, allowing you to enjoy your meal without feeling like the next table is listening in on your conversation (or that you’re listening in on theirs!).
The menu is authentic Indian but with a modern twist, featuring dishes like Roasted Fenugreek and Edam Kebab, Tandoori Prawns, and several variations of biryani. For carb lovers, don’t miss out on the naan and roti! Head Chef Vivek Kashiwale’s experience and passion for showcasing modern interpretations of his native country’s cuisine are evident in the flavours and presentation.
The chef also took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few Caviar questions, which you can read below!
Finally, we have to admit that Mint Leaf holds a special place in our hearts. The London restaurants are avid supporters of one of our favourite charities, Teens Unite Fighting Cancer (read more about their inspiring mission here), and we love businesses that give back! But putting that aside, we were very impressed with Mint Leaf Dubai and can see ourselves going back when we’re in the mood for low-key sophistication, great views, and fab Indian food!
Q&A WITH CHEF VIVEK KASHIWALE
What made you decide that this was the right move for you, keeping in mind the heavy competition in Dubai?
Dubai has emerged as one of the world’s leading international business centres and regional hubs.it is the cosmopolitan city of diversity. There can never be enough reasons not to open a restaurant in Dubai which is turning into a Paris of cuisines.
In your eyes, what does the Mint Leaf brand stand for—what’s the USP?
In one word our USP is the experience. All our restaurants not only concentrate on fine dining Indian food but also a fantastic bar and lounge that serve exquisite cocktails. The Mint Leaf brand for more than a decade has stood for a complete dining and drinks experience.
In such a saturated market, how do you ensure that the back of house and front of house align beautifully?
The teams work in tandem with each other after hours of training and coordination. The most important quality that all our staff possesses is that they are extremely passionate and have a common goal to make Mint Leaf reach heights of success.
Where will Mint Leaf be in 12 months?
We are constantly innovating and trying to reinvent ourselves when it comes to our offerings. The focus remains the same over the next one year. One key aspect on the food front will be the addition of some healthier and more locally sourced dishes on the menu.
Tell us about your background. Most culinary legends learn from other culinary legends. How did you learn your trade?
I started my career working with hotels across India and quickly moved to restaurant chain in Scotland. I got a chance to work with quite a few Michelin and celebrity chefs.
The hotel and kitchen management schools helped me train hard and strengthen my basics. My stint with Chef Vineet Bhatia instituted a greater sense of fine dining cuisine and plating.
Which culinary legend do you rate and why?
Chef Vineet Bhatia, for his simple straight food, unorthodox combination of ingredients, and creative and skillful plating.
What’s your secret behind creating your menu—where do you gain inspiration?
I take a lot of inspiration from nature and everything that is around us when it comes to creating my menu. I also love exploring the local produce to find secret ingredients for my food.
Please talk about your number one key signature dish?
There are too many to pick from. But if it had to be just one, it would be the Adraki Lamb Chops. These are ginger and romero flavored, roasted racks of saltbush lamb. We have significantly reduced many spices from the marination to keep it healthy, and we did this by smoking the spices into it.
What’s one culinary trend you cannot stand?
Fast food trucks. Never been a fan of fried greasy quick food off a truck.
Visual presentation is as important as taste. What does the best colour and texture match look like for you?
A good texture gives a good feeling in the mouth, it is as simple as that. Every dish should consist of different textures – soft, warm, cold, hard, chewy, crunchy, soft, which efficiently mix the contrasts in surprising compositions.
It all might sound a bit complicated but something as humble as chaat can be of a variety of textures- cold yoghurt, warm tamarind sauce, crispness of the hot potato tikki with gooey inside, crunchy sev on sweet yoghurt still having a punch from tamarind.
How do you choose your suppliers to ensure the best ingredients?
Traceability, site inspection, samples, and portfolio. Spices and grocery are almost always on a brand basis. For proteins, we go in for specific origins and sampling.
What’s your take on motivating your team? Is it all about shouting orders in the kitchen?
I am not a believer of just shouting orders in the kitchen.
Motivating your team is a big part of being able to create great food. I practice this by a pat on the back for great work done in their section, listening to their ideas on specials, a good laugh in the middle of service and an ease of shifts.
What qualities do you look for in your staff?
A happy individual with a positive approach who is a keep learner. With these three qualities, anyone can be trained to do wonders.
What’s the best meal you’ve had in the world apart from yours?
The Dining Room, at Playboy in London. Chef Judy Joo has worked wonders in the menu. It was the simplicity of playing with one flavor and taking it through to the next level.
One word to describe you as a leader
One word to describe your restaurant
The best catering publication is…
I love reading the BBC Good Food magazine.