I’m usually one to tease my opinion in reviews. I’m not going to play around here. In fact I am deadly serious. We’re talking about butter chicken. Butter chicken is serious business. But if you are in any way a fan of Indian food, even a distant one in the way I am a fan of heavy metal bands, you need to go to Masala Library.
Go for the butter chicken – a deconstructed thing of beauty which I will get to later. Stay for the rest of the experience.
Masala Library’s pedigree is impeccable – it is the brainchild of the father of modern Indian fine dining, Jiggs Kalra. A food writer and author, who passed away in 2019, he was hailed as a pioneer of the Indian food movement. With his son he delveloped the Masala Library concept, which he called “Indian Food 2.0), with branches in Dubai, Mumbai, New Delhi and now at Fairmont Doha.
Masala Library Interiors
As you would expect from the Fairmont, the neutral interiors impressive in a Taj Mahal kind of way. In fact there is a giant rendering of the landmark to love on one of the restaurant’s walls.
Meanwhile, the dining room is lined with pressed metal plates embedded with intricate designs. The chandeliers befitting a modern day Maharaja’s palace while the seating, semi circular booths, snake elegantly along the length of the room.
The restaurant doesn’t have a bar, rather to custom-made drinks carts, one of which the size of my first apartment. One houses only dark spirits – whiskeys and bourbons – for the after dinner drink crowd.
Masala Library Menu
For a restaurant with such impressive interiors, the menu pricing is surprising approachable – . It’s divided into “acts”. The first act, Indian forest perfume, leads into oceanic waves and the third act, songs of fire. The fourth and concluding act is hymns of the Himalayas. There are a range of set menus starting from QR275 (also a la carte) and corresponding to the “Acts” – in all a circumnavigation of the subcontinent.
We opt for a Chef’s choice tasting menu from all of the acts.
Chef’s Tasting Menu
We start with a deceptively delicate Nellore beef dumpling – it’s filled with spiced beef from the the Brazilian cattle breed descended from the Ongole cattle breed, which was originally from Andhar Padesh in India. It’s dusted with tiny specks of pepper, giving it a distinctly South Indian flavor.
A goat cheese kebab with an almond crust is tangy but screaming with umami as is the pepper Vannaemi prawns. Chef Saneesh’s menu plays with molecular gastronomy, there are foams and spumas, but the playfulness works with the flavors rather than as a sideshow.
A delicate piece of hamachi appears, finished in the tandoor, it’s spiked with wasabi. All this time i’m really waiting for what I feel, is the denoument. Yes, there is dessert, but the butter chicken ha my attention. The chicken is served separately to the luxe tomato-based sauce, it has been fired on the charcoals then pulled apart and mixed with the gravy. It’s complex yet familiar, as are the tiny bowls of lush daal served alongside.
This comes with a Malabar prawn briyani, which is solid as biryanis go. It’s really just second fiddle to the deep bowl of butter chicken. A cooling dessert based around the Tamil Nadu drink called Jigar thanda is served with malai icecream and a dusting of gold leaf is the sweet finale.
Service and Experience
As with most outlets at the Fairmont, a carefully selected wine paring is available, the price depending on your preference. I would love to see more of this in Doha, especially as the industry matures. If you don’t want the pairing, wine starts from QR50 a glass, cocktails from QR95. Service is engaged and very knowledgable as you would expect.
Final Thoughts About Masala Library
With Qatar’s Indian population and many hailing from the Southern states, we are familiar with food from this region. Because of this ubiquity and familiarity, it tends to get pigeon-holed as a cheap eat option. While Masala Library’s menu roams the subcontinent, for me it was a unique experience to see the flavors and dishes from these regions elevated, innovated and treated with reverence like this.
Masala Libray by Jiggs Kalra at Fairmont Doha
$$$ but the Royal Indian Thali is QR195 is available Saturdays from 1pm to 4pm; and the set menus offer great value
Must order: The butter chicken
Good to know: The restaurant is closed on Mondays
While you are here…
Thanks for reading my new review: innovative and irresistible Indian food at Masala Library.
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While I pay for a large portion of my experiences that I write about, I am sometimes provided meals and other experiences free of charge or at a reduced rate. However, I make it clear that I am under no obligation to give a positive review.