You could be forgiven for thinking you are sitting in a Parisian or Sydney-style lounge-bar restaurant when you are at the 15th floor rooftop of the Holiday Inn Hotel. Only the spectacular view of nearby islands, the airport and the dhonis bobbing up and down makes you realise you’re still in Male.
Azur combines Japanese flavours with the cooking techniques of the French and is a much-needed addition to the culinary scene in Maldives. The restaurant offers relaxed seating near the infinity pool and an inside area for those who prefer a more formal style of dining.
The staff are pleasant, and attentive; a smiling waitress hands us the menu when we take a seat near the poolside. It contains around 20 items, a rare sight in Male where menus are usually crammed to the brim with multiple cuisines.
Azur’s executive chef Eric Pout seems to have carefully designed an exclusive fusion of gastronomique excellence by using two different cuisines and making innovative use of local products.
The appetizers and main courses include interesting combinations of tofu, tuna, wasabi, duck, noodles, shitaki and pumpkin and others with complimenting textures and flavours. Main courses are priced between US$18 to US$40, and entrée’s from $15 to $25.
A strawberry and banana smoothie kick starts the night. It’s thick and delicious, with no cut corners. No watery brews at Azur.
We order appetizers, seared scallops with ginger, scallions and tobiko and Kushiyaki beef with garlic oil and pickled apples, and sesame tuna with crusted nori, grilled shitake mushrooms, shiso aioli and crispy wanton from the main course items.
It’s nine at night and a handful of people are soaking up the atmosphere, tourists and locals alike. And what an atmosphere it is: cascading water and the moon overhead gives the place a very soothing feel.
Individual portions of scallops are placed in front of us, with a slight wasabi-flavoured sauce and caviar – fish roe that looks like orange pearls.
The tiny eggs burst in the mouth, and the strong flavor is balanced well with marinated scallops.
Nevertheless the fact that it’s not seared as mentioned in the menu, leads us to inquire with the ever helpful waitress. A confused chat ensues, and there’s much laughter when we realize we had just been served a complimentary amuse bouche, which is quite unique in Male’.
Impressive, especially before the meal arrives.
Seared scallops, Kushiyaki beef and sesame tuna arrives on large white hotplates. The presentation is creative, colourful and a visual treat.
The scallops are seared with a nice crisp orangish top, caramelising the sugars. The scallion are fresh and crunchy with the just the right amount of seasoning, sprinkled with sprouts and crunchy shavings of vegetables; a delightful combination.
The large steak of sesame and nori crusted tuna, served medium rare, is very moist bursting with fresh salty flavour combined with shitaki and a generous serving of colourful julienne vegetables. The taste does justice to the beauty of the presentation.
A slice into the well-rested medium-rare Kushiyaki beef exposes the pink velvet colour. It is a succulent, flavoursome and juicy piece of beef, with a smooth grain. A tip of the hat goes to Sous Chef Phripat Dong for the precision cooking. The scrumptious apple pickle provides just the right contrast to the natural flavours of the beef.
Visually the kushiyaki beef dish looked a bit bare, and was not up to the level of the other two in terms of presentation.
An enjoyable meal, the gastronomic marvel created and executed by the talented kitchen brigade sets an example for local restaurateurs to follow suit.
However the absence of a dessert menu was disappointing, especially when one imagines the quality if they matched the same level of excellence as the rest of the food.
Azur is a welcome addition to the capital, and gives locals a chance to taste contemporary food without leaving on a jet plane.
Strawberry and Banana Smoothie US$8
Seared scallops with ginger, scallions and tobiko US$17
Kushiyaki beef with garlic oil and pickled apple US$19
Sesame tuna with crusted nori, grilled shitake mushrooms, shiso aioli and crispy wonton US$17
Azur Restaurant is located in Holiday Inn Hotel at Ameer Ahmed Magu. It is open from 9:00 am to 23:00 pm.
Naby Mariyam is a Le Cordon Bleu chef graduate, and works as a cookery trainer in Sydney, Australia.