Review: Poppadums

In a city mostly bereft of specialised restaurants, Poppadum’s entry into the scene generates excitement.

The place is small with a seating capacity of 38, laid out in an ‘L’ shape. Despite the size of the place it doesn’t feel cramped at all, a credit to the restaurant.

It’s lunch time and there are only a handful of people, eating away with gusto, most with their hands. A washbasin discreetly located at the end of the restaurant behind a partition gives the option to patrons.

The menu is a typically Indian, with a collection of Tandoori items, curries, varieties of Indian naans and rice.

To start the meal we settle for the a merger of the classic and the new: a mango flavoured lassi.

A cold mango lassi on a hot day is a delight on the senses. Unfortunately the lassi we are served had been made with sour mangoes and was a bit disappointing on the palate, but forgivable at the onset of mango season when finding sweet ripe mangos are hard to find.

The meal arrives next; plain naan, chicken biriyani, dhal fry, chicken masala and plain raita.

Biriyani, dhal and naan at Poppadums
Biriyani, daal and naan at Poppadums

The naan is neatly cut into pieces and served on a silver plate, while the rest of the dishes come in an assortment of silver dishes, all looking very appetizing.

We start off with the naan, but one bite and we have the sneaky suspicion that it had been made the previous day or week, and re-cooked a second time. It’s overly crisp on the inside and out, and resembles a poppadum. The one thing you expect from an Indian restaurant is a naan cooked to perfection, a chewy crisp texture on the outside and soft on the inside. The sudden emission of intense heat from the Tandoor oven fluffs the naan into beautiful bread; alas here the beauty was incomplete.

The biriyani is the next dish to go under our fork. The first mouthful is fiery to say the least; an extremely liberal use of chilli smothered the rest of the flavours of this famous dish. It’s a poor presentation of blended flavours, almost as if everything had been cooked separately, vegetable rice and chicken curry mulched together onto a plate.

Even the praiseworthy raita – diced tomato mixed with fresh herbs bound in natural yogurt – is not enough to cut the spice.

A mango lassi
A mango lassi

The biriyani is way below average; a slow simmering is supposed to infuse the flavours together in this dish; however we can taste nothing of the sort. Halfway through we are obliged to stop eating, gasping for air, with our taste buds on fire from an overdose of chilli.

The highlight is the dhal and chicken masala, which do justice to the flavours you expect from an Indian dish.

The correct consistency, delectable flavours and well blended herbs and spices cooked just enough to release those unique Indian flavours. Had the naan been cooked to precision, these two dishes would’ve saved the day and done justice to one of the most versatile cuisines in the world.

Indian food is a short flight away, but when one gets the craving in Male’, Poppadums is among the few places one can go to indulge that craving which gives the restaurant a responsibility to do justice to the dishes.

More people come in as we are leaving. We will go back another day, and hopefully be able to indulge in a better Indian food experience.

Poppadums Restaurant

Food 4/10
Atmosphere 6/10
Value 5/10
Service 6/10
Total 5 /10

Mango lassi 30 Rf
Chicken biriyani 50 Rf
Plain naan 12 Rf
Dhal fry 25 Rf
Chicken masala 45 Rf
Raita 35 Rf

Poppadums Restaurant is located at Ameeru Ahmed Magu. It is open from 12pm to 3pm
and from 6pm to midnight.

Naby Mariyam is a Le Cordon Bleu chef graduate, and works as a cookery trainer in Sydney, Australia.


Review: Aioli Restaurant

Aioli is a French sauce, an emulsion of oil held together with other water based liquids to create a unique texture. The restaurant emulates its namesake the sauce in offering an emulsion of different cuisines, in a fine dining atmosphere.

The shade of the huge mango tree gives is pleasant as we enter Aioli at lunch time. Men occupy the two tables downstairs, chit-chatting about the latest stories around town. We look longingly at the dessert counter filled with colourful macarons, brownies and other tantalising sweet items as we head up the winding stairs.

A few tables at the balcony are occupied as despite the hot mid day sun, the place has a nice feel to it, the nearby tree keeps it cool. We opt for the glass- doored air-conditioned room with seating capacity for about 40 people. The menu offers diverse range of dishes, Mexican fajitas, mutton mysore, Thai items, a couple of vegetarian dishes, and top quality beef like the Black Angus rump steak, poultry, pasta and even a local speciality ‘addu kukulhu reha’, Addu style chicken curry.

Thai chicken skewers, with red cabbage
Thai chicken skewers, with red cabbage

Most surprising and intriguing is the dessert page, tempting varieties not available anywhere else in town – we almost skip the main course. Interestingly the menu has explanations of cooking terminology, helpful to those who are looking to experiment and expand their gastronomical repertoire.

The waitresses are friendly and smart, with black shirts and black skirts they blend right in with the concept of fine dining restaurants.

The drinks arrive fast, chilled water melon perfect for a hot afternoon, and home made lemonade; a combination of lemon sparkling water and ice, tipped a little heavily on the sparkling water side and lacking in zing. The papaya juice tasted smooth and decadently sweet.

The teriyaki beef-fry was well presented with a jasmine rice dome next to it. The sauce had an overly peppery taste to it and lacked the tangy-sweet and brackish flavor of a real teriyaki sauce, while the steamed rice is under seasoned and over cooked. The dish has ground to cover before it would live up to its name.

The lamb chops, served with grilled zucchini, potoato slices and red and yellow peppers had colour, but the presentation would have gone up a notch if the chops had been placed on top of the vegetables to add some dimension.

Fine dining Male' style
Fine dining Male' style

The orange sauce on the bottom added a bit of moisture to the utterly dry lamb chops, amusing given that the menu had a whole page explaining degrees of cooking meat. The shred of red cabbage sprinkled loosely on the plate added nothing to the dish and was a poor addition.

Thai chicken on skewers placed on top of steamed rice with more shreds of red cabbage came with a generous portion of pak choy. The chicken was tender and succulent, but the pak choy bathed in garlic was toothsome and a bit over cooked. The dish is a bit dry as there is little sauce to go with jasmine rice; this could have been a brilliant starter without the rice and pak choy.

Finally the moment we had been waiting for, the classic French dessert crème brulee arrived on the heels of Italian panna cotta.

It looks like the crème brulee needs more caramelising and more sugar. It was impossible to relive the moment in the famous scene of the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding, when Julia Robert’s character cracks open the caramelised crunchy sugar, exposing the creamy and smooth custard. Nevertheless it was full bodied and flavorsome, just lacking caramlisation, the essence of this dessert.

The panna cotta was presented neatly on a plate with drizzled chocolate sauce topped with a green cherry.

Tasty crème brulee
Tasty but not caramelised

The flavours were balanced in the cooked cream which is set with gelatin. The texture was a bit rubbery for a panna cotta; it should have just enough gelatin to hold its shape and should have wobbled a bit more on the plate.

Overall: bistro-style food with a fine-dining feel. The world’s many different tastes are served in this very promising restaurant, which holds a place among the best in town.

Aioli Restaurant

Food 7/10
Atmosphere 8/10
Value 6/10
Service 7/10
Total 7 /10

Fresh water melon juice – 25 Rf
Fresh Papaya Juice – 25 Rf
Home made lemonade – 40 Rf
Cajun Lamb chops – 150 Rf
Teriyaki beef stir-fry – 60 Rf
Thai chicken – 70 Rf
Crème Brulee – 55 Rf
Panna Cotta – 45 Rf

Aioli Restaurant is located beside Bank of Maldives Main Branch at Lotus Golhi. It is open from 9:30 am to midnight, on Fridays from 16:00 pm to midnight.

Naby Mariyam is a Le Cordon Bleu chef graduate, and works as a cookery trainer in Sydney, Australia.


Review: Azur

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.

Local delicacy, tuna, presented in a new way
Local delicacy, tuna, presented in a new way
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.

Kushiyaki beef cooked to perfection
Kushiyaki beef cooked to perfection
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.

Azur Restaurant
Food 9/10
Atmosphere 8/10
Value 8/10
Service 8/10
Total 8/10

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.


Review: Breakfast à la Maldivienne

The dozen or so little teashops beckon you when you step into the south-west harbour area of Male.

Located within easy walking distance of Villingilli ferry terminal, the teashops are squeezed together one alongside another, each painted in a vibrant colour with unique names like Fahari café (sister-in-law café), Lhiyanu Café (brother-in-law café) and Meal Deal.

Most of these cafés are famous for specific dishes. We head over to one gaining a reputation as serving one of the best local breakfasts in town.

X-Fresh 1 would be hard to find if you didn’t know its location – a canopy of leaves hides the name on the exterior. However it has the distinction of being one of the few cafes to have an outdoor area, complete with palm trees and coarse white sand.

Inside the café, the red colored walls give off a cheery feel. Even the table clothes are red and the fans follow the same theme with every other blade painted the same colour.

At nine in the morning the place is already starting to fill up. Half a dozen tables are occupied, including office workers in ties, people who’ve just stepped off the boats nearby and those who’ve wandered in off the street for chatter over coffee, tea and the variety of breakfasts on offer.


A classic Maldivian breakfast of mashuni roshi
A classic Maldivian breakfast of mashuni roshi

A Classic Breakfast

We choose a table outside. The shade from the palm trees and white coarse sand under foot gives the place an island feel. This reverie is broken every now and again by a passing pick up truck laden with goods being carried to a nearby dhoni (local boat).

Within the space of seconds a waiter appears by our table, his manner brisk.

We order the classic combination of Huni roshi (flat bread with grated coconut, shaped like a disk) and Mashuni (a mixture of tuna and grated coconut).

With an efficiency that would be the envy of top class restaurants, a small bottle of mineral water is served immediately and the food arrives fast on its heels, piping hot.

The disk lives up to its name – it is perfectly round. Legend has it that in the 90s a hota (local teashop) by the name of ‘Disk’ started serving Huni roshi, rounded to perfection. The hota named the dish as a kind of thumbs down to the concept of only the rich owning vinyl disk. A successful case of branding, à la Maldivienne.

The fresh pan-baked disk is baked to perfection with just the right hint of crispness and slightly sweet coconuty flavor.

The accompanying Mashuni is the perfect blend of tropical flavours that comprise the essence of Maldivian food: onion, chilli, lime juice, smoked tuna and freshly grated coconut.

The dish is unpretentious, flavoursome and testimony to the fact that the chef obviously knows his ropes.

The accompanying kurumba (young coconut) drink brings just the right touch to complete the meal.

Well chilled, the balanced combination of fresh coconut juice and soft flesh is a good balance of textures and is a delight to the taste buds on a hot morning.

While we are eating a constant stream of people come and go; a couple ventures in with a baby, as well as numerous well- dressed men. Four waiters in white shirts and black pants do a good job of attending to the customers.

No menus are on display in the café, but it’s generally understood that cafes in harbour area are light on the wallet. Our breakfast is Rf 15, the same price as the kurumba.

A pleasant atmosphere under the trees
A pleasant atmosphere under the trees

Some customers opt to try out the hedhika (short eats) piled on a tray, which the waiter brings to the table. Laden to the brim with savories and few sweet items, a person points at the item he wants, and the waiter serves it with a pair of tongs.

For those looking for more subtle flavors in the morning, toast and eggs are also on offer.

The aroma of coffee proves too tempting, and we order the Italian Lavazza coffee. To our pleasant surprise, coffee was well frothed and though a bit hot and lacking in body, it proved to be one of the best coffees in town.

One breakfast there and it’s easy to understand why people stream there in the morning, with the tables filled even on Friday mornings. In fact, if you turn up for breakfast on a Friday you’ll will be in the company of well-known personalities and MPs.

The usual little tray of betel nuts and betel leaves arrive, and a hastily scribbled bill brings an end to our morning escapade. At Rf 80 for two people it’s a bargain.

X-fresh 1 is a bit out of the way, for a delicious local breakfast at great price in a place reminiscent of islands in Maldives, right here in the capital, X-fresh 1 is hard to beat.

X-Fresh 1

  • Food 7/10
  • Atmosphere 6/10
  • Service 6/10
  • Price 10/10
  • Overall 7/10

X-Fresh 1 is the nearest café to Villingili ferry terminal, located at the south west harbor. Breakfast is served until 11am. Its open from 6am to 12pm and serves a variety of local and international dishes.