Regal Delights

Reopened in grandeur, Rivaaj invites diners to indulge in the opulence of Awadhi and Rajasthani cuisine. Join Bushra Hakim as she savours a feast fit for royalty.

Indian cuisine has always held a special place in my heart, thanks to its diverse array of flavours that never fail to captivate the palate. In a country as culturally rich as India, culinary diversity reigns supreme, promising endless discoveries for adventurous food enthusiasts. Eager to embark on a gastronomic adventure, my colleague and I recently found ourselves at Rivaaj, located on the ground floor of the Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa.

Rivaaj has long been cherished by Bahrain’s food enthusiasts for Mughlai delicacies. However, since its recent reopening, it has shifted its focus more onto the regal traditions of Awadhi and Rajasthani cuisine under the guidance of Chef Ranjit Mishra. As avid lovers of Indian food, the anticipation surrounding the relaunch was palpable, and we were eager to experience what the newly revamped establishment had to offer.

On entering, we were warmly greeted by Aayush Aggarwal, the Assistant Director of Food & Beverage, who graciously guided us through our dining experience. The ambience was enhanced by enchanting live music performed by traditional Indian musicians, filling the air with soulful melodies of Hindustani tunes played on tabla and santoor – the first of its kind in Bahrain. It felt like we’d been teleported to India, which is exactly what the management intended – to bring a piece of the sub-continent right here to Bahrain. The restaurant exudes traditional charm with warm lighting, intricate woodwork and opulent furnishings. Every detail has been meticulously crafted to create an atmosphere that is both inviting and luxurious.

We were seated by the welcoming staff who offered us refreshing towels – just what we needed on this particularly hot afternoon. Our hostess then personally laid napkins on our laps and presented us with a beautiful gold box of chutneys and pickles, accompanied by crispy papadums to whet our appetites. The garlic pickle was our absolute favourite, along with the mint, tamarind and pineapple chutneys. Refreshing drinks that perfectly blended Eastern and Western flavours arrived and I absolutely loved my mango mocktail with a little surprise of popping bubbles.

Our journey began with the cold appetisers, a selection inspired by Indian street food. We started with Pani Puri – bite-sized fried semolina shells filled with spicy potato, pomegranate, tangy tamarind water and mildly spiced mint water – offering an explosion of flavours in each bite. Next, we tried the Raj Kachori, a crispy, hollow puri stuffed with diced potatoes, chickpeas, sev (crispy gram flour noodles), yoghurt, tamarind and mint chutneys, delivering a symphony of textures and tastes. Finally, the Dahi Bhalla, soft lentil dumplings soaked in creamy yoghurt, topped with similar chutneys, provided a refreshing and indulgent snack. The hot appetisers stole the spotlight, their enticing aromas ignited our senses with anticipation. A sizzling skewer of Doodhiya Murgh Ka Boota arrived first, tender chicken marinated in a creamy blend of yogurt, grilled to perfection, melting in our mouths with each bite. Following suit was the Ajmeri Dhungaar Seekh, a succulent lamb kabab, delicately smoked with cardamom and infused with spices, delivering tender texture and impeccable flavour.

Adding to the spectacle were the Jhinga Dum Nisha, jumbo prawns marinated in yogurt and dill, then charcoal cooked to perfection, extending a delightful burst of seafood excellence. The Chaap Ke Sule, lamb chops marinated in Mathania chilli, and charcoal-cooked to juicy succulence, provided a fiery and flavourful indulgence that left our taste buds tingling with satisfaction. Finally, the Mathania Paneer showcased a bold vegetarian option, with cottage cheese infused with the rich taste of Mathania chilli, offering a delectable alternative to meat-centric dishes.

Unlike many other cuisines, Indian cooking places a strong emphasis on communal dining, where the main course is meant to be shared among family and friends rather than eaten individually. Staying true to this tradition, our main course arrived, presenting a delightful medley of gravies, rice and breads ready to be shared.

Our plates were adorned with Ajmeri Nihari, a lamb shank slow-cooked for hours with an exotic blend of spices, rendering it so tender it effortlessly fell off the bone. Alongside it was the Chilgoza Aur Palak Kofta, a vegetarian delight crafted from melon seeds, cottage cheese and spinach and my personal favourite, Junglee Maas, a Rajasthani speciality of lamb slow-cooked in an aromatic fusion of local flavourings. These dishes paired pleasantly with the assorted breads.

Among the array of dishes, a standout experience was the Dal Baati Churma, a trio that harmoniously combined Dal (yellow lentils), Baati (whole wheat dumplings soaked in ghee) and the sweet counterpart Churma (sweet crumbled wheat). This trio offered an intriguing interplay of savoury and sweet flavours on our palates. Easy to confuse with dessert, this is actually a traditional three-part main course meant to be enjoyed together. Lastly, we indulged in the aromatic Chicken Biryani, a culinary masterpiece layered with fragrant basmati rice and tenderised chicken, perfectly paired with raita, concluding our main course feast.

As our journey drew to a close, dessert awaited with a sweet temptation. A trio of Gulab Jamun, Kala Jamun and Rasgulla, different types of syrupy dough balls, floated delicately in a pool of Rabdi (thickened sweetened milk). Each bite a delightful balance of sweetness and velvety creaminess. With each spoonful, we savoured the perfect conclusion to our feast at Rivaaj, leaving us with lingering memories of indulgence and satisfaction, and a desire to return for more.✤