Rolling into Maldives at night does present some conflicting choices.
We've had 2 night arrivals here before - once at Park Hyatt Hadahaa (after a 7 pm arrival and a nerve wrecking 45 mins at sea in near total darkness) and this round at Taj Exotica, checked-in at 9.45 pm to be exact. I was unsure of a late dinner (already past midnight in Singapore) and whether it will be worth the late night calorie count. Dinner was still served at 25 Degrees, the resort's casual diner catering largely to full boarders. It's not a promising prospect but the butler assured me it will be a good experience.
This is what all the butlers tell me.
But Nadeem was definitely honest on this account. Despite daily occupancy hovering above 70%, the Taj Exotica does not believe in being a buffet joint. Guests at 25 Degrees order their three meals from menus populated by east-west favourites sprinkled with gourmet stardust. We've tried a few entrees and they were uncharacteristically good. The Taj burger was supremely satisfying, a hulk of well seasoned patty crammed into a tasty homemade bun with a bull's eye, cheese and tomato slices. The calamari tempura Szechuan style was top-notch in terms of texture and flavour as was the Tom Kha Talay, a Thai classic featuring nothing from a can. By lunch on the 3rd day we were bold enough to order the chicken laksa, which expectedly wasn't laksa but a tasty and sincere improvisation nonetheless.
The resort's other restaurant is Deep End, the customary over the water fine-dining outfit where sous chef Abhishek Dhyani gets to meld flavours and style on the plates. A well-paced 4 course dinner here convinced us that if there is a grading system for Maldivian restaurants, Deep End will probably top it.
A warm and springy onion roll served with mushroom pesto set the tone for the evening. Incredibly, all the bread served at both restaurants are homemade and always warm, which is more an exception than the norm even at top billing city joints. The fennel seeds in the bun complemented the earthiness of the mushrooms exceedingly and if I am already gushing about the bun, you should know where this review is heading.
The soup was tomato and cumin, which essentially is a rework of the South Indian classic Rasam. The vegetarian fried wantons help to balance the tartness of the soup which really whets the appetite. A generous slab of rib-eye served with potato dauphinoise was the main event. Perfectly grilled to medium well-done, the steak was still tender and juicy and not even a sliver was burnt. My favourite however was the vegetable millefeuille, a gorgeous disc of amalgamated textures and flavours comprising brinjal, cheese, peppers and ratatouille. It's scrumptious creations like this that's inching me towards the vegetarian cause.
By the end of the third course there really wasn't a need for dessert to round off on a sweet note. The stunning milieu of the restaurant, the deft fingers of the live guitarist and the exceptional level of culinary expertise have all but ended the evening on a high note indeed.
Tomato and cumin soup with fried wantons.
Deep End restaurant, a lovely spot for island fine dining.
Squid tempura Szechuan style.
The Taj burger! Best burger in India and some say Maldives.
Chicken laksa. Delicious improvisation of the Singaporean classic.