Restaurants / Openings

Your First Real Look Inside Houston’s New Grand Jewel of an Indian Restaurant — Musaafer Gives The Galleria Show-Stopping Food Power

A Magical Wonderland That's Like No Other

BY // 05.22.20

Upon entering Musaafer, the much ballyhooed Indian restaurant in The Galleria, a magical journey begins. Two years in the making and with little expense spared, the jewel box of a Houston restaurant, which opened on May 18, rises to the dramatic expectations of design that have intrigued many since first reveal of the bold endeavor (which was made in PaperCity).

Restaurateurs Mithu and Shammi Malik of Dubai-based Spice Route Company boasted from the beginning that this restaurant would be like no other. For their first venture in the United States, the couple moved to Houston after completing their 100-day journey through India researching cuisine and design.

“Honestly,” Mithu says, “I would say this is a private indulgence. We really wanted to bring to the rest of the world a picture of India that nobody sees. We wanted people to be able to go to India, sort of virtually, and we wanted the entire experience to be extremely unique.”

Indeed, Musaafer (traveler in Hindi) transports with show-stopping elements, the work of Abhigyan Neogi’s award-winning Chromed Design Studio, based in New Delhi. This complete transformation in the midst of a luxe shopping mall is impressive with every inch of the 10,000 square foot space awash in the spirit of India.

Every aspect of the interiors was sourced from India where craftsman replicated colonial and pre-colonial India motifs and created new world designs. Custom floral wallpapers by Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, whimiscal custom lamp shades suspended from the high ceilings, ornate hand-hammered tin panels, dining tables with mother of pearl inlaid tops, and filigree chandeliers are among the stunning design elements.

Most opulent in the restaurant which features seven unique dining areas is the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). More than 200,000 pieces of hand-cut mirror create a dazzling mosaic, offset by chandeliers and an Empire-inspired ceiling. Velvet-covered banquettes and chairs add to the luxe ambience.

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Musaafer Diwan Lounge_Julie Soefer
A romantic corner in Musaafer’s Diwan Lounge. (Photo by Julie Soefer)

The fanciful sections include the Diwan Lounge, reminiscent of the interior courtyard of traditional Indian homes of the wealthy; the Abnan, the luxe main dining room flanked by arches; the light and airy Shadow Room dedicated to 12-course tasting menus; and the charming outdoor lounge featuring daybeds romantically draped in linen and filled with bolstered cushions as well as traditional bar seating beneath old world ceiling fans and more whimsical lamp shades.

Focal point of the restaurant is the Traveler’s Room that emulates a market with 16-foot carved wooden colonnades, 25-foot-long Dhokra wall featuring brass castings of folk motifs in decorative frames plus a window into the kitchen, framed by a whimsical brass sculpture incorporating a massive rack of pots, pans and utensils.

Overlooking the scene is the restaurant namesake, the 14-foot sculpture of the Musaafer. “I think I love this man as much as my husband,” Mithu says playfully.

Throughout each of the dining settings there is a celebration of India’s vibrant culinary traditions.

“The experience of the journey in terms of the decor is the same experience of the journey in terms of the food because we’ve stressed in even our a la carte menu, that we’ve opened up with, the menu is regional because Indian cuisine is very, very different depending on which region it is coming from,” Mithu tells PaperCity. “And we really wanted to showcase and highlight each and every region because it is phenomenal.

“So the same way with the menu. If it’s 12 courses, it’s going to be completely contrasting in taste and flavor because that’s how food is in India.”

Owners Mithu and Shammi Malik
Musaafer owners Mithu and Shammi Malik.

The menu is a la carte at present with the full compliment of courses dependent on the path of the coronavirus pandemic. Musaafer Chef Mayank Istwal made the aforementioned 100-day journey across India’s 29 states with the Maliks.

Current highlights include traditional Indian street food, Pani Puri, with hollow shells filled with fresh ceviche with five flavorful dipping-sauces, Tuna Chat served on a back-lit plate accented with drops of avocado, tamarind and house made cream cheese, Nali Nihari (Lamb Shank) served over saffron cauliflower risotto and pepper gremolata and the Butter Chicken experience, served three ways with centrifuged and clear clarified tomato sauce.

And then there is the charming bar tender, mixologist Himanshu Desai, a winner in the global Remy Martin Talent Academy competition, with his talent for combining cutting-edge technology and ingredients indigenous to India. The Camac Street margarita, for example, is a delight to the tastebuds. Tequila is blended with a five-spice cordial that has been blended and cooked in honey syrup and the glass is lined with tahini blended with Indian black salt. Delish.

The Musaafer team includes sommelier Rebecca Beaman, previously beverage director at the Inn at Dos Brisas, and Sebastien Laval, most recently general manager at River Oaks District’s MAD.

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