The vast Indian dining scene in Singapore caters for a large and diverse group of food fans – and that includes the Expat Living team! Here are some of our top spots.
#03-21B Raffles City Shopping Centre
Level 3, Fairmont Singapore
Who’s cooking: Head chef Asraf Ali Khan hails from West Bengal, where he started his culinary career in a humble setting at the age of 15. After working his way through small stand-alone restaurants throughout India, he eventually left the country to expand his career. He has been running the Shahi Maharani kitchen for the past 15 years with passion and skill, perfecting its recipes.
The establishment’s name translates to “great queen”, and the live music, which goes on until closing time, makes you feel you’re being serenaded like a member of royalty while you enjoy your authentic meal. In case that sounds pretentious, I assure you it’s nothing of the sort: this is a family-run place, with a cosy and relaxed atmosphere – ideal for catching up with friends, family or a partner.
What’s cooking: An extensive range of North Indian dishes includes familiar favourites such as chicken vindaloo ($29) and onion bhajis ($11) – both, of course, made infinitely better here than you’d get down at your local pub in the UK. (Fellow Brits, I’m talking to you!)
For starters, our group of four shared the tandoori milawat ($40), a mixed grill of chicken, fish, lamb and prawns, with a side of bhindi okra ($12), which arrived lightly battered and served with a yoghurt dip, and turned out to be exceedingly moreish.
Now, I have to throw in the fact that as my dad’s side of my family hails from Mumbai, I grew up with traditional Indian cooking and tend to judge a restaurant’s skill by trying one of my all-time favourite dishes, dal makhani – a blend of black lentils, red beans, butter, cream and spices. Here, it’s been dubbed dal maharani ($21), and I can officially say it’s a must-order. The Kashmiri naan ($9), topped with sweet dried-fruit paste, is the perfect accompaniment for mopping up the delicious sauce.
After ordering the equally tasty tikka masala ($30), spicy prawn chilli masala ($35) and saag aloo (spinach and potato, $20), it dawned on us that we’d totally underestimated the size of the portions and couldn’t finish. Sadly, that meant I didn’t have room for the malai kulfi ($12), a yummy Indian ice cream made from fresh milk, aromatic spices and nuts – but that’s just an excuse to head back soon, right?
Cheque, please! Without alcohol, our bill was just shy of $200 dollars – not bad for a meal for four in the centre of town. If you fancy a tipple, there is a surprisingly good range of white, red and rosé wines, with prices ranging from $65 up to $145 for a bottle of Veuve.
The Earl of Hindh
#01-16, Quayside Isle
31 Ocean Way, Sentosa Cove
Who’s cooking: It’s a family-owned and run North Indian restaurant with a New Delhi-born chef.
What’s cooking: From an extensive menu packed full of tasty options and all accessed via nifty little iPads, we asked for some staff recommendations to help us move away from our usual, predictable dishes. We kicked off with fluffy, light papadums, and the tandoori phool ($22), a delicious broccoli kebab with a thick cheese and chat masala sauce. We then moved on to murgh (chicken) tikka masala ($32), and a dal (maa ki dal makhanwali, $18), along with garlic tandoori naans ($9) and rampuri paratha ($9), multi-layered tandoor-cooked bread containing red chilli flakes.
Both dishes were mouth-watering, the creamy black lentil dal was the best version of this dish I have ever tasted, plus the breads were absolutely delectable! We finished with gulab jamun ($16), milk dumplings filled with pistachio and cardamom and dipped in sugar syrup, just enough to answer that post-dinner sugar craving. Dining alfresco on the second-floor patio, overlooking the waterfront, adds something special and makes this restaurant ideal for a romantic date night, or a for a quieter dinner with friends.
Cheque, please! This certainly errs on the side of Indian fine-dining; a three-course meal for two without alcohol will set you back around $140, and a glass of wine costs approximately $20. Having said that, the food and atmosphere makes it a worthwhile treat.
32 Racecourse Road
Who’s cooking: Chefs from different regions cook a combination of Bengali and Punjabi dishes. Owner Radhika Abbi is also a trained chef.
What’s cooking: I’m a real onion bhaji and chicken tikka masala kind of gal, but determined to steer away from my curry rut I asked Radhika for guidance. She suggested we start with masale waliyan chaampan (lamb chops, $15.90), goladhari fish cutlet with special sauce ($8.90), and mirch ka pakora, stuffed green chillies coated with gram flour batter and fried.
In typical “eyes bigger than stomach” fashion we then ordered the following: Mustard’s signature dish served in a coconut, the ridiculously more-ish chingri maacher malai curry (prawn curry, $18.90), kosha mangsho (mutton curry, $16.90), and baingan da bharta (smoked aubergine curry, $13.90). For comparison’s sake, a palak paneer ($14.90) crept into our order, and was sublime. Saffron rice ($6.90) and a churi naan ($6.90) were excellent and hearty accompaniments to a beautiful meal.
On reflection, I wish I’d also chosen from the tandoor, and made room for dessert. Radhika’s warm welcome and the passion Radhika has when explaining her concept and menu, you can tell the restaurant is her baby. It was packed on the weeknight we went along, and having tasted the food and experienced the cosy atmosphere, this doesn’t surprise me one bit.
Cheque, please! Food for two people was $115; adding a bottle of wine and a large Kingfisher to share brought to $180.
Muthu’s Curry (various locations)
Block 7 Dempsey Road, #01-01
Who’s cooking: Mr Ayyakkannu, who started selling home-cooked Southern Indian food in Singapore in 1969. This authenticity continues today: the masala spices for the South and North Indian dishes are prepared in-house.
What’s cooking: We opted for relatively safe territory, ordering starters of tandoori chicken wings ($8), vegetable samosas ($6) and fish cutlets ($2 per piece), light and fluffy fish and potato cakes served with sweet chilli.
For the main event, my husband chose a trusted favourite, butter chicken ($12), while I ordered a fenugreek-flavoured kasthoori chicken kebab ($13). The butter chicken lived up to expectation and the kebab offered succulent chicken with a subtle and fragrant taste, which we both enjoyed. Accompanying our mains were biriyani rice ($4 per person), a peshawari naan ($5) and tandoori parata ($4.50). In keeping with the authentic way to serve rice in South India, we were offered complimentary vegetables with it – cabbage koottu (softened cabbage in a light gravy) and aubergine masala (like a spicy aubergine stew). We didn’t have space to try the tandoori fish head, which is a restaurant speciality ($30).
Cheque, please! Our food came to a reasonable $56.50; with drinks, the total was $84.50. A big bottle of Kingfisher beer is $13, and I had a Southern Ginger mocktail, a concoction of lime, soda, ginger and mint ($8), and a mango lassi ($7).
Punjab Grill By Jiggs Kalra
B1-01A, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
What’s cooking: The ten-course Chef Tasting Menu is available in vegetarian, non-vegetarian and wine-paired options. It takes you on a journey through cities from Lahore to Rawalpindi, with dishes like chaamp taajdar ($45), perfectly grilled New Zealand lamb chops marinated with cloves, black cardamom and fenugreek, and tasty chow ki tikki (stuffed potato cakes served with tamarind sauce, mint chutney and sweet yoghurt, $20), and ends perfectly with the signature blended betel leaf paan shot, a mouth freshener and digestive. I particularly enjoyed the sarson da saag ($34) with makkai di roti ($8); it’s an ensemble of the mustard leaf delicacy saag, with bread made of corn flour. Served as an entrée in bite-sized pieces, it reflects the restaurant’s innovate approach and modern twist to authentic household dishes.
Do also try the in-house special betel leaf and rose petal marmalade mittha patta mojito/martini (mocktail/cocktail; $16/20) and saffron pista kulfi ($16), a native pistachio-flavoured ice cream. A sampling of the desserts is the perfect way to round off a satisfying meal served in generous portions.
Cheque, please! The ten-course Chef Tasting Menu will give you the ultimate Maharaja experience for $190 per person, but there are other set menu options for lunch, starting from $45.
7 Raffles Boulevard
#03-00 Pan Pacific Hotel
Who’s cooking: Chef Vinod Kumar was born and raised in Mumbai, and he and his team have contributed to Rang Mahal’s reputation as a fine-dining Indian restaurant with a legacy of over four decades.
What’s cooking: For starters we sampled the hot stone tandoori lamb chops ($52), beautifully marinated in Kashmiri chilli and nutmeg, and incredibly tender. They don’t come cheap, but are worth every penny. To complement this was a tandoori portobello mushroom ($32), delicately flavoured but equally tasty.
We couldn’t resist ordering an old favourite, murgh makhani ($42), as well as a mouth-watering Kadhai prawn dish ($44), which had some of the largest prawns I’d ever seen. Accompaniments were a lovely, fluffy basmati rice ($15) and a roquefort kulcha ($16), which were recommended by restaurant manager Suryapal. The latter is bread filled with blue cheese, onions and chilli, and although I did initially turn my nose up at the thought, the bursts of flavour from this bread, along with the spicy food and a nice glass of Australian Shiraz, made for an amazing combination.
Despite being full, we managed a creamy cinnamon panna cotta ($20) between the two of us.
This is indeed fine dining, but the restaurant has a lovely warm vibe, and it always seems busy with a great mix of clientele.
Cheque, please! The food bill came to $221. A bottle of the Victoria Park shiraz was $80 per bottle, or $20 by the glass.
9a Duxton Hill*
Who’s cooking: Chef Abhijit Saha is Bengali and has two restaurants in Bangalore. Saha is his modern take on regional Indian food, and his first restaurant in Singapore, with day-to-day operations under skilled executive chef Preetam Singh Sodi.
What’s cooking: Not your average Indian – look out for non-traditional ingredients, quirky presentation and interesting flavour combinations. Rather than stick to safe ground, we took the waiter’s recommendation to start with the trio of mushrooms ($18), mushrooms prepared in three creative ways: as a cappuccino, grilled whole, and as a frozen parfait powder; surprisingly fabulous. Next up was Kerala vegetable stew espuma ($16), a tasty vegetable pudding served in a martini glass, followed by a melt-in-the-mouth tandoori-baked brie ($20). Chef Saha is clearly pushing the boundaries here, and with great results.
For mains, there’s plenty for the traditionalist, including dal makhani ($24), black lentils in butter and mild spices; but don’t be afraid to go for something different and delicious like the restaurant’s interpretation of the famous fish curry, meen moily ($35): grilled sea bass, tamarind rice and a savoury coconut and curry leaf panna cotta for spooning over the top. For sides, the smoked aubergine bharta ($12) is best eaten with naan bread ($10). To finish we had a dessert that was not remotely Indian, but a sensational and decadent surprise: frozen chocolate ganache powder ($18).
In all, this is amazing food that will totally overhaul your view of this ancient cuisine.
Cheque, please! The food came to $153 (we ordered too much); it was a Monday evening, so we settled for iced water.
* Saha moves to the National Gallery, 1 St Andrews Road, on 24 November. Prime Minister Lee will dine with Chef Saha to celebrate the grand opening.
The Song of India
33 Scotts Road
Who’s cooking: Award-winning chef Manjunath Mural, a proponent of modern Indian cuisine, has headed up the kitchen since he arrived here from India in 2006.
What’s cooking: As Roy and I eat just about anything, crave Indian and are torn between vegetarian and non-vegetarian, it makes sense to go for one of the several set menus. In the end, we plump for Chef Mural’s sophisticated six-course Journey Through India, his bestseller, he says – the one veg ($97) and the other non-veg ($109), so as to sample as much variety as possible.
After two brilliant soups (the non-veg tempered tomato bell-pepper winning top marks), followed by a couple of tikkas each, come our “artist palettes”: indented glass platters containing five different pan-Indian dishes served thali-style, subtly spiced and generally delicious. Accompaniments include a hot tandoori bread-basket that we regretfully go lightly on, so as to leave room for beautiful dessert platters that star two different but equally decadent kulfis (ice creams) with surely everyone’s favourite – gulab jamun – and fresh fruit.
Despite the elegance of this gorgeous black-and-white bungalow, the intimate décor and the refined service, the restaurant obviously welcomes families. Even on this Saturday night, several nearby tables include toddlers – and attendant helpers. What’s more, they offer a Sunday brunch buffet at $39.90, where for two paying adults, up to two children dine free.
Cheque, please! Our food came to $204. Four glasses of wine, including a delicious Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc and a very decent French Bordeaux blend, cost $70.
1 Beach Road
Who’s cooking: Chef Kuldeep comes from New Delhi, where he spent a number of years working for high-end hotels. You might see him around the buffet area, offering tips on what to try.
What’s cooking: The food is predominantly North Indian, and is served as a buffet ($75 per person). There are a number of different stations, including a salad bar, curries and tandoori, as well as a dessert bar.
The vegetarian Kashmiri seekh kebab could fool even a hard-core meat-lover, as it’s tender and juicy, has plenty of flavour and melts in your mouth. Dal makhani is my favourite choice when going to an Indian restaurant, though this one was slightly different to what I’m used to – less cream (which is probably a good thing) and slightly tangy. Another favourite among many people is butter chicken; the one here hits the jackpot compared to the other curries available.
An assortment of naan breads is available; you just order them as required, and the staff ensures that you’re never too far from a nice hot one.
The dessert bar definitely hit my weak spot, with plenty of dishes that were on my radar! These included the cashew kulfi (Indian cashew-nut ice cream), which was made to perfection – light and nutty. The gulab jamun (Indian-style fried doughnut in syrup) was nice and fluffy, and easy to chow down with a scoop of the kulfi.
The rasamali was a bit on the tough side and tasted like an over-fried doughnut. However, the gazrella (also known as halva, or carrot pudding) is a traditional homemade dessert and was beyond amazing, and that’s coming from my extremely critical Indian husband.
Cheque, please! The buffet is $75 per person, while a glass of the Mount Difficulty 2012 Pinot Noir costs $32.
163 Tanglin Road
#01-28/33 Tanglin Mall
Who’s cooking: Specialising in North Indian cuisine, Yantra’s multitude of chefs, led by Khan Abul Kalam Azad from Northern India, work in an open kitchen, which makes for great theatre.
What’s cooking: I would be happy to eat purely vegetarian dishes at an Indian restaurant, but husband James has to have “proper protein”, so we plump for both the Delhi papdi chaat ($19) and lasooni balai ka tandoori jhinga (tandoori prawns, $52) for appetisers. The chaat, a creamy blend of chickpeas, yoghurt, lentil dumplings and zingy, crunchy pomegranate seeds, was all mine. The delicious prawns came with a tableside-flambéed flourish, which left them nicely warmed in aniseed rum.
Main courses had to include my “go-to” Indian dishes, saag paneer ($32) and a dal (in this case, the dal Yantra, $29). Neither disappointed, the slightly smoky paneer complementing the smooth and spicy dal. Chicken bharta ($40), shredded tangy chicken in a mild sauce topped with roughly chopped boiled egg, came highly recommended, and we also managed to (literally) crack into a fun mutton biryani ($40), which comes covered in a crisp bread.
Cheque, please! Our food came to $212, but we could have ordered half as much and been very happy. We also had two Heinekens ($12) and a bottle of sparkling water ($10). The restaurant also offers a Sunday buffet that’s great value: $49 per adult for a three-hour buffet, and $30 per child.
This article was first featured in the November 2015 issue of the magazine.