There’s such a plethora of options for Indian fare in Singapore! High-end temples to exquisite gastronomy are mainly located in glossy malls and five star hotels; here, they’re represented by Yantra, Song of India and the swish new Punjab Grill. Affordable mid-range restaurants such as Chat Masala are to be found everywhere, especially in Little India and the East Coast suburbs. Hundreds of cheap-as-chapatti vendors dish up aromatic platters of authentic tandoori chicken, biryani and curries in food courts and hawker centres all over the island, and Bar Bar Black Sheep is just one of these treasures. And don’t forget fish-head curry, that deep-red, savoury, tangy and above all spicy concoction. While not actually Indian – it’s a distinctively Singaporean creation – this dish is nothing short of a national icon. Don’t worry, you don’t have to eat the eyes!
163 Tanglin Road #01-28/33
Something is typically amiss when you push aside juicy morsels of roasted chicken, lamb and fish to get at the broccoli on your plate. Don’t get me wrong – Yantra’s skewerless kebab platter ($45) is incredible, yet the malaiwala phool ($24), broiled broccoli florets tossed in garlic and yoghurt, is the showstopper. Don’t like broccoli? I dare you to try this and not fall in love.
Yantra’s extensive menu can be a tad overwhelming if you’re only used to the basics. We chose two house favourites: the kadhai jhinga ($35), spicy stir-fried prawns, and the rich and creamy signature chicken bharta ($33). The smokey flavours of the dhuan gosht ($35), clove-smoked lamb cubes, are impressive, as is the decorative bit of charcoal propped up by a piece of lettuce (shown here). The new paneer aur anjeer ke kebab ($25), a pan-seared cheese and fig patty stuffed with blue cheese, makes for an interesting accompaniment.
Wrap it all up with mushroomwali naan ($11), or almond-, pistachio- and cashew-encrusted, honey-drizzled peshawari naan ($12), a bread so heavenly it would have been dessert, but for the still-sweeter gulab jamun ($15), milk dumplings soaked in rosewater syrup.
Don’t sweat the small stuff? Yantra disagrees. Fresh lemon for the water glasses, warm plates for the mains and a steamy washcloth après dinner – this restaurant has the details down pat. Service is spot on, as was each of the dishes – and the pineapple and cardamom mojitos ($15).
Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra
#B1-01A The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
No beaten copper, elephant heads or lurid gilt-and-velvet curtain here – this is as sophisticated a venue as you’ll find. It’s well placed for the MBS post-theatre crowd: at 8pm we’re one of a handful of tables; by 9.30 it’s fairly full.
In order to taste as many dishes as possible, we go for the degustation menus: one vegetarian and the other meat ($75 each).
Both menus start with a delightful interpretation of a New Delhi street food staple: a golgappa platter. Also known as panipuri, it’s a row of crispy wheat shells filled with vegetables and flavoured water – here, either tamarind water or mint water. Manager Siddharth Malhotra tells us that the average girl on a New Delhi street will gobble down a good dozen of these delectable morsels. Does the water spill out or dribble from the bottom down your new blue dress? For me, oh yes. For Roy, no.
Second up is delicious and piping hot soup, mine a light tomato infused with coriander and cumin, Roy’s a consommé of chicken and almonds. Appetisers come next: a platter of three items for each of us. We love the hot plates. Mine is all very well – paneer tikka multani, tandoori broccoli and a yoghurt kebab, very tasty, good for the cholesterol and all that – but my fork makes regular forays into the salmon tikka, tandoori lamb chops, and giant tandoori prawn on the other side of the table. It’s all outstanding.
Our main courses both include the signature daal and a memorable biryani; mine also has asparagus and paneer dishes, and Roy’s has butter chicken and lamb. What makes the various sauces so velvety, explains Sidd, is that they are strained five or six times.
So generous are these degustation menus that we barely make a dent in our basket of finger-searing garlic naan and parontha. We bravely tackle the dessert platter, though: an amazing mango saffron crème brûlée, plus a rich chocolate confection. And to drink? A couple of glasses of Prosecco ($18) for me, and one lonely beer ($14) for Roy. He’s driving.
Song of India
33 Scotts Road
It seemed a good omen that the cab driver I hailed on the East Coast not only knew where Song of India was but offered me two different routes to get there. This, I realised later, was in equal parts due to its longevity, its central location and its award-winning reputation for wonderful food. This month, September, Chef Milind Sovani has launched a revised à la carte menu.
From several set menus at different price points, we choose the non-vegetarian Journey through India ($95), which features traditional dishes with a subtle twist.
From the 300-bottle selection of wines, we choose an old favourite, Geisel ($85): a crisp NZ sauvignon blanc that is a safe bet for Indian food.
First up is the multani chicken soup, creamy and with a subtle hint of coriander. The entrée comprises two dishes: tandoori chicken and mustard enhanced smoked salmon, tender with a pleasant and spicy bite. A lime sorbet is served to cleanse the palate.
The main course platter includes Chettinad prawns, spicy and cooked to perfection; Kashmiri lamb rogan josh, which we both agree melts in the mouth; chicken in potli masala , a creamy, sweetly spiced dish; spinach and cottage cheese, a long-time favourite; and delicate saffron rice. We mop up the rich sauces with naan bread and don’t feel embarrassed doing so. From the à la carte menu, we also order a serving of Goan fish curry; spicy and made with sea bass, it’s something to go back for.
Small individual portions mean we haven’t over-indulged, so we can start on dessert without undoing the top button. Artfully presented, the dessert platter comprises kulfi , an Indian style pistachio ice cream; and a non-traditional but heavenly chocolate mousse and fresh fruit. We’re not worried about the calories; this is a special dining experience to savour, remember and repeat again soon.
Chat Masala Too! (closed)
18 Greenwood Avenue
Set in leafy Greenwood Avenue, Chat Masala Too! serves North and South Indian fusion cuisine in a minimalist setting. Modern oil paintings line the walls – no excessive soft furnishings or Bollywood tunes in the background here. The staff are courteous and friendly – another tick for any favourite curry house contender.
The food will keep you coming back even if this place is not your local. The Kerala fish curry ($15.80)gets good reviews, as does the tandoori chicken (two pieces for $8)and the butter chicken ($16.80). We can also vouch for the vegetarian dishes – the aloo goobi ($11.80), chickpea masala ($8.80), yellow daal ($8.80) and raisin and nut flecked biryani rice ($12.80) were all very decent.
The naan wasn’t as fluffy or warm as we’d like – it was served already sliced and hence slightly cool and crisp. But all in all, a very pleasant and reasonably priced place to spend an evening. Sip a beer or a spice-quenching mango lassi and dip into the various North and South Indian offerings. Many have Western ingredients or flavourings that add a fusion element.
Incidentally, the restaurant’s name, Chat Masala, refers to the spice mix – also called chaat masala – typically used throughout India in much of the food, including snack food and even sprinkled on raw fruit. This outlet is an offshoot of the original Chat Masala in East Coast (158 Upper East Coast Road), a popular eatery that’s also worth a try.
Bar Bar Black Sheep
879 Cherry Avenue, off Bukit Timah Road
People look for different things when they’re hunting for a new apartment: a balcony, an open kitchen, decent condo facilities, a nearby MRT station. My requirements are dictated by appetite alone: I need hawker food within 200 metres and, if possible, a place with a pint for under $10.
Living near Bar Bar Black Sheep in Bukit Timah ticks both boxes. Eight-dollar beers aside, this popular beer-garden establishment has Thai and Indian restaurants and a burger joint, while nearby you’ll find an Italian bistro, a Malay stall, and a Chinese zi char place, oddly named B.K. Forture.
The Indian is probably the pick of the lot. It’s called Sher – as in, “Sherly they can’t cook all those dishes in such a tiny space.” But they can, and they do them very well. Veggie curries start at around $5 (the daal and chickpea dishes are a standout), while chicken, lamb and seafood curries are mostly $10. Reasonable prices, no doubt about it. A tandoor oven in one corner works overtime producing satisfying breads and grilled meats.
My only disappointment is that the food, while boasting great flavour and texture, lacks the kind of blow-your-head-off heat that I welcome. In fact, the green-chilli tang of the pappadam dipping sauce is about as challenging as things get. It’s almost as if my wife – who reacts to chillies the same way vampires do to garlic – has been down there and had a little chat to the cooks.
Still, they’re a friendly bunch at Sher, so I’m sure if you ask them to crank up their curries (to put the “loo” back in “vindaloo”, so to speak), they’ll be happy to oblige.
Courtesy of Punjab Grill
|Aam papad||Mango pulp mixed with concentrated sugar solution and sun-dried|
|Ajwain||Carom seeds, an uncommon spice except in certain Asian countries such as India|
|Basmati||Variety of long-grain rice grown in India and Pakistan and notable for its fragrance and delicate flavour|
|Boondi||Fried snack made from chickpea flour, often served mixed with raita|
|Chutney||Spicy condiment made of blended herbs and spices|
|Gulab jamun||Popular dessert made of a dough consisting mainly of milk solids, rolled into a ball together with some flour, deep-fried and then dipped in sugar syrup|
|Kadhai||Deep, thick round cooking pot (similar in shape to a wok)|
|Kalonji||Onion seeds, used to add piquancy to food|
|Kasoori methi||Dried fenugreek leaves|
|Khoya||Milk thickened by heating in an open iron pan|
|Kofta||Dumplings made of minced meat or vegetables|
|Kulche||Type of flat bread made from refined flour and baked in the tandoor|
|Mukta pishti||Pearl powder|
|Naan||Leavened flat bread baked in the tandoor|
|Parontha||Unleavened wholewheat flat bread fried on a tava|
|Raita||Side dish of yoghurt usually flavoured with salt and red chilli powder, and sometimes with chopped cucumber or other vegetables and spices|
|Tandoor||A clay oven often used for barbecuing; mainly North Indian|
|Tava||Large flat or concave disc-shaped griddle|
|Tikka||Small pieces of meat or vegetable marinated in a spice mixture|