Table By Rang Mahal
41 Seah Street
Tel: 6403 6005
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6.30pm to 10.30pm. Western menu also available, including breakfast
BY and large, hotel all-day-dining restaurants have never really inspired confidence. Like room service, there seems to be a universal code followed by hospitality groups worldwide that scrambled eggs in a breakfast buffet have to look like curdled custard and the in-room pasta has to achieve that exact texture between mushy and inedible before it can be delivered to your door lukewarm. Apart from jetlag and a breakfast voucher, dining in-house is hardly something one looks forward to.
But when a hotel is willing to look outside the box - make that outside its own kitchen - as the newly refurbished Naumi Hotel has done, things get a little more interesting. For one thing, the boutique hotel on Seah Street is tapping the pedigree of Indian restaurant stalwart Rang Mahal to literally spice things up in its all-purpose lobby eatery that also functions as the hotel bar, lounge and buffet breakfast place.
It looks like an odd mix at first. For one, you're smack in the middle of Seah Street which means you're fighting for attention with everything from chicken rice and Thai coffeeshops to the chi-chi eateries in Purvis Street. Second, it's easy to walk past the Naumi and think you're peering into the lobby rather than a bona fide restaurant because of the arrangement of lounge furniture and the check-in counter.
But don't be misled - if your usual lunchtime treat involves the top-of-the-line bowl at Hock Lam Beef Noodles, spoil yourself by adding another $8 or so for some comfortable air-conditioning and the best value $15 set lunch deal ever.
At the flagship Rang Mahal in the Pan Pacific Singapore, $15 could safely get you a basket of speciality naan but barely an appetiser much less a main course. At their casual sister eatery in Naumi, that money gets you a compact bento set that includes your choice of Murg Andar (grilled yogurt-marinated chicken chunks) or Malmali Seekh Kebab (minced lamb skewers), presented with portions of dal, red rice pilaf and gobi mattar (stir-fried spiced cauliflower with peas). There's also a vegetarian option (which seems a little less value for money in comparison) of either tandoori mushrooms or paneer tikka (yogurt-marinated cottage cheese rectangles). What seals the deal is the basket of healthy five-grain roti or decadent fluffy butter naan that you get on top of everything.
Everything is well-prepared and tasty - you get two juicy chunks of char-broiled chicken thigh meat with a side salad, and what looks like tiny bowls of side dishes are actually deeper than you think. So there's a good portion of savoury dal to spoon over the chewy rice, along with fragrant turmeric-hued tender cauliflower and peas to make up the meal's vegetable quota.
And even when you run out of dal, it's hard to stop pulling at the large buttery naan, even if you bypass the healthy but drier roti.
You might even be tempted to order other things too, either from the rest of the lunch menu or the dinner a la carte version (the chef will accommodate requests for dinner items). The chilly cheese kulzza ($6), for one, could give any Neapolitan pizza a run for its money with its soft, spongy-textured dough with a light sprinkling of cheddar and cheese for some heat.
For a touch of Bombay street food, there's pani puri ($7), crunchy shells filled with diced potatoes and lentils that you drizzle with mint and tamarind sauces, and scented water spiced with ginger and green chilli. Dip your remaining naan into the thick, mustard gravy that coats seabass chunks in the Bengali fish masala ($22) - strictly for mustard fans, though. We prefer the more accessible curry flavours of the Kashmiri rogan josh ($22), featuring lamb pieces lost in a flood of yogurt-thickened gravy.
To end off, you could cop out and order the walnut brownie, or expand your Indian dessert repertoire with rasmalai ($9) - fresh cheese dumplings with a sponge-like texture sitting in not-too-sweet cardamom-scented milk. It's still an acquired taste so you either love it or fear it.
Oddly, the restaurant also serves a Western menu - mainly for hotel guests - so you can ask for one if you're so inclined. But that would detract from the real draw of Table at Rang Mahal as a happy middle ground between its high-end parent and a neighbourhood thosai joint.
Given how money doesn't go very far in restaurants today, getting a good meal at a good price is a thrill we'd like to enjoy more often.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good