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A new frontier in Indian cuisine
1 St Andrew's Road, #01-03
National Gallery Singapore
Tel: 6223 7321
Open for lunch Tues to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; Open for dinner Tues to Sat: 6pm to 11pm. Closed on Mon.
THE last time we ate curry piped out of a siphon like baby food for very sophisticated infants was at Saha. It was in Duxton Road then, nearly two years ago. As the restaurant space used to be a Russian restaurant, it still looked like the inside of a Matryoshka doll, with Indian art added to mark the change of continent.
The menu was designed by the chef-consultant Abhijit Saha, who enjoys a Gordon Ramsay-like following in India, but morphs into a spice-wielding Ferran Adria in the kitchen. We were intrigued. We slurped up his blended Keralan vegetable espuma with orange pudding and proclaimed it an eye-opener, the start of a whole new frontier in Indian cuisine.
Truth be told - we'd be happy to never have to eat that stew ever again.
Last week, we found ourselves at the new Saha, a month since it moved into the National Gallery. It is pretty in a conventional fine dining way, a balance of neutral tones and glitter in the form of reflective glass pillars and polished copper lamps dangling from above. The table lamps with their warm glow and henna-like design are the only reminders of the old restaurant. And the vegetable espuma.
We avert our eyes and scan the rest of the menu, of which one-third is new. Our mission is clear: We order only solid food. Recognisable food, because we know the chef de cuisine Preetam Singh is a deft hand at the classics too.
When we need help deciphering the menu, the maitre 'd steps in with infinite patience and warm, polite manner. After the opening nibbles of mixed pappadum and a salty-sweet apple cinnamon popsicle, the mini masala utthapam ($14) knocks us for a loop with its new-wave interpretation that is both brilliant and delicious. Little chewy blini-like pancakes are smeared with tangy spicy chilli chutney and topped with a spherification of coconut milk - the jelly-skinned pearls of coconut burst in the mouth to lend cooling richness to the fermented rice pancakes.
A thin broth with hints of lemon and coriander ($14) seems to have little meaning until you mash up the solitary patty of sweet potato and allow the two to sing in perfect harmony - the sweet potato thickens the broth and absorbs the lemon and spices into a satisfying soup.
Squid Ularthiyathu Salad ($22) is unpronounceable but the dressing of cooked down tomatoes and onions infused with the sweet acidity of pineapple more than makes up for the slightly leathery squid pieces that roll in it. The chillies in the sauce are considerate in the way they don't hit you unawares - it's just a slow burn that tickles the tongue without abusing it.
Some dramatic showmanship follows when a dome is lifted off the next dish, releasing a whiff of maple wood smoke which engulfs the stuffed lamb parsinda ($38) - a fussy dish of flattened lamb rolled over a stuffing of chopped nuts and raisins that overshadows the meek pile of couscous beside it. The lamb looks dry but isn't really, and it doesn't look gamey but tastes it. The work that goes into preparing the lamb and stuffing doesn't quite live up to the taste, although it gets a bit of lift from the yoghurt raita that comes with the Hyderabadi chicken biryani ($30) that we order. The latter comes in a little Chinese claypot filled with fluffy spiced basmati rice that is dressed with delicate and fragrant spices and tinged with saffron. It's let down by chicken pieces that have lost their moisture, making you wish there was a lamb or beef version available.
It's the same case with the Goan prawn curry ($35) which is tripped up by less-than-succulent prawns and coconut milk that has long disassociated itself with the real thing. We would be happy to recommend our favourite brand of chilled coconut milk from NTUC if Saha's kitchen stops using the tetrapack variety with its telltale fake fragrance. It doesn't do justice to the otherwise unique sweet-sour-bitter curry that gets its flavour from the kokum fruit - a kind of dried mangosteen.
We're generally wary of Indian desserts, so we really don't want the parmesan cheese kulfi with raspberry sorbet ($18) that our server is so keen to recommend. But he's been so unfailingly polite and well-informed about what he's serving that we give in. He really knows what he's talking about because we've never had a mild-tasting sweet cheese ice cream go so well with sweet-sour raspberry sorbet on a bed of crunchy cheese cookie crumble. The pairing of salty, sweet, and cheesy makes us want to proclaim Saha as the new frontier of Indian cuisine - but wait, we did that already.
Let's just say then, that Saha's got its second wind with a mix of old and new - and you won't mind eating it again.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.