But such is the eagerness and enthusiasm inherent in Yantra's head chef, Asif Iqbal that one cannot resist but to make a trip down to Tanglin Mall to savor one of the most refined Indian fine dining establishments in Singapore.
Chef Iqbal was trained in India and has worked with the reputable Taj Hotels group before heading off to Hong Kong and finally coming here to take over the reins of Yantra just recently.
Whilst I am not an expert on Northern Indian cuisine, I am nevertheless impressed by the back to roots cooking of the chef here to savor the spicy flavors of his cooking. And what a tasting session it was!
Chef Iqbal may have gone back to classic Indian dishes and cooking, but here, he has an aspiration to elevate these classic Indian dishes into the modern era by applying modern cooking techniques and elegant plating to give it a more modern aesthetic, as you can see from the pictures below.
|Broccoli Cheddar Tikki|
Among the first appetizers to catch my eye was this rather fetching looking broccoli cheddar tikki, which was mashed broccoli infused with a generous dose of cheddar and bell peppers and served with a pineapple dip.
The broccoli patties were nicely caramelized on the top and bottom and every mouthful had beautiful layers of textures and flavors and the pineapple dip was a perfect foil to the savory cheese. I never knew the sweetness of the broccoli could mesh so well with something as simple as cheddar, but it certainly did and a great way to start a meal.
|Akhroat Paneer Tikka|
This was another cheese appetizer, but stuffed with walnut and laced with cardamon and cooked in a tradtional tandoor oven. While the internals was a bit dry, the aromatic tandoor flavors were beyond reproach and the savory cheese was both comforting and warm.
It sort of reminded me of a well-made grilled cheese sandwich in a funny sort of way, but the other thing that surprised me was despite the presence of some very powerful spices, it never felt too spicy to burn my tongue.
|Mutton Pepper Fry|
This was classified as an appetizer, but somehow I felt this would have worked even better as a main course. Cubes of lamb that had been braised for hours, which were then stir fried with black pepper and spiced with cumin.
The lamb was delicious, tender and full of spices and flavors and because it was stir fried at the last moment, it also retained a slight smokiness which was just perfect. And a healthy doze of black and pepper and some aromatic cumin all but removed any hint of lamb odor. I can have this everyday to be honest, it was that good.
I always thought refined fish dishes can only be found in fine dining restaurants usually reserved for French and European cuisine, so I was surprised Chef Asif to present us this elegantly plated dish of Halibut here.
Served with coriander and spinach, I really liked how delicate the flavors were on this plate, and how Chef Asif had let the halibut be the hero of the dish. Despite some spices, the fish and the garnishes still retained a very clean set of flavors and was simply a delight to eat.
|Dum ki Bhindi|
The dum biryani is a rather different method of cooking biryani, in that it was actually cooked with a dough lid over it, and this was done to seal in all the heat and juices of the spices and this allowed the rice grains to infuse even better and retain more of the cooking juices.
As you can see from the photograph, the rice grains were also unusually long and had a better texture, and indeed the biryani was more moist and packed in more flavors than the usual ones you get in Little India. And at the same time, it was not overly spicy and every mouthful was equally comforting and delicious. I am almost certain this is my favorite biryani now.
|Chilli Ice Cream|
This was one of the most unusual dishes I have come across this year, and while it sounded weird initially, it was actually quite innovative and clever. The fresh oysters were really sweet and succulent, and the tandoori marinade were a more than an apt substitute for your standard Tabasco sauce.
On its own, I could fathom why my lunch partners would find this rather strange, as the sharp hit of chilli did feel kind of out of place with the ice cream. But when you combine it with the ocean sweetness of the oysters, it sort of made perfect sense, as the heat of the chilli ice cream was able cut through the oysters almost instinctively. A most fascinating dish.
|Khubani ka Meetha|
Just about the only disappointment during the entire meal was the sweets. The dessert dish was actually apricots served in a rather strange and green looking short crust base and served with a very sweet jam sauce and topped off with fresh cream.
As this was more of an Indian style of having very sweet desserts, it did not register with my more conservative palate, and the overpowering sweetness was just too strong in the end and despite how well cooked the apricots were, I was basically tasting sugar all the way.
Other than the apricots, almost everything here was a delight. And I appreciated how refined and beautiful every plate looked. It clearly showed that classic Indian dishes that used to be cooked at home can now be upgraded to fine dining dishes.
And without doubt, I was more than impressed with Chef Iqbal's skills and efforts. I had the honor to visit his kitchen and his well trained staff clearly showed the polish and finesse required to run a restaurant of this caliber.
They also make all of their spices in house and if needed, they will only get spices they cannot find here from India itself. All the stocks and sauces are also freshly made everyday and this attention to detail is evident in the final product.
With specially made tandoor ovens within the restaurant, Yantra and its staff clearly wants to bring you authentic Indian food cooked the authentic way. This lack of compromise is very refreshing, especially in Singapore when even upmarket restaurants are taking shortcuts in their food preparation, resulting in sub par delivery and results.
For Yantra, at least, they are more than prepared to stick to their philosophies, and this was reflected in a very healthy lunch crowd. They also serve very affordable buffets during lunchtime and the flavors of the buffet were even permeating our VIP room that day!
For those who are not used to authentic Indian flavors and spiciness, fret not. Chef Iqbal's goal is to make the spices bold and aromatic, but not to burn your tongue. As I am not one who can take too spicy food, I did not for once felt that my tongue was overpowered by the chilli or heat. In fact, hours after leaving Yantra, I could still make out the beautiful spices in my mouth!
I seldom patronize Indian restaurants, but Yantra is certainly one that I am looking forward to revisiting again soon, and knowing Chef Iqbal, he is very likely to be coming up with new menus sooner rather than later. That, itself is a very exciting prospect.
163 Tanglin Road
Tanglin Mall #01-28/33