Restaurant Review

Dabbawalla - Go curry crazy

The gravies at Dabbawalla are excellent, but some dishes are let down by the ingredients

Dabbawalla, the rebranded Curry Culture in Robertson Quay, is an inviting place. With many of its tables set up in a sheltered open area outside the open-front restaurant, it is a comfortable place for lounging in the evening.

I was there for dinner last week on a rainy day when temperatures dipped, and it was cooler sitting outside than indoors, where the tables are closer to the kitchen. So the leisurely dinner with friends passes very pleasantly.

This would be an ideal setting for an updated menu of Indian tapas, but the North Indian dishes at Dabbawalla stay very traditional, just as they used to be when the restaurant was called Curry Culture.

There isn't even much attempt to dress them up differently, though there isn't much one can do with the curries that make up the bulk of the menu.

But a good curry is a good curry, even if they all come in the same metal pots with gravies in varying shades of brown and orange. And Dabbawalla's curries are good.

From the tomato-based and creamy Dabbawalla Butter Chicken ($21) to the more acidic Assam Fish Curry ($20) and Prawn Masala ($24), the gravies are excellent whether eaten with bread or rice.

But the best one for me is the Dabba Gosht ($24), where pieces of lamb are simmered for hours in a cashew curry sweetened with caramelised onions and tomatoes. The result is a complex melange of flavours that gets your taste buds working overtime, with corresponding dividends of pleasure.

I order Chili Cheese Naan ($9) and Mushroom Pulao ($14) - both of which are tasty enough to eat on their own - and after they are polished off, I find myself drinking up the curries by the spoonful. They are just too good to waste.

But while the gravies are delicious, some dishes are let down by the ingredients.

Among them is the Prawn Masala, with over-processed prawns that look transparent and have an unnatural crunch. They taste artificial, without the sweetness of the shellfish.

  • DABBAWALLA

  • 01-10 The Quayside, 60 Robertson Quay
    Tel: 6235-6134
    Open: 5.30 to 10.30pm daily

  • Food: 3.5/5
    Service: 3/5
    Ambience: 3/5

    Price: Budget about $70 a person

Another no for me is the fact that bland breast meat is used for the Butter Chicken, rather than more succulent and smoother thigh meat.

The same boring chicken cut is used for the Chili Cheese Kebab ($12), a starter cooked in the tandoor oven that boasts a lovely marinade blended with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, as well as green chillis. The breast meat spoils the dish for me too.

But another appetiser cooked in the tandoor, Tandoori Mushrooms ($18), is lovely.

The button mushrooms are smothered in a moreish mash of spiced yogurt and herbs and grilled. They are juicy, spicy, sourish and delightful.

Vegetable lovers will enjoy the Okra Masala ($18). It is cooked till just soft enough, with a thick and spicy gravy that is balanced with onions, tomatoes and garlic.

Another vegetable dish fails to impress, however.

The Raingan Bharta ($18) is described as smoked eggplant cooked with shallots, green chillies, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, but there isn't any smokiness at all. And the flavours do not quite gel because eggplant, tomatoes and ginger simply do not work very well together.

For dessert, I order Gulab Jamun ($10), ping pong-sized balls made with milk solids that are soaked in syrup.

These are traditionally very sweet, but most restaurants here tone it down for the Singaporean palate. Dabbawalla's version is still too sweet for me, but otherwise boasts the right spongy texture and fragrance.

The other dessert I try has nothing Indian about it, even though it is called Dabbawalla Brownie ($9). It's the good-old American fudgy chocolate cake served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Still, it's a good brownie so I'm not complaining.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter@STahyoke and on Instagram@wongahyoke
• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'Go curry crazy'. Print Edition | Subscribe