This article was first published on April 21, 2013
SINGAPORE - After a hiatus of almost half a year, Rang Mahal is back.
It was one of the first restaurants here to showcase North Indian cuisine when it opened in the now-defunct Oberoi Imperial hotel in River Valley Road in the 1970s.
Back then, it focused on traditional cooking, introducing dishes such as tandoori chicken and palak paneer to Singaporean diners whose idea of Indian food was limited to the southern fare that was served in banana leaf eateries.
Level 3, Pan Pacific Singapore
7 Raffles Boulevard
Open: Noon to 2.30pm; 6.30pm to 10.30pm
Price: Budget about $100 a person for a la carte
Quinoa upma ($24)
This vegetarian dish is not only delicious but also very nutritious
But over the years, it has moved into more adventurous territory in both decor and food, and this has continued with the latest move.
The upmarket North Indian restaurant is still on the third floor of the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel in Marina Square, but in a new spot that is closer to the escalators. Its previous location has been taken over by the hotel's new buffet restaurant, Edge.
Reopened about a month ago, the restaurant now boasts a high ceiling and a contemporary colour scheme of beige and brown, as opposed to the much darker colours and lighting before. Only the entrance remains dim, perhaps too dim, as diners walk through a long passageway lit with candles before entering the dining room.
Indian touches are subtly introduced through artefacts displayed on wall shelves. And in the private room is a row of hanging lights that were from the previous outlet.
Another change is that there is now an alfresco area, a lovely place to have a pre- or post-prandial drink - weather permitting.
Like the decor, the food has become more subtly Indian, especially in the case of the new dishes.
For example, the smoked salmon ($44), comprising salmon steaks spiked with bishop's weed or ajwain and cooked in a clay oven, is so subtly spiced that it tastes more like a Western than an Indian dish.
Similarly, the spiced gobi and truffle soup ($18) is only mildly spicy, although in this case, I am glad that the truffle oil is used very sparingly. There's nothing like too much of the aromatic oil to spoil the broth.
If you like seafood, order the tava scallops ($42). These are cooked on a hot griddle with a sprinkling of spices and served with a green chilli and coconut sauce. The spices are rightly mild here, so as not to overpower the sweetness of the scallops, and the shellfish is cooked just right.
But the more traditional recipes are kept true, although the restaurant replaces ghee with healthier olive oil to make the food lighter.
The samarkand prawns ($49) are impressive, comprising two huge king prawns marinated in a mix of delicious spices and cooked in the tandoor oven. The meat is firm and flavourful, and tucked at the base of the prawn is a layer of crabmeat that makes the dish a little out of the ordinary.
I also like the seabass kokam kadhi ($38), where the curry gravy is given a tangy edge by adding gamboge fruit.
Vegetarians will be spoilt for choice here. The palak paneer ($33), cottage cheese cooked in spinach puree, is as good as ever. And I cannot stop eating the Amritsari bhindi ($28), baby okra sauteed till soft with fresh ginger and green chillies.
You should also not miss the quinoa upma ($24), which is not only delicious but also very nutritious. Quinoa is a grain from South America that is gaining popularity all over the world. The gluten-free tiny grains, which look a bit like couscous, are mixed with curry leaves that pack a lot of flavour.
Desserts such as gulab jamun ($18) and kesari jalebi ($18) are excellent, though those who are new to North Indian cuisine may still get a sugar shock. They are very sweet despite being already toned down for local palates.
For those without a sweet tooth, the newly created espresso kulfi ($18) may hit the spot better. It is not very sweet and the strong coffee flavour is perfectly rounded out by the milk in the kulfi.
Dining at Rang Mahal is not cheap, especially if you order a la carte. But during lunch, there is a $55 buffet that is a good introduction to what the restaurant has to offer.
The spread is not big but throughout the meal, servers come bearing fresh dishes from the kitchen which they serve to every table.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.