10 best Indian food places, from cheap and cheerful to fine-dining options, picked by ST's food critics

Prata from Casuarina Curry Restaurant.
Prata from Casuarina Curry Restaurant. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES
Masala dosa from MTR 1924.
Masala dosa from MTR 1924. PHOTO: ST FILE
Zaffron tandoori platter from Zaffron Kitchen.
Zaffron tandoori platter from Zaffron Kitchen. ST PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE
Fish head curry from Samy's Curry, an Indian restaurant at Dempsey Road.
Fish head curry from Samy's Curry, an Indian restaurant at Dempsey Road. PHOTO: SAMY'S CURRY
Crab in green chilli sauce, a Maharastrian dish available at Gajalee, an Indian restaurant at Unit 17/19, Cuppage Terrace.
Crab in green chilli sauce, a Maharastrian dish available at Gajalee, an Indian restaurant at Unit 17/19, Cuppage Terrace. PHOTO: GAJALEE
Dum briyani from Bismillah Biryani Restaurant in Dunlop Street.
Dum briyani from Bismillah Biryani Restaurant in Dunlop Street. PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN
Rajasthani lamb chop from Rang Mahal at Pan Pacific Marina.
Rajasthani lamb chop from Rang Mahal at Pan Pacific Marina. PHOTO: RANG MAHAL
Lucknavi gosht biryani with yogurt sauce from Yantra by Hemant Oberoi.
Lucknavi gosht biryani with yogurt sauce from Yantra by Hemant Oberoi. PHOTO: YANTRA BY HEMANT OBEROI
Chicken briyani from Peshawar Briyani House located at Taman Jurong Food Centre.
Chicken briyani from Peshawar Briyani House located at Taman Jurong Food Centre. ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH
The VIP Thali set (Indian vegetarian meal) from Madras New Woodlands Restaurant in Upper Dickson Road.
The VIP Thali set (Indian vegetarian meal) from Madras New Woodlands Restaurant in Upper Dickson Road. ST PHOTO: NATASHA ANN ZACHARIAH

SINGAPORE - Whether you crave thosai, briyani, Indian vegetarian or fine-dining Indian fare, The Straits Times has it covered.

Here are 10 places for some of the best Indian fare in Singapore.

1. Wong Ah Yoke recommends

CASUARINA CURRY RESTAURANT


Prata from Casuarina Curry Restaurant. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

The prata had crispy edges and goes well with the curry which is not too spicy and did not overpower the prata.

The restaurant was named a Singapore Hawker Master in the roti prata category in 2011. The awards, which recognise deserving hawkers and aim to spur them on in their craft, are organised and presented by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

Prata here starts at $1.20 for a plain one.

Options range from egg prata and butter prata, to ones filled with everything from banana and chocolate to garlic and cheese.

It also serves items such as murtabak, fish head curry, briyani and naan.

WHERE: Casuarina Curry Restaurant, three outlets - 136 & 138 Casuarina Road, tel: 6455-9093; 187 MacPherson Road, tel: 6285-9001; 20 Sixth Avenue, tel: 6469-6915

MRT: Yio Chu Kang, Potong Pasir, Sixth Avenue

OPEN: Upper Thomson - 7am to midnight, daily; MacPherson - 10am to midnight (weekdays), 8am to midnight (weekends); Sixth Avenue - 7am to 11pm, daily

INFO: http://www.casuarinacurry.com/


 

2. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends

MTR 1924


Masala dosa from MTR 1924. PHOTO: ST FILE

Across from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road is an unassuming restaurant which serves the best masala thosai I have eaten.

The restaurant is called MTR 1924. MTR is short for Mavalli Tiffin Rooms and 1924 refers to the year the Maiya brothers started the business in Bangalore, India.

There is nothing fancy about the place. It is clean, brightly lit and there is a steady stream of customers.

I go there hankering after Masala Dosa ($6) and it is wonderful. MTR's version is much darker than other ones I have had and the rice and lentil pancake is also thicker than most.

Yet, it is crisp and has a beautiful tang like good sourdough bread. With every mouthful, there is the rich, indulgent taste of ghee.

Despite the spiced potato filling, which might cause the pancake to go a little soft, the thosai stays crisp until the last bite.

On almost every table in the restaurant, there is Rava Idli ($4), the semolina version of the traditional steamed rice cake.

I order it to try and it blows my mind. MTR says it invented rava idli during World War II, when rice was in short supply.

The semolina cake is studded with cashews, coriander leaves, curry leaves and mustard seeds, and the texture is light and fluffy.

It comes with a little pot of ghee, chutney and a mildly spiced potato sagu. Where has this been all my life?

WHERE: MTR 1924, 438 Serangoon Road, tel: 6296-5800

MRT: Farrer Park

OPEN: 8.30am to 3pm, 5.30 to 9.30pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday


3. Wong Ah Yoke recommends

ZAFFRON KITCHEN


Zaffron tandoori platter from Zaffron Kitchen. ST PHOTO:  WONG AH YOKE

I have not been to Zaffron Kitchen in years, until its listing on the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list reminded me how much I had liked the food there. So I went back in October and it did not disappoint.

The place has not changed much, except that it was a lot more crowded than when I visited it when it opened in 2011.

The food was just as good - tasty without being fiery or overpowering in the use of spices. Each dish had a distinct flavour and every one I tried came across just right.

The Zaffron tandoori platter ($39.50), which comprised chicken tikka, malai tikka, fish tikka and seekh mutton kebab, turned out very nicely with everything cooked just right.

The butter chicken ($16) was delicious with a butter-scented gravy that was lightened with tart tomatoes. I also enjoyed the less-common chicken dopiaza ($15.50), which was cooked with a distinctly different combination of spices and plenty of onions.

And for dessert, I was charmed by the moong dal halwa ($8) - a generous serving of lentils, milk, butter and sugar cooked together and served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pistachios. It was not overly sweet and the comforting dessert was a great way to end the meal.

WHERE: Zaffron Kitchen, 135 East Coast Road, tel: 6440-6786

MRT: Aljunied

OPEN: 11.30am to 3pm, 5 to 10pm (Monday to Thursday),11.30am to 11pm (Friday to Sunday)


4. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends

SAMY'S CURRY RESTAURANT


Fish head curry from Samy's Curry, an Indian restaurant at Dempsey Road. PHOTO: SAMY'S CURRY

What do you want friends from out of town to experience in Singapore?

I suppose tourist sites such as the Merlion Park, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay and the museums are de rigueur.

So, too, are visits to a wet market, where many Singaporeans still do their food shopping, and meals at hawker centres, where the best street food vendors offer their wares.

Another place to take them to is Samy's Curry Restaurant, which started in the 1950s. The 300-seater has had a few updates, with more comfortable chairs and smaller tables rather than the long communal ones of yore. There is even a 50-seat air-conditioned area.

Some things have not changed, however. The food is still served on banana leaves.

A briyani set, with rice, two vegetables, gravy and pappadums is $3.60 and diners choose the meats they want.

One must-order dish is fishhead curry (from $21). This is Singapore in a claypot because it was thought up here, although there is a Bengali dish of fish head cooked together with rice.

The Singapore version came about because a savvy South Indian chef wanted his food to appeal to more people and chose fish head, which is prized among the Chinese.

Today, there are Indian, Chinese, Malay and Peranakan versions of the dish.

The one at Samy's is particularly good, with fresh, meaty heads cooked in a piquant gravy.

Also good are Mysore Mutton (from $10) and bone-in fried chicken (from $5.20). Wash it all down with Masala tea ($2.50) before taking a stroll through the Botanic Gardens nearby.

WHERE: Samy's Curry Restaurant, 25 Dempsey Road, tel: 6472-2080

MRT: Holland Village

OPEN: 11am to 3pm, 6 to 10pm (Wedneday to Monday), closed on Tuesday

INFO: www.samyscurry.com


5. Rebecca Lynne Tan recommends

GAJALEE


Crab in green chilli sauce, a Maharastrian dish available at Gajalee, an Indian restaurant at Unit 17/19, Cuppage Terrace. PHOTO: GAJALEE

If you are craving some good Indian fare, Gajalee at the Esplanade will not disappoint.

The restaurant, which is an overseas outpost of Gajalee in Mumbai and Mangalore, serves Maharastrian dishes from the western part of India and relocated to Colours By The Bay from its previous Cuppage Terrace three years ago.

Things to order here include the Chinese Butter Pepper Pomfret, char-grilled pomfret fillets marinated with mild spices and perky pepper with a pleasant smoky flavour. The fillets are baked in a clay oven and are moist and wonderfully delicious. The fish is priced at $89 a kg and can be cooked in two ways if you have a smaller dinner party.

Chilli and pepper crab lovers should try Gajalee's Green Chilli Crab (market price). The sauce, which is an aromatic blend of spices is wonderful when eaten with naan.

I also like the Chicken Pahadi Tikka, boneless charred chunks of chicken marinated with mint that are so juicy, you won't believe it's breast meat.

Expect to spend about $60 to $80 a person if you order seafood.

WHERE: Gajalee, Esplanade Mall, 8 Raffles Avenue, Colours By The Bay, 02-12, tel: 6733-3278

MRT: Esplanade

OPEN: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm, daily

INFO: www.gajalee.com or e-mail gajalee.spr@gmail.com


6. Tan Hsueh Yun recommends

BISMILLAH BIRYANI RESTAURANT


Dum briyani from Bismillah Biryani Restaurant in Dunlop Street. PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN

The shop is, to put it nicely, a little rundown, parking is hard to find and the food is not cheap.

But if you want to eat a good dum briyani, go to Bismillah Biryani Restaurant in Dunlop Street. The eatery received a Bib Gourmand award earlier this year.

The briyani here is made from scratch. By that, I mean owner Arif Salahuddin goes so far as to butcher the meat that goes into the dish.

Its signature offerings include vegetable briyani ($8), chicken briyani ($8.50), lamb briyani ($15), and fish briyani ($12).

Try the kid goat briyani ($15). What joy it is to dig into the pile of aromatic rice topped with fried onions. Inside, I find ribs with thin bones and a good amount of tender meat. Mr Arif says he does not use ghee in the briyani, just some safflower oil in the chicken version ($8.50). This means I can finish the whole plate and not spend the entire day digesting it.

Mango lassi made in-house helps tame the heat for me and I end the meal with a lollipop-sized pistachio kulfi, scented with cardamom. It is luscious.

WHERE: Bismillah Biryani Restaurant, 50 Dunlop Street

MRT: Little India

OPEN: 11.30am to 9.30pm (Wednesday to Monday), closed on Tuesday

INFO: www.facebook.com/Bismillah-Biryani-Singapore-134575666639087/


7. Wong Ah Yoke recommends

RANG MAHAL


Rajasthani lamb chop from Rang Mahal at Pan Pacific Marina. PHOTO: RANG MAHAL

Order the Murg Tikka Masala ($48) and Hot Stone Tandoori Lamb Chops ($60).

For me, Rang Mahal has always been one of the top three North Indian restaurants here.

It is also the oldest, having opened at the now-defunct Oberoi Imperial hotel in River Valley Road in the 1970s.

But instead of being stuck in the past, it has evolved over the years to stay relevant to modern palates.

Its cooking is refined and contemporary.

Some dishes - such as tandoori chicken and murg tikka masala (chicken pieces with bell pepper, onion and tomato masala) - stay traditional. But the chef also pushes the boundaries with ingredients such as lobster and scallops, which have appeared on Indian menus only in recent years.

The photogenic plating has also been influenced by Western food styling, but the flavours stay unmistakably Indian.

WHERE: Rang Mahal, Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard, Level 3, tel: 6333-1788

MRT: Promenade

OPEN: noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm, daily

INFO: rangmahal.com.sg


8. Wong Ah Yoke recommends

YANTRA BY HEMANT OBEROI


Lucknavi gosht biryani with yogurt sauce from Yantra by Hemant Oberoi. PHOTO: YANTRA BY HEMANT OBEROI

In the eight years since it opened, Yantra has gone through a number of chefs, some more successful than others.

But chef Hemant Oberoi, who recently joined the restaurant as a partner, may well propel it to the top of the fine-dining Indian restaurants here.

He has not only overhauled the menu, but has also changed the name of the restaurant. Reopened about two weeks ago after a month-long renovation, it is now called Yantra by Hemant Oberoi.

The chef, who retired as corporate chef of the Taj Group of Hotels last year after a 41-year career, is based in Mumbai but plans to travel here regularly to check on the restaurant and introduce seasonal dishes.

It doesn't serve your usual North Indian restaurant fare, but dishes taken from all over India and updated either in the choice of ingredients or the way the food is presented.

You'll find ingredients you do not see in most Indian restaurants here: cod, duck, truffle and asparagus.

In fact, one of my favourite dishes is the Quinoa Chaat ($20), which comprises a refreshing quinoa salad topped with a crispy avocado and tamarind chutney puff.

The puff is a typical chaat, a collective name for the roadside snacks in India. But the salad, though lightly spiced to give it an Indian character, is unusual in the use of quinoa, a very nutritious grain that until recently was found mainly in Peruvian cuisine.

The salad, which also has diced onions and tomato, is delicious, with savoury-sour flavours that are very appetising. It not only tastes better than the chaat, but is nutritious to boot.

Even traditional dishes turn out a little different from what you get at other restaurants here. An example is the Chicken Biryani ($40), which is cooked and served in a glass pot that can withstand high temperatures in the oven. It is delicious, especially when eaten with the accompanying raita or yogurt sauce. There is also a version with lamb - Lucknavi Gosht Biryani.

Like with most of the dishes, the flavours are robust and distinct, but not heavy. The spices add oomph to the flavours, but without overwhelming other ingredients.

If you want something with more chilli heat, I'd recommend the Maartaban Ka Meat ($45), which is a lamb curry simmered in a ceramic jar. The curry is thickened from hours of cooking and the meat is fork tender. The heat of chillies is tempered with a little piquancy, so though you feel the burn, it is not one-dimensional. All in all, this is certainly a winning dish.

For something milder, try the Fish Goa Curry ($42). The pieces of fish are smooth and soft, and the coconut milk-based gravy is light - and good - enough to drink. It is delicious with rice too.

I love garlic and it is showcased well in the Prawns Butter Garlic ($42). The prawns themselves are crunchy in a suspiciously unnatural way, but I will overlook that because they are tossed in an amazing sauce laced generously with minced garlic that has been fried until aromatic, losing its sting in the process.

But another East-West marriage is a blissful one. In Gulab Jamun Tiramisu ($19), the syrup-soaked balls of milk solids are immersed in the creamy mix of mascarpone cheese, eggs and sugar that is used for the Italian dessert.

The combination is marvellous, especially as the sugar level in the gulab jamun, a popular North Indian dessert, is tuned down to blend with the cheese.

The restaurant serves a buffet lunch and weekend brunch, which offer very good value. But a la carte dishes are where the chef best shows off his creativity - though they do come at a much higher price.

WHERE: Yantra by Hemant Oberoi, TanglinMall, 163 Tanglin Road, 01-28/33, tel: 6836-3088,

MRT: Orchard

OPEN: noon to 3pm daily, 6.30 to 10pm (weekdays), 6.30 to 10.30pm (weekends)

INFO: www.yantra.com.sg


9. Kenneth Goh recommends

PESHAWAR BRIYANI HOUSE


Chicken briyani from Peshawar Briyani House located at Taman Jurong Food Centre. ST PHOTO:  KENNETH GOH

Peshawar Briyani House in Taman Jurong Food Centre serves a Pakistani variant of the moreish rice dish.

The stall is co-owned by Mr Ahmed Khan, 36, who is taking his Pakistan-born wife's briyani out of their home kitchen. Her family comes from Peshawar, a city in northern Pakistan that the stall is named after.

There are at least three other stalls in the hawker centre that serve briyani, but the Pakistani version stands out because the basmati rice has a spicier kick and comes with raita (yogurt sauce) instead of achar.

Choose from two types of briyani on the menu - chicken ($5) or mutton ($6). The chicken briyani has a heap of saffron-hued rice that is perfumed by seven spices including cloves, garam masala and chilli powder, and flecked with coriander, tomato skin and onions.

The main difference lies in the chicken.

Instead of being clogged with curry, it is infused with briyani spices from being cooked in the rice and served separately from the curry.

Though not too juicy, the tender meat is a foil for the aromatic rice to shine through.

To douse the heat, I gingerly alternate each spoonful of rice with raita, which has diced onions, cucumber and cumin. The sour tanginess of the yogurt sauce is a good palate cleanser.

The rice is also cooked with meltingly soft mutton, like in a dum briyani. Each spoonful is a robust eruption of spices.

A hidden gem is the prawn briyani ($7), which is seldom served in hawker stalls. It is available on Fridays and public holidays and is not on the menu.

The spice level of the rice is toned down to highlight the sweetness of the three succulent sea prawns.

I usually zero in on the addictive papadum crackers first on my plate of briyani, but with such beautifully cooked rice and meat, I almost forget to pop them into my mouth.

WHERE: Peshawar Briyani House, 3 Yung Sheng Road, Taman Jurong Food Centre, 02-114

MRT: Lakeside

OPEN: 10am to 2pm (Tuesday to Thursday), 10am to 4pm (Friday), 10am to 2pm (weekend), closed on Monday


10. Natasha Ann Zachariah recommends

MADRAS NEW WOODLANDS RESTAURANT


The VIP Thali set (Indian vegetarian meal) from Madras New Woodlands Restaurant in Upper Dickson Road. ST PHOTO: NATASHA ANN ZACHARIAH

At Madras New Woodlands Restaurant in Upper Dickson Road, the VIP Thali meal - an Indian vegetarian meal - is so filling that you might even skip dinner.

A thali is a selection of dishes, usually served on a metal platter.

At Madras New Woodlands, katoris, or mini metal pots, are placed on a tray lined with a banana leaf. It is a packed tray as the small pots are placed rim-to-rim. Each is filled almost to the brim with a variety of vegetables and curries.

Little India is full of vegetarian restaurants, but this one, which opened in 1983, is my go-to spot because it serves good food and offers decent service.

I have eaten the VIP Thali ($9.50) countless times, but what keeps the meal fresh is that I never know what will be served. The chefs decide what vegetable dishes to prepare each day, depending on what they get from the market.

On a recent visit, the selection includes lightly sauteed okra and a mildly spicy snake gourd fry.

There are also regular dishes that make it to the tray, including dhal made from split pulses and sambhar, a lentil-based vegetable stew.

Raita, a yogurt dish filled with thick slices of cucumber, is a perfect cooling aid for the heat from some of the curries.

Carbohydrate lovers will appreciate having both white rice and biryani rice served in individual katoris.

Just when you think all these elements complete the meal, the waiter will ask you to pick from a few Indian roti options or a plain thosai to finish off the set. I always pick chapati, an unleavened flatbread. I find it a lighter option than a bhatura, a deep-fried, ball-shaped bread; or a thosai, presented in a roll that is longer than the tray it is served on.

The chapati also goes well with the saucy channa or chickpea curry dish - though it is not always available in the thali set.

Once you are done with the savoury dishes, a yellow payasam, filled with vermicelli cooked in milk and with sugar, provides a sweet ending.

The VIP Thali is an all-in-one meal. It is a lot to eat in one sitting, but the meal would not live up to its name if the restaurant did not pull out all the stops.

I have tried the Madras Thali ($7.50), but it does not feel like a fulfilling meal when you get only white rice, some of the curries and vegetables, and no bread or thosai.

Wash the meal down with a milky masala tea ($3.20).

WHERE: Madras New Woodlands Restaurant, 14 Upper Dickson Road, tel: 6297-1594

MRT: Little India

OPEN: 7.30am to 10.30pm, daily