Indian surprises

Saha uses modern culinary techniques and ingredients not often seen in the cuisine

Tasting Of Mushroom. -- PHOTO: SAHA
Tasting Of Mushroom. -- PHOTO: SAHA
Saha Signature Indian Restaurant & Bar. -- PHOTO: SAHA
The Duck Chettinad, a surprise as I have never seen duck served in an Indian restaurant here, is rubbed with aromatic spices and served atop rava upma. -- PHOTO: SAHA

When you walk into Saha Signature Indian Restaurant & Bar, it is like you have entered Buyan. It opened at the premises of the fine-dining section of the Russian restaurant about a fortnight ago, after Buyan gave it up recently, keeping only its bar and mid-priced eatery.

The same ceiling murals and chandeliers from Buyan now look down on Saha's dining rooms. Even the furniture has not been changed.

But they do not feel out of place as the bright paintings of sailboats and hunters on horseback do blend with the Indian love of colour. And the metal chandeliers and dark wood furniture look like they belong with the Indian music in the background.

The menu, however, is totally different. In fact, it is nothing I have seen. Though the cooking is Indian, it involves modern culinary techniques and ingredients not often seen in the cuisine.

But to chef patron Abhijit Saha's credit, it doesn't come across as gimmicky, despite molecular gastronomy elements of foam and nitrogen-frozen powders. That's because the India-based chef - who owns two Western restaurants in Bangalore and has won accolades such as Entrepreneur Chef Of The Year in India - uses those sparingly and keeps his flavours largely authentic.

I start my dinner with a Tasting Of Mushroom ($18), a trio of mushroom-based items comprising grilled button mushrooms, a masala cappuccino of mushroom and frozen masala mushroom parfait powder.

The cappuccino is a mildly spiced cream of mushroom soup and the frozen powder provides a nice chilly contrast to the rest of the dish. But the grilled mushrooms are what I will go back for. The spice mix is intense but not overpowering and the mushrooms just soak up all that flavour.

My other starter, Balchao Spice Grilled Scallop Salad ($30), is disappointing, however. The cashew nut and onion seed crust on the scallops is tasty and the accompanying salad of asparagus and mixed greens with a citrus dressing is decent. But the scallops are overcooked and rubbery, which destroys the entire dish.

The main courses I try are good though.

The Duck Chettinad ($38) is also a surprise, as I have never seen duck served in an Indian restaurant here. But I guess chef Saha's training in Western cuisine opened him to the idea of adapting the classic French roast duck for an Indian dish.

In fact, the dish does look like its Gallic cousin, with the pink slices of perfectly roasted duck served with wedges of citrus fruit and cherry tomatoes. But taste it and you will find aromatic spices rubbed on the duck skin - apparently there are 10 of them - to give it an Indian character. And what looks like mashed potato under the duck is actually rava upma, a South Indian dish usually made with ground semolina but is here prepared with wheat.

The Ajwaini Seabass ($32) is also presented in an unusual way, as the tandoor-baked fish is topped with clams cooked in a saffron sauce. The seabass is pretty traditional though, baked under a crust of ajwain or carom seeds.

Even the classic gulab jamun dessert is not left alone here. It comes in the form of a cheesecake, with the syrup-soaked milk dumplings baked into the cake. The Gulab Jamun Cheesecake ($15) also comes with a piece of saffron-poached pear and a chocolate macaron.

Gulab jamun is enjoyed for its sweetness, albeit often being toned down slightly in Singapore restaurants to suit local palates. But when baked into the cheesecake, it loses practically all its character. It would be more fun to have little sugar bursts when you bite into them.

Still, I salute chef Saha for thinking outside the box. And he does get most things right.

Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

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