Singapore has one of the most diverse f&b scenes in Asia, yet no one has plugged the gap for Indian tapas until now. Thanks to Sun Kim, chef-owner of the Meta group, which also owns Meta and Kimme, Thevar has debuted in Keong Saik Road since last November.
Taking over Meta’s former shop house space at 9 Keong Saik Road, Thevar is all about comforting Indian flavours served in small plate format for sharing. Named for Penang-born Indian head chef Manogren Murugan Thevar (“Mano”), who was last seen serving the city’s meanest suckling pig biryani at Meatsmith Little India, the eatery has taken over Meta lock, stock and barrel and little effort has been made to give the interior its own unique identity except in the kitchen, which now spots a spanking new tandoori oven. But the western techniques-based cooking by Mano, who trained at Waku Ghin and Guy Savoy Singapore as well as PureC in Netherlands, makes all the difference.
We’ve seen chefs pair oysters with a dollop of curry foam, drowning the briny glory of the mollusc in the process. Mano knows better, fielding his secret “weapon” of rasam, a tamarind juice based broth of tomato, pepper, cumin and spices, fashioned as a palate-freshening granita served atop a luscious piece of Irish oyster. Better yet, the same rasam also appears as rasam gin in a savoury and spicy cocktail labelled Thevar Magan complete with fresh lime. Two words -eye opening.
Pork belly rarely gets a moment in Indian cuisine, at least not in Singapore, but at Thevar, it takes the stage as fried chunks with its perfectly crisp facade giving way to pleasurable melt-in-the-mouth globs that require no arduous chewing. Better still, you eat it sandwiched in Thai betel leaf with pickled jalepeno and sambal aioli, sort of like a one-bite pork belly salad with all of the flavours and none of the guilt.
Mano says that as a child, he used to eat left over fish curry the next day with dosai, an indian crepe-like pancake made with fermented batter. At Thevar, he relives this memory by way of mackerel curry, which he serves with flaked Spanish mackerel and tomato chutney wrapped in dosai that he makes on site. You have to taste it to know how a heart-warming dish like this can be so refined at once.
Instead of butter chicken, Mano cooks a butter mushroom dish with shimeji and king oyster mushrooms. He shaves paneer cheese over the mushrooms and serves the mix sandwiched in warm naan. Who would have known that there could be life after butter chicken? In theory a simple dish, butter mushroom is one that demands perfection in execution because no one wants their mushrooms overdone. Mano aces it again.
I would have recommended the excellent Chettinad chicken roti if not for the fact that subsequent dishes may run the risk of tasting “the same” after one too many curry-based openers. You can’t escape the curry entirely but if you order the grilled Thai river prawn dish, it will provide a slight reprieve. The crustacean is sliced into half and slathered over with a heady Indian-centric XO sauce concocted with dried shrimps, curry leaves, cumin, shallots and dried Indian bell peppers. With a plate of oh-so-crispy flaked roti prata on the side, you mop up the richness of the prawn’s head and the residual sauce, and wonder why XO sauce has remained the domain of the Chinese until now.
Curries take a back seat when mains are served and proteins naturally come to the fore. A chunk of seared snapper, its skin skilfully done to a crisp then topped with slow-roasted desiccated coconut, sweet and fragrant in its entirety, arriving on a layer of fish curry powder and tumeric-tinted curd rice that sits on a puddle of Kerala-style tumeric and coconut molee curry crafted with coconut oil, fresh coconut, coconut cream and heaps of spices.
With all that spices, desserts could come in really useful to help cut any richness or cloy, not that you should expect any. But at the moment, the desserts are all a tad sweet for me. I do see potential in a new dessert that will be introduced soon – carrot halwa (made of grated carrots, milk, dried fruirtand nuts) balanced with coffee soil and coffee-coated honeycomb.
9 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089 117; +65-6904 0838; thevar.sg