In recent times, I have been enamoured with an experimental cutting edge modern Indian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur called Nadodi and have sang its praises.
Don’t get me wrong – I am still a cantankerous 55 year old highly menopausal Aunty with unplucked bushy eyebrows and brown tinted permed hair when it comes to my food.
I hate pretentious I hate fussy I hate trying too hard to be hip and mysterious.
I hate people generally.
So if I go to a restaurant and they want me to put a slice of wafer thin organic beef in my mouth, then separately inhale a stalk of young rosemary dipped in veal jus that has been extracted from a 22 hour sous vide process, I will get up and slap the maitre D.
And then proceed to the kitchen to slap the Chef.
But not before I air kiss him and call him darling.
Oh please. 🙄🤮
Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok
Yes they gave me a stalk of rosemary in Bo Lan to smell, and Sra Bua made me eat faux soil from a plant pot.
I tolerate some hip experimental moves but I have one rule. The more drama you put me through, the more awesome your food better be.
A few people started telling me that if I like Nadodi, I would love Thevar.
I was intrigued.
So when a sweet young thing (Happy now ? See I told you anyone below 50 I consider a sweet young thing) wanted to buy me dinner for my birthday and suggested Thevar, I was pleased.
As pleased as an exuberant chuffed cute pig on two wheels.
The Rise of Modern Indian Food
conde nast traveller India
So what is Modern Indian Food?
It is evolving and we are smack in the midst of its evolution.
The First Wave
The rise of Modern Indian food started arguably in the 70s when restaurants like Bukhara in New Delhi started serving traditional Indian food in a fine dining format.
Luminaries like Bill and Hillary Clinton and other Hollywood stars were drawn to this establishment with traditional food prepared on tandoor clay ovens and wood fires, and with staples like marinated kebabs, rich lentils, fluffy bread, and lots of meat.
Tandoor cooked cuisine is served with flatbread and naans sans crockery and patrons are required to use their hands to tear into the exquisite cuisine.
While the food is traditional, it is presented in a high end setting with delights like their Dal Bukhara – black lentils cooked over 18 hours.
Another of their speciality is the Sikandari Raan, a whole leg of Spring Lamb.
The Second Wave
The second wave saw traditional Indian food being treated through western techniques, even Molecular.
The advocates of this wave is Chef Gaggan Anand with his venerable Gaggan in Bangkok.
Another proponent of this style is Chef Manish Mehrotra helming Indian Accent in New Delhi.
The Third Wave
In the third wave of Modern Indian cooking , the chefs have moved away from a predominantly North Indian influence to encompass a full spectrum of food from all parts of India.
Aspects of the regional cuisine and an emphasis on local seasonal produce is infused into this style of cooking.
There is a marked move from a French influenced fine dining format to a friendlier, less traditional vibe with Spanish style tapas small sharing plates.
The Pioneer of this third wave is Manu Chandra with Monkey Bar in Bangalore.
He has the distinction of being the valedictorian of his class of 2002 at the venerated Culinary Institute of America. But instead of being heavily influenced by traditional French style techniques, he created a whole new wave of casual Indian food that is groundbreaking.
Then there is Chef Thomas Zachariah with The Bombay Canteen, using regional food from around the country and redefining boundaries with Indian cuisine.
Chef Manogren Murugan Thevar
Along comes Chef Manogren Thevar riding the wave of this revolution.
The soft-spoken Chef Mano helms Thevar, the eponymous restaurant named after him in Keong Saik street in Singapore.
The Penang-born chef has never trained at an Indian restaurant before but, instead, honed his skills in the upper echelons of European cuisine and other notable establishments.
He started his culinary training in Guy Savoy Singapore followed by the Michelin-starred Waku Ghin. Later, he earned his stripes at another Michelin-starred restaurant Pure C in the Netherlands. and this was followed by a stint in Indian-inspired barbecue joint Meatsmith Little India in Singapore.
In an interview, Chef Mano explained:
“Cuisine-wise, I kinda got the idea for Thevar when I was cooking at Meatsmith Little India. It is still entirely different since Meatsmith was more about American barbecue with some Indian influences. Thevar is a modern, contemporary take on Indian food.
We bring in European techniques, such as putting our meats into the sous vide and brining them. But we also showcase Indian influences.
My family runs a South Indian restaurant in Penang and I would follow my grandmother there after school. I would just sit in the restaurant, watch her cook and eat. That’s where I get some of my inspirations from”
FOOD & DRINK 22 Apr 2019
Dinner at Thevar
We made an early booking at 630pm and were pleased to have the restaurant to ourselves when we arrived.
The maître D explained the menus to us, pointing out the evergreen favourites and highlighting the new additions which have just been added to the menu.
The rasam granita oyster
Chef has memories of his grandmother’s rasam (a spicy tamarind soup the Indians often make to aid in digestion and to whet the appetite) but makes in into a a granita with sugar, and paired it with plump pacific Canadian oysters.
I thought the concept was interesting but wasn’t sure that the oyster was the best accompaniment. The robust rasam overpowered the taste of the delicate oyster.
I wonder if it might have worked better with say 63 degrees eggs, smoked salmon or even flambé thin beef strips, something not so delicate and which can hold its own with the rasam.
But it was still a delicious start which whetted our appetite nicely.
Chettinad Chicken Roti
This was like a naan pocket generously stuffed with what looked like a heavily curried shredded chicken meat.
The meat was indeed well spiced and robust but nicely balanced.
The meat was off the bone tender and utterly delicious.
The naan was thin, soft and a little flaky and I enjoyed it. A normal thick naan, I think, would have made the dish extremely heavy.
This dish was probably one of my favourite bites of the evening.
Crispy Pork Jowl Sambal Aioli
Indian restaurants typically stay away from pork which makes this dish unusual.
Crispy and chunky looking pork encrusted with what looks like spiced herbs peeks out sandwiched in a peppery betel leaf.
It is topped with pickled jalapeño and a coconut sambal Aioli.
The pork must have been slowed cooked as it was tender but the deep frying rendered a crispy exterior which provided a nice crunch.
Both my dining companion and I thought the Aioli was delicious.
Butter mushroom naan, paneer cheese
A clever vegetarian play on butter chicken.
Shumeji and king oyster mushrooms which gives a meaty texture are sautéed and cooked “butter chicken” style with clarified butter and assorted spices. Tasty paneer cheese is then shaved over with fresh assorted herbs. A dribble of basil oil completed the picture.
The mushrooms came with a warm naan and the vegetarian ensemble works well.
A rich, almost meat like dish in texture if you wanted a vegetarian alternative.
Beef Bone Marrow Murtabak
This is a new dish on the menu.
Murtabak filled with Bone Marrow ? That’s insane – how could I not order it ?
It knocked my socks off!
The murtabak squares were crispy until you came to the centre which was soft and yielding.
My eyes widened in delight with the first waft of the smell of the marrow. It smelt slightly burnt followed by a taste like no other. I can’t quite put my finger on it to describe it but I guess that’s what fragrant delectable marrow taste like.
This is so different from the usual jelly like marrow served on a bone. The marrow has been literally toasted and grilled and infused into the roti and was heavenly.
The raita pickle on the side was a nice touch, although it was quite pedestrian compared to the richness of the Murtabak.
Arguably my favourite dish of the evening.
We were getting full by this time so we moved into desserts.
Chempedak is a local fruit popular in Singapore and Malaysia, and the last thing you would expect to find is this pungent fruit in an upscale Indian inspired restaurant.
I like the fact that this didn’t stop Chef Mano from working it into his repertoire.
The Chempedak puffs arrived beautifully golden with a crusty exterior. Bite through the crumby and sweet cookie like exterior and you are rewarded with a fragrant waft of Chempedak mousse.
Banana & Coconut Ice Cream, Rum & Pineapple
This dish sounds and looks more Jamaican than Indian. It evoked images of white sandy beaches, sipping rum and squealing bikini babes.
The raisin jam and walnut crumble worked well with the banana coconut ice cream which was silky smooth in texture. It was drizzled with a rum and pineapple sauce on the side.
This was accompanied by a light coconut mousse with flecks of brown coconut granules.
The many flavours worked well together.
I had a vision of myself in a white Speedo brief sipping on a Bacardi coke, what little of my hair braided in cornrows.
Yeesh. I fought the rising nausea and went back to dinner.
I am prone to irascible tendencies when I am faced with too much drama or flair which bordered on pretensions.
But the food at Thevar was delicious, and they didn’t make too much of a fuss or delivered a PowerPoint presentation to explain the food.
The food was exciting, creative, and some dishes were downright heavenly.
I came away intrigued and wanting more.
9 Keong Saik Road
Open for dinner only Mon to Sat: 5pm to 12am. Closed on Sun.