Petronius Nonce •
26 Jan 2011 • 2 reviews • 0 follower
It may be that to spend a great deal of time deliberating about the wisdom of writing an unsolicited restaurant review is to much inflate the consequence that any such review might have. It's probably also vain. But I am vain, and that is the only authority by which you might be persuaded to read on, and there's a lot to read (vanity again). But anyway, here is the issue: Restaurants are changed by reviews, ratings and recommendations, good or bad. Bad: people don't go, staff lose heart, compromises are made with the quality of the food, and the restaurant spirals down. Not good. Conversely, a showering of favourable comments and lots of people go, the place becomes crowded and noisy, food will usually be produced more quickly and shabbily, profit starts to tempt the boss into swapping quality food for quality marketing and the place survives on its fame despite the shrieking mediocrity of its fare. It's not inevitable, but it often happens, and when it does, it's also not good.
And then there is silence, no reviews, just tumbleweed that has stopped tumbling somewhere outside who knows where the empty place is. Who will go?
Well I did. To Sagar Ratna's. By accident. by a glorious heaven-sent hiccough in the routine. And apparently, it has been my secret, my hideaway where I've been dining privately on rich and true North Indian veg meals, which to my knowledge just aren't available elsewhere in Singapore. I'll write more about that distinction in a moment.
I have now come to the conclusion that this place needs to be known about, else it crumble in its obscurity, and all the flashing gaudy competition around Mustafa, and die. The waiters are starting to look depressed. There is less paneer turning up in the paneer masala. You may only be offered one or two rotis (yes, that's right, real rotis, not roti prata) and naans, rather than just having them gaily thrown your way smothered in butter (real ghee by the way, not margarine) like on my first visit. These little signs tell me I am in danger of losing this eatery, and it would be in my interests to share it with you and encourage you along.
So how do you know if you share my tastes and can therefore take my recommendation with confidence?
I'll do my best to identify the type you need to be.
This place is for you if:
a) You like to see whole spices, not too densely distributed through each dish, and in fairly simple combinations. For example, a potato ginger and pea composition that is accented by little more than roasted cumin seeds.
b) You like clean tastes and aromas and loathe the use of MSG and lazy-garlic.
c) You believe that authentic cuisine can be transportative, and, with no effort, conjure up romantic atmospheres and images of the place it hails from.
d) You are an Indophile, and long for Indian food that is undiluted by three of four generations of living in Malaya. To you, a roti prata is a clumsy simulacrum of a parotta, a roti is a dense satisfying flatbread that sets you up for a day's hard work, and biryani is not spelt briyani, and is a luxurious and subtle roasted rice dish of ancient persian origin, not rice fried with food colouring and bits of honking goat debris.
e) You like your gulab jamun warm, a hint of a crust on the outside, and meltingly soft in the middle. You know it to be, along with rasmullai, all you really need in the way of puddings on the menu.
f) You like your waiter to be one of those sorts of waiters that only North India produces, softly spoken, mildly ingratiating, melancholic, handsome, tall, considerate and unobtrusive, makes a gentle effort to mask the well seasoned contempt he feels for you. He doesn't interrupt you every few minutes insisting 'someding? someding? anyding?' (much as I love that too, dear Kamala Vilas)
g) You like your food served piping hot, freshly cooked.
h) You have little interest in swanky decor, and can overlook the cranky decision that made one of the walls of the restaurant lurid purple.
i) You can tolerate a reasonably quiet television screen at the back playing classic Ashe Bosle Bollywood videos.
j) You think that by and large, expensive and/or high concept Indian dining is fallacious. Like Indian music, its wonderful variety, unrefined luxuries, subtle complexities and esoteric reaches are all the more remarkable for being on no particular pedestal, untrumpeted and modest.
Sagar Ratna's might best be avoided if:
a) You are a Chinese person who doesn't honestly like Indian food, but is about to be dragged there by some business friends or on a date by your naive western boyfriend.
b) You are a Chinese person who, being unfamiliar with Indian food and a little intimidated by its earthy rambunctiousness, take the unholy abomination that is Chindian food, Singapore's foulest and most unfortunate cross-cultural mutant, offered as a terrifyingly ill-conceived sop to Singapore's dominant ethnic group. Do beware this muck, unfortunately it occupies (and therefore wastes) two tureens at the buffet... two world cuisines less suited to fusion as Chinese and Indian there aren't.
c) You, like another reviewer on hungrygowhere, are outraged by waiters not wearing uniforms (WTF!?)
d) You are one of these perky young people for whom novelty is the single greatest virtue of food preparation. You think banana and prawn wanton is great. You aren't in the least bit disgusted by a pork, octopus and vanilla chiffon cake covered in icing sugar, caramelised onions and tomato ketchup. Your callow love of gimmick and stunt in cooking also extends to your food writing, and you obsessively append alliterative adverbs and adjectives to every noun, filling your food reviews with stylistically galling phrases such as 'the doughnuts were delectably delicious', and 'the fish was fatally fantastic', and 'this biblical banquet of balmy brocolli bamboozled my beautifully burning bouche.'
So, can you tell if you will like it? If so, please go, the dosas are exquisite, the North Indian thali is perfection, and you can pig it up to infinity and back for $10 from 7 at the buffet.