1 Beach Road
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 2pm; 6.30pm to 10pm
Papadums are grossly misrepresented in Singapore. We blame it on Samy’s – that banana leaf institution that shaped our childhood understanding of South Indian food and how we expect it to be served. That is, gruffly, unceremoniously and continuously plopped in usually delicious mounds on the aforementioned leaf – different shades of fiery red and orange bleeding into each other, lightened with dahl, demolished with copious amounts of tinted biryani rice and, yes, papadum.
Crackly but in a resentful way, leaden, over-salty with an alkaline-y, how-cheap-can-you-buy-this-wholesale, aftertaste. Mind you, for most of our papadum-eating life, we never thought of pappadums any other way.
Until dining at Tiffin Room that is. Yes, you pay more than double to eat at Tiffin Room. Quadruple, even. It’s like comparing light and day, chalk and cheese, bad attitude and job satisfaction. While we dare say no cracker willingly jumps into a vat of hot oil, we think the papadums at Tiffin Room leap in with resounding joy and a song that only other papadums can hear. They are light, shatteringly crisp and there are TWO kinds – with a range of chutneys and sauces that you don’t need but are really good anyway. They’re free, and the servers keep wanting to give you more. We say yes three times until the naan comes and then we forget about the papadum because the naan is also free and we can’t get over how good they are, either.
But the real reason to eat at Tiffin Room is the rest of the food. And for the interior decor which is equally sumptuous. As you would expect of the newly refurbished Raffles Hotel. We don’t remember much about the old Tiffin Room, so we behave pretty much like newbie tourists entering the realm of the Raj. It does a good job of evoking the splendour of a bygone era, and the collection of fancy dabbas on display put an alternative spin to the “tingkat” we’re more familiar with.
North Indian flair
The food is North Indian, so there’s less heat in the curries and you can load up on a variety of it without needing gallons of lime juice to cool off. But there is lassi if you like – a creamy mellow mango version or just plain with a touch of salt.
Butter (or ghee) and cream thicken the gravies, and the myriad spices are like magical mixes that are hard to tell apart but yet seem to distinguish themselves from one dish to another.
Pizza cravings are easily sated with the melty-cheesy Gucchi Kebab (S$25) – three fat brown mushrooms filled to overflowing with molten cheese and lightly gratinated on top. Diced mango on the side is a surprisingly good match in the same vein as a Hawaiian ham and pineapple combo. At 25 bucks for three mushrooms, that’s designer pricing indeed.
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Maharaja Kebab Platter may also sound price-heavy at S$48 but it’s better value than ordering the kebabs individually, since you get to try different kinds at once. The platter is a tongue-twisting threesome of Jhinga Kebab, Raan-E-Tiffin and Khyber Murgh Kebab which translates into boring English as large prawn, pulled lamb and breast of corn-fed chicken.
The large prawn is succulent, massaged with heavy spices spiked with chilli heat. Whiffs of the tandoor oven add to the enjoyment. The chicken looks dry but isn’t, with a moist tender bouncy texture and a mild spice marinade. Raan-E-Tiffin – while sounding like Ra’s al Ghul, aka Liam Neeson’s bad guy in Batman Begins – is an intriguing interpretation of roasted shredded lamb. It’s marinated in rum, which adds a sweetness to the charred, smoky meat, while a touch of acidity permeates the spices.
You can easily make a complete meal with its signature dabba (S$58) served in shiny copper tiers filled with two choices of meat, seafood or veggies. We pick the Kashmiri lamb roganjosh and Macher Jhol – the former being tender chunks of lamb simmered in a rich full-bodied smooth gravy and the latter being fluffy pieces of barramundi bathed in a sweet-savoury tomato and onion sauce. White basmati rice with sides such as a must-have buttery black lentil dhal; assorted chutneys and pickles; and an assortment of naan.
Also worthy is the Lucknowi Murgh Biryani (S$30) – saffron-coloured, fluffy basmati rice which is good enough to eat on its own without the many pieces of so-so boneless chicken. In fact, there’s more chicken than rice when we much prefer the carbo. For extra kick, ladle on some Salan gravy – a peanut and sesame-based sauce with acidity from tamarind and complexity from chilli and other spices.
If there’s room for dessert, mango kulfi (S$15) is a rough-textured ice cream with the familiar scent of cardamom and pistachio nibs for added interest.
Like its name, Tiffin Room is a multi-layered experience that’s a delight to discover with every dish. There’s so much to learn here. Samy’s papadum fryer should come visit.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
Photos: Tiffin Room/Raffles Hotel Singapore