With two good vegan Chinese meals and one spicy Thai dinner under my belt, I decided that it was time to give Indian food another try for our third night in Singapore. I went to Bombay Woodlands during my last trip to Singapore years before, which is a nice vegetarian South Indian restaurant with a wide variety of dosa, idli and chaat, but I wanted to give my fellow travelers to a more traditional Indian restaurant experience. One of them had never really had Indian food before so I needed to make a good first impression! I contacted a local friend/former co-worker who runs her own communications firm in town and asked for a recommendation of a nice place that had a good variety of vegetarian options (plus non-veg for my travel companions). She not only gave us a recommendation, but she also offered to join us, which made the evening even lovelier. She was a gracious hostess and gave us great personal insight into life in Singapore during our meal.
She recommended Vintage India, which was close to Orchard Road at 10 Dempsey Road, #01-21 Dempsey Hill. Dempsey Hill itself was a unique location. The area used to be the Central Manpower Base of Singapore and former British army barracks. You would never know it now! It had been converted to a charming campus of dining and shopping establishments, tucked into a lush tropical setting that made you feel like you weren’t in a modern city at all.
Vintage India is what I’d call a “concept restaurant.” It’s themed around “the traditions of pre-independent India.” Upon our arrival, the hostess placed a string of Jasmine flowers in our hair.
Apparently this is an old Indian tradition, and one that has distinguished Vintage India enough that the bellman at our hotel could tell where we went to dinner when we returned later that evening. We dined outside on their covered patio during a light rain shower, which created the perfect casual but picturesque ambiance for the evening.
After we were seated, we were given rolled papadum, which were tasty but given the humidity, became soft/almost soggy pretty quickly.
The mint sauce that came with the papadum looked like it contained yoghurt so I avoided it, but the red chutney was nice and light. We were also presented with a complementary appetizer which was basically a small lightly fried ball of mashed potatoes and veggies on a toothpick (sorry, I didn’t catch the name of the item or remember to take a picture). It was a tasty bite-sized treat.
The Vintage India menu was full of vegetarian options. To get us started, we ordered Onion Bhajia and Chingree Samosas, which were both vegetarian, and both deep-fried foods. Lucky for us, Vintage India has a knack for making fried food that isn’t too heavy or greasy. The Onion Bhajia was browned to perfection and had a nice blend of onions and coriander.
The tamarind sauce served with it was a little sweeter than I’m used to, but it was a good contrast with the strong onion flavor.
The samosas had a nice light, flaky crust.
They were filled with the standard potatoes and veggies, plus cashews, but were spiced with a mild and fragrant heat. I could have filled up on both, but since I knew we had exciting entrées coming up, I kept to one of each.
I couldn’t decide between two vegetarian curries so I ordered both, under the guise of ordering enough vegetable items to share with the table so they could order non-veg dishes (of which, the curried chicken was once again declared the winner):
Kadhai Subzi – “A mélange of fresh vegetables cooked with onion, ginger and garlic.”
Dal Churchuree – “Yellow lentils tempered with garlic, cumin seeds and tomato. A simple and light dish to go along with any meal.”
I noticed that when we ordered our entrées, the waiter did not ask for our requested “spice level” – which was an early indication to me that they actually knew what they were doing in the kitchen. Both dishes were seasoned and spiced in a way that each flavor in the dish owned its own zone in your mouth. While the rich red curry of the Kadhai Subzi was dynamic and vibrant, the heat did not overwhelm the spice and flavor. Instead it emphasized the variety of delicate tastes and fragrances.
The Dal was more on the mellow side, but after having so many Dal dishes that were too salty, too full of random heat and too bland, it was like finally knowing what the dish could really be if prepared by the right chef. Needless to say, I ate too much. I suspect that both dishes used ghee, but since I was in a business setting I didn’t want to be a “fussy vegan.” Instead just enjoyed the experience for what it was – a delightful meal rich in flavor, great ambiance and good company.
We passed on desert, but in keeping with what I assume is another Indian tradition, we were presented with a four-draw chest of spices and herbs to cleanse our palates.
I have no idea what all was in each drawer, but we tried them all and it made for a nice touch to end our night.
I have to say this was quite possibly the best Indian food meal of my life so far! I’ve had so many badly-prepared, “hot for hot’s sake,” greasy, gut-churning Indian meals that Vintage India’s curries, which were both uniquely flavored and prepared with care, was a real treat. I’d feel better if I knew the curries were vegan, but I’ll just live in denial about that until someone tells me they weren’t.
Next up, I try a “Western” vegetarian restaurant and very interesting vegan Chinese food.