“All castes and kinds of men move here. Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters –– all the world going and coming. It is to me a river from which I am withdrawn, like a log after a flood”.
That’s the picture Rudyard Kipling – one of the most esteemed firangis, which, if you’re wondering, is the Hindi designation for, generally, white foreigners – paints in Kim, his canonical novel set in an India of the richest conceptual frames.
As a work of literature, it’s a standard-setting triumph, a testament to the far-ranging powers of the written word. And for all its colonial hang-ups, it makes no bones about its focal point: Kipling’s obvious and infectious love for India, the land that is his muse. For all the right reasons, Firangi Superstar, the almost-year-old restaurant by The Dandy Collection belongs perfectly in the pages of Kim. Like Kipling, the group’s co-honchos Michael Goodman and Rohit Roopchand (firangis both) are in love with an India they perceive through their distinct lens. The restaurant, then, is a monument to their love. A living, lived-in tableau of a mystical locale teeming with scintillatingly delectable revelations.
What Firangi Superstar does best is manifest its vision of India in the way that it does, as a totalising experience. How the literal and theoretical intersect within its Craig Road outpost, how the food, drinks, ambiance, sight, sound, taste and texture combine and coalesce to transmogrify the internal process of how people eat, is a gleaming example for others to follow.
Warm lighting – which the group has mastered as an art form throughout its repertoire of establishments – communicates with the earthy, plush, elephant-bedecked decor with an eloquent splendour approaching a distinct, ancient language. Atmosphere ripens anticipation.
The first plate to land on my table conveys crisp, flavourful papads and a trinity of homemade chutneys: Roasted almond, coriander mint and smokey tomato. Like Firangi Superstar’s overall mystique, even this humble portal into the experience at hand is composed of elements that are familiar and new – Indian and more.
As sweetness and tang commune with delicate shards of sour-savoury papads, a request for drinks is made. Like its food menu, the restaurant’s roll call of drinks is India-minded but world-facing. A whole page is devoted to iterations of gin, with each cocktail framed as a station on a “happy journey” on the “G&T express”. I order the Old Delhi because of its additional payload of pineapple and lemongrass, and learn that it refreshes as much as it entices, every bit an enigma, even as it beams its obvious essence.
At this point, it’s obvious that Firangi Superstar doesn’t wield its influences so it can do parlour tricks with them. There is a throughly thought-out and carefully, lovingly and dare I say, expertly, realised vision here that makes its heart beat.
The proof unravels magnificently in the bigger plates. India is a confounding reality composed of absolute truths and startling dualities. Likewise, every meat dish here has a vegetarian equivalent. No one and no palette will be denied the intimations of Chef Raj Kumar, whose thesis on proteins posits the existence of the Holy Cow – an exquisitely moreish and delicate dance by way of beef masala and crispy beef tongue, accented by shallots – and affirms the equal validity of its meatless counterpart, whose ranks consist of snake gourd potato masala, crispy potato and a topping of shallots. Two disparate roads of savoury gratification that both start and stop at the same place. Led by a juicy cut of Iberian pork, Gorgu’s roast and its vegetarian half, which enlists roasted cauliflower as its linchpin, operates on the same philosophical axel.
The Singaporean foodscape is crowded with conceptually driven endeavours. The savvy have reached a point where the mere mention of ‘concept’ in a conversation about food elicits either scorn or a heavy sigh. But you can set your suspicions aside when you cross Firangi Superstar’s threshold. Though clearly indebted to the ever-teeming legacy of India, it doesn’t stumble over false standards like ‘authenticity’. What does authenticity mean in the scheme of making an imagined (personal) reality a real (communal) one?
I’ve had my fill – but I’m still hungry. For its secrets, for its riddles, for the heady energy it emanates, dashingly composed but winkingly enchanting. As I make a mental note of what I’m going to have on my next visit (Spoiler alert: Cocktails), a beautiful assemblage of little dosas topped with wild berry compote lands before me. Dosa for desert? If it tastes like this, then yes, please.
‘India through another lens’ – that was the promise made. And from first bite to last, it was amply, gloriously fulfilled.
Firangi Superstar is at 20 Craig Road, Singapore 089692. Celebrate the restaurant’s one year Chaataversary on 25 June, from 5.30pm till late.