Name of restaurant: Zaffron Kitchen
Type of cuisine: North, South and Singapore Indian
Zaffron Kitchen is nothing like a “typical” Indian casual dining restaurant. Instead of the heady pong of Indian spices and muggy heat, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by its quaint brownstone interiors and piped jazz music.
The restaurant has an internal window between the dining area and the kitchen so you can see the chefs in action; a long high table that doubles up as a bar area, and a semi-alfresco dining zone next to the five-foot way allows you to savour your curry and watch the world pass by.
Before you pass this off as a chi-chi upmarket eatery, a few things catch the eye: A colourful miniature cottage equipped with toys, a bright red popcorn machine, and cheery servers bustling about with rather cheeky aprons that read ‘The Devil Wears Prata’, ‘Your Food Is Cumin’ and ‘Be Naan The Wiser’.
So Zaffron Kitchen is somewhat contradictory; it’s cosy and classy enough for an intimate dinner for two, and yet kid-friendly so the little ones won’t throw a fit. This makes it the perfect family restaurant, whether you’re on a dinner date with the hubby, or feasting with the whole clan.
Fire up your appetite for the meal ahead with starters like the crispy black-pepper Papadum ($4, pictured below), a spicy derivative of the usual plain variety. These are served with two refreshing dips; mint and mango chutney.
From back to front: Papadum, Sambar Idli and Papdi Chaat.
Another addictive appetiser is the Papdi Chaat ($6, pictured above), a North Indian street snack. Dough wafers, fried to a crisp, are topped with crunchy cracker-like sev, sweet yoghurt, mint and tangy tamarind sauce. Tart, sweet and savoury, these bite-sized morsels look deceptively simple but are so full of flavour.
If you thought naan only came in versions like plain, garlic or butter – like we did – then you’ve been missing out on Zaffron’s sublime Kashmiri Naan ($6.50). Pillow-soft naan, hot from the tandoor, is generously stuffed with sweet dates, raisins, cashew nuts and diced green apple. You won’t want to go back to plain old naan ever again.
The variety of mains at Zaffron Kitchen is pretty impressive, as unlike most other Indian restaurants, Zaffron serves up cuisine from the North and South of the subcontinent, as well as Singapore Indian favourites. Interestingly, most of the mains seem to have something in common: The spice levels are very tame, so ardent fire-eaters will cry foul, while the chilli-averse will give thanks.
A sure-fire hit at the table is the Dum Chicken Briyani ($11, pictured below). A large, fork-tender chicken thigh and a hard-boiled egg is buried by fluffy basmati rice, cooked to fragrant perfection with various spices including saffron, cumin and bay leaves. Served in a cavernous deep dish, the briyani is sealed with a thin layer of crusty dough, which keeps it moist and tasty. Don’t attempt to finish this on your own.
Hankering for hunks of meat on skewers? The Zaffron Tandoori Platter ($38, pictured below) lets you have a bit of everything, and is great for sharing among three or more people. Up for grabs in this platter are six kinds of tikkas and kebabs. While the Seekh Mutton Kebab was a dry and insufficiently-seasoned disappointment, and the Chicken and Fish Tikkas were acceptable but not memorable, its lesser-known siblings shone.
Malai Tikka, which is really cubed chicken marinated with cottage cheese, coriander and yoghurt, is a creamy and delicate-tasting meat skewer worth savouring. Also snatch as much Murg Pudina as you can; here, diced chicken breast is is given a lift with curd, masala, fennel seeds, cashew nuts and other spices.
Other classic Indian favourites on the menu include the Singaporean Murtabak ($9), Chicken Curry ($11.50) and various Prata (from $3). Several vegetarian options are available as well.
Indian desserts are heavy and sinful, but no feast is complete without indulging in at least one. A Mango Lassi ($5) should be by your side as you work you way through the meal, but don’t leave without tasting the Moong Dal Halwa ($9, pictured below).
Thick vanilla ice cream and lentils make good bedfellows, it seems; sweet lentils ground to a paste with milk and butter sit alongside a large scoop of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream. The trick is to scoop up the two – the lentils are warm, while the ice cream is cold – and enjoy the unexpectedly delicious textures and flavours of both.
Zaffron Kitchen doesn’t serve up stellar Indian food, but it is a crowd-pleaser. From the diverse menu, subdued spice levels right up to the cosy, yet relaxed, dining atmosphere, you can be sure that your dining companions will feel at home.
Zaffron Kitchen is located at 135 East Coast Road S341137, diagonally across from Katong Mall. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 11.30am to 10.30pm, and is closed on Mondays. For reservations, call 6440 6786 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.zaffronkitchen.com for more information.