gajalee, esplanade

it’s the first day of the work-week (and work-year, if you want to be depressing about it). how did the holidays time pass so quickly?!

but to start things off on a very positive note, here’s a fantastic indian (specifically malvani, if that means anything to you) place we chanced upon the other day. situated terribly in a back alley between the esplanade and satay by the bay, this indian restaurant looks strangely posh for its otherwise uninteresting (read: shabby) exterior.

and the food is quite utterly fantastic, with a focus on seafood and tandoori offerings. the prices are high too, which is expected given its location, but I would say the experience well-worth worth it.

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I think I’ve mentioned this before – but the concept of posh indian food in singapore just does not seem to resonate with the masses. while astronomically-high prices for fine-dining chinese seem widely-tolerated, there is the expectation that indian cuisine just should not cost that much – and even I may be guilty of thinking this.

but this place is all napkins, wine glasses, white plates and well-dressed servers – which indicates the class of establishment it aspires toward. it’s also as slow-going as many posh restaurants – there’s no rush here (and in fact, there’s a certain slowmovingness about the wait staff that may test your patience).

but when the food arrives, I’m pretty sure even the most frazzled of nerves would be appeased. I’d like to start by recommending you order a range of breads – the roti (which is my favorite indian bread) was light and ready to soak up all the gravies, and the naans were lavishly buttered and garlicked and moreish. all of them also had the hallmarks of being properly-cooked: big air-pockets and beautifully-charred sections.

the focus here is seafood, which helps it stand-out from other tandoori restaurants – but that’s not to say that their meat dishes pale in comparison. I found our order of chicken tikka fantastic, with well-marinated, moist (such a dirty, but irreplaceable word) chicken breast and a delicious flavor from the ground spice paste.

and of course the seafood dishes are similarly affecting – tandooried fish was flaky and flavourful, and I fell in love with the salt-and-pepper calamari fritters. those were fried golden, simply but expertly seasoned, with oh-so-tender strips of squid encased in a crispy exterior that cannot be accused of either soggi- or greasi-ness.

following a previous visit, my dad had pronounced their signature tandoori pomfret delicious but pricey – so that’s another dish for consideration.

we rounded things off with an excellent dish of battered okra: THIS WAS MY FAVORITE DISH in what had already been a surprisingly stellar meal. it sounds weird, indubitably, seeing as it’s battered okra slices that are fried golden, before being tossed in a ground spinach sauce that softens the fried exterior, but I highly recommend you order this without hesitation.

as with the preceding dishes, this was flavorful, seasoned just-right, and stupefyingly moreish – I couldn’t stop overloading on this.

and to cap it all off, your check arrives with a dish of mukhwas, which are basically an ethnic version of the after-dinner mint. essentially sugar-coated herbs (fennel, anise, and the like), these tiny things tasted like the best tic-tac candy ever. you’ll be tempted, given its minute form, to toss a handful directly into your mouth, but they are best savored slowly and individually, so the different herbs have opportunity to flood your senses.

this might be the most positive review I’ve written ever – it’s a surprise to me how much I enjoyed this meal, and how the good impression I had then is only amplified now upon writing. be warned that it’s an expensive meal, but know that it’s well worth it.

Gajalee
#01-13C Esplanade Mall
8 Raffles Avenue
Singapore 039802
tel +65 8338 3580
$$.5: 35ish onward

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One thought on “gajalee, esplanade

  1. i too find that singaporeans don’t appreciate Indian fine-dining. that’s because we can get very good indian food at inexpensive prices. But there is a subtlety in Indian fine-dining that is missing in casual restaurants. Unfortunately, Singaporeans won’t try it (because of the stereotype of good, inexpensive indian food.)

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