Singapore is like a second home to many Mumbaikars. We’ve been there, done that and eaten at all the best places. But if there’s something that a true traveller misses of a Singaporean sojourn, it’s the flavours off the street. Now those are difficult to replicate here even if India has all the same spices and techniques.
Which is why we are excited about sampling the Singapore Food Festival at JW Marriot Juhu’s Lotus Café. We’re perhaps a bit too familiar with the space thanks to countless Sunday brunches over the years, but the small décor touches they’ve given it on the night we attend, puts us in a festive spirit, ready to feast. Delicate pink umbrellas and serene statues mark out the Singaporean section from the regular vast buffet spread.
We spot someone in chef’s whites setting and resetting dishes, adjusting the rotisserie and being everywhere at once. The perfectionist in question is the man of the moment – Chef Thanabalan Chandrsekaran – who is Sous Chef at the Singapore Marriott Hotel and orchestrates all the VIP menus including the high-profile ones at the Formula One event. He is the one who has brought the Singaporean experience to Mumbai, two years in a row.
For those who haven’t been to the land of the Merlion (are there any?!), Chef Thanabalan gives a brief introduction to the country’s multi-cultural heritage. He talks about how Singaporean food is a blend of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian flavours and explains that he plans to give us a taste of local fare with a modern touch.
We understand that there is a live station with three signature dishes, a salad station with five options and six different hot mains to select from. Our appetite may not keep up with the spread on offer, but we certainly plan to test it!
We start with a hearty bowl of Seafood Laksa, thick with coconut milk, bean curd, vermicelli noodles and bean sprouts. The non-veg version is rich with an assortment of seafood (we don’t miss the cockles or fish cakes) and a whole quail egg, which brings back the sights and smells of Sungei Road.
While the vegetarians opt for delicate dimsum, the succulent drunken prawns give us a high that is unmatched even by complimentary versions of the Singapore Slings doing the rounds! We sip our Chinese Sling with fresh lychees contentedly, as we sample the satays. The texture and taste of the peanut dressing with kaffir lime is spot on, while the lemongrass-marinated chicken and lamb is quite tender.
From the salads, we are tempted by the Gado-Gado Molek, with mixed vegetables and tofu with a gritty peanut sauce. By now, it’s clear that we’re nuts about peanuts, isn’t it? Although the other options are interesting too… a Rojak salad with cucumber, pineapple, Chinese turnip, green mango, bean sprouts, green apple, ground peanut and a spicy dark prawn paste. There’s also a Nyonya Achar, which has pickled cucumber, carrot, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, shallots, sesame seeds and spiced turmeric paste, and a Kerabu Mango, which features cucumber and dried shrimp alongwith mango. And then there’s the Nyonya seafood salad with shrimp, ginger flower, pineapple, dried shrimp and chili paste. As Chef Thanabalan says, a seafood salad is a must-have on most menus, as it’s a crowd favourite.
There’s certainly a lot on offer for those who love their surf and turf. But the vegetarians, especially those who are staunchly so, are finding the pickings a bit sparse. We think some amount of adapting may make this a more balanced buffet the next time around, as there are many vegetarians in this city. Of course, right now, the beauty of this meal is that they can always head to the main buffet’s multi live counters and fabulous multi-cuisine spread. But the ones with us are busy exclaiming over the spicy Sambal Eggplant, so we try some slow-cooked Lamb Rendang. Perfectly done and superbly spiced, we love combining this with the Hainan Chicken Rice redolent of pandan leaves, lemongrass and fresh ginger and creamy with rich chicken broth. We’re so bursting at the seams at this point that we almost skip tasting the Singapura Chilli Crab. But that would be criminal, so we try a tiny portion of the sweet wok-fried crab meat in a sweet-chili crab sauce. Somewhat different from the zing of Mr Hooi’s original version at the Dragon Phoenix Restaurant where this dish was born. That one has more lime, but this one is delicious nevertheless.
Then, over a bowl of Sago Pudding, we sit back and swap Singapore stories. The Kaya Toast at Killiney Kopitiam. That crazy night at Clarke Quay. The shopping frenzy on Orchard Road. The behind-the-scenes brouhaha at the Singapore Biennale. The stories flow fast and furious. Food has the power to tap into our sense of sight and smell and taste and touch, to unleash the memories that these senses hold. In our opinion, if a visiting festival in a five-star property can do this with street fare from another country, it’s clearly doing something right.
Pricing: INR 2,400 per head, all inclusive. On for dinner at Lotus Café, JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu, from 7-11 pm every night until August 31, 2015. To reserve a table, call 022-6693 3277.
Singapore Street Food at the JW Marriott
Juhu Tara Road,
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400049
Phone:022 6693 3000