Fine-tuning The Song of India

Sheere Ng

Text and iImages by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra

Most chefs will be wary about replacing the brainchild of his more highly acclaimed predecessor, but not Chef Manjunath Mural, the new executive chef of The Song of India, which is one of Singapore’s most prominent Indian fine dining restaurants.

It has only been less than year since he succeeds Chef Millind Sovani, who is a well-acclaimed culinary figure celebrated for his modern Indian cuisine, and he has already changed 60 per cent of the menu. Chef Manjunath says there is nothing sensitive about it since it is not an individual’s effort that he has expunged. “Chef Millind created the dishes with us as a team.”

The two chefs met in 1999 at Centaur Hotel in Mumbai, where they both came from. Chef Millind was the executive chef at one of the restaurants while Chef Manjunath assisted him as a sous chef. In 2006, when the former set up The Song of India in Singapore, he flew Chef Manjunath in to continue the partnership, until Chef Sovani left in May last year (according to the restaurant, he has gone back to India to pursue his consultancy work).

Chef Manjunath did not venture far from his predecessor’s approach to modern Indian cuisine. He too adopts the “exotic ingredients” (in the context of Indian cuisine), and prepares them with traditional North Indian cooking methods. Some of these dishes include Black Cod Tikka, Rajasthan-style Deer Meat Curry and Tandoori Alaskan Crab.

But in time to come, he says, he may venture further to play with molecular gastronomy. “I believe chefs can experiment with anything,” he asserts, but adds quickly, “But I have to think about this carefully because the acceptance level (of molecular food) is still low.”

The 36-year-old comes from a family of doctors, but compared to a scalpel, he prefers to hold a kitchen knife, even if it were to be used to hack hundreds of coconuts, as he was asked to do during a hotel management internship. “I went back to school and changed my specialisation from service to cooking, and I never looked back,” he adds.

Besides revamping the menu, the chef also masterminded the restaurant’s two new food court stalls in Katong and Ion Orchard. Indian food, he says, has only been available in restaurants, and it would be nice if it can be found everywhere, “just like bee hoon”. The chef does not consider prata and biryani as Indian food but Muslim food. “If you serve your biryani in India, they will tear down your shop.”

As if he is not already swamped, the chef says he is also getting in touch with community centre in hope to conduct cooking classes. This, he says, is because he believes that culinary knowledge should be shared with everyone.

Or does he, after all, feel pressured to outperform his predecessor? The chef doesn’t think so: “I only think about how to improve day by day.”

These are some of Chef Manjunath’s new dishes:  

Black Cod Tikka

The chef chose Black Cod because it is popular with the Chinese community, however, the softness of the fish brings challenge to the chef when he strings and removes it from the skewer. As for the taste, the cod and tikka combination can hardly go wrong.

Rajasthan-style Deer Meat Curry

This dish works like an oxtail stew. The tomato-base curry tastes very agreeable while the venison lends a gamey flavour to the gravy.

Cracked Wheat and White Chocolate Kheer

This recipe received good reviews by the judges of a local reality TV cooking competition which the chef took part in 2010. The cardamom and white chocolate work surprising well together, however, the strong flavour of the former still dominates the palate. But if you like the heavy scented masala tea, you will love this dessert.