When you dine at Thevar, you’ll be reminded of another restaurant, the Michelin-starred Meta. And it’s not just the fact that both interiors look the same (Meta used to occupy the same space before moving several doors down space in September 2018), because the dishes here has Chef Sun Kim written all over them: oysters, granitas, herb oils, and the like.
But Thevar presents a style of cuisine we’ve never tried before. Described as creative interpretations of Indian flavours from the Malay Peninsula, it’s not anything you will find in your roadside mamak stall. For despite hailing from the port town of Penang, Chef Manogren Murugan Thevar, who spearheads the kitchen, started his culinary training at Guy Savoy Singapore, where he honed his skills in fine European cooking. He then worked at Waku Ghin before travelling to Pure C in The Netherlands — two Michelin-awarded establishments where the 29-year-old picked up a wealth of modern techniques.
Suffice to say, it’s not quite the same cooking as his grandmother would have it; she wouldn’t put rasam granita on Canadian Oysters. The mild-tasting molluscs ($5 each or $28 for six) hold their own against the spicy-tangy ice, though we pity those with cold-sensitive teeth. Another snack, the Spiced Potato Chips ($10), is seasoned with daal, tumeric, sesame seeds, crushed chilli, and several other spices. Served with tamarind aioli, these are flavour bomb that whets the appetite, though a few at the bottom turn out ‘extra brown’ and bitter.
Small bites come in the form of a rich Crispy Pork Jowl ($14) which is brined for a day, slow-cooked for three hours, then deep-fried with sambar (a South Indian lentil-based stew) spices before being wrapped in a peppery betel leaf. Together with his sweet Medjool-glazed Pork Ribs ($28) that’s been sous vide for 18 hours, these are the kind of delicious labour-intensive dishes that we don’t really deserve.
Chef Mano’s expertise in grilling and smoking plays an integral role at Thevar. And if Grilled Octopus ($36) on a bed of masala-spiced yellow dal puree and homemade tomato chutney sound delicious, it’s because it really is — smoky char and all. For a dish that only costs $10, his Berry Pulao ($10) is pretty magical: fragrant biryani rice cooked with garam masala, lemongrass and pandan, as well as pistachios and cranberries for added texture. A side of tangy cucumber raita completes the spell.
It occurs to us that the food here is not all particularly Indian. The Cempedek Puff ($6), which is part of the dessert menu, is a shoutout to Meta’s banana cream puff. Like the Banana, Pineapple and Coconut ($12) laid atop some walnut crumble with rum syrup drizzled over, it is not bad but more tame than we wanted. Still, Thevar delivers on the drinks front with a competent list of Asian-inspired cocktails. The gin-based Ginger Desire with housemade ginger beer and passionfruit is apt for Singapore’s weather, and the Banana Old Fashion blends the sweetness of bourbon with dried banana and a hint of dates.
This is not the place for butter chicken and naan (they serve a vegetarian version with mushrooms here though it is not very good — the curry lacking fragrance and flavour and the bread a tad dry) because there are better places for that. What Thevar represents is a kind of experimental Indian cooking filtered through the modern kitchens that Chef Mano trained in, and if you go expecting that, you will enjoy yourself very much. Now, if they could stop changing the music mid-track so much.
Thevar is located at 9 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089117, p. +65 6904 0838. Open Mon-Sat 5pm – 12am. Closed Sun.