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SINGAPORE — The term ‘Firangi’ in Firangi Superstar has varied meanings depending on which linguist you ask. Mine is Google, and even she, in all its algorithmic prowess, was unable to definitively decide on its etymology. Some say it’s a Hindustani word (Firangee) borrowed from Farsi, which parallels the Arabic word Firanj meaning the French.
Others say ‘Rang’ means colour in Persian, while Fi refers to something non-existent; Firangi then means ‘without colour’ and stands as an apt moniker for pale-skinned Europeans. Closer to home, ‘Farang’ in Thai is a derogatory term used to refer to Caucasian visitors. The whole word, ‘Farang Khi Nok’, is a literal translation of ‘bird-droppings Farang’ in reference to the white colour of bird faeces.
Suffice to say, it’s probably not a good idea to adopt such manners of etymology to restaurants that might be visited by a food writer such as myself, who tends to over-analyse or over-research terms in service of general knowledge. I do, however, appreciate Superstar’s ability to embrace and own this disparaging moniker, which, after a recent visit, I reckon, is a way for them to compensate for an interior that some fellow food writer friends say is a tad problematic. But more on that later.
The transformation of Firangi Superstar from its previous tenant, Trattoria Pizzeria Logic, is, in a word, stark. Gone are the bright, woody interior, cosy pendant lighting, and a massive brick oven that sits at the corner of the open kitchen where Japanese-style pizzas bake and cook under intense temperature. In its place is a cavernous dining hall that has been judiciously retrofitted into themed rooms, each painted a different colour—lime green, deep orange, teal.
Where the walls aren’t painted, it’s lavished in elaborate wallpapers that are the very essence of maximalism with its depictions of tigers, elephants, forests, flora, and fauna. When not plastered with wallpaper, black and white photos of scenes from India under British colonial rules adorn these walls. And where there’s more space, huge stag heads and decorative antlers serve as decoration, alongside replicas rifles and vintage suitcases to add to the whole East India, colonial-glorification vibes. Yes, I went there.
Helming the kitchen is head chef Thiru Gunasakaran, a South Indian third-generation Malaysian who staged at Spago Dining Room by Wolfgang Puck for six years before his tenure at Firangi Superstar. Here, chef Thiru cooks up a menu that is not necessarily traditionally Indian, nor does it veer too far into the dubious realm of modern ADDA-esque neo-Indian confusion—thankfully. This translates to dishes that borrow inspiration from the classical Indian persuasion while making it agreeable for a more subdued (read: Caucasian) palate.
It starts with small bowls of Jackfruit Cucumber Raita, Garlic Dried Chilli Chutney, and its less flavour-forward cousin, the Roasted Pistachio Chutney (2 for S$10++, 3 for S$14++) served with papads and crackers and made for great mindless snacking while waiting for mains and sides to arrive. This being a Dandy Collection, I was not the least bit surprised to find myself thoroughly enthralled by the Beirut Bhatura (S$12++), a hummus adjacent to Neon Pigeon’s edamame Tokyo Hummus, here made with Celeriac Hummus, Chickpea Masala, and Pomegranate. It’s intensely savoury without being too assaultive and pairs well with the Bhatura.
Another small plate I find myself drawn to is This is Not Aloo Gobi (S$16++), a mound of cauliflower cooked three ways with curry and mustard seeds. Throw in sweet raisins and compressed potatoes, and it makes for an academically sound dish—always a good thing when attempting fusion elevation thingamajig. There’s also the Prata Waffle??? (S$24++) – yes, the question marks are intended – which clasps a lovely spiced and moist Madras fried chicken. Suitably, an adult-sized treat for your inner child. Only because you shouldn’t feed a child this because this chicken has a pertinent spice edge to it.
Elsewhere, I wanted to like the Sothi Fresh (S$22++) more were it not for a snapper ceviche that is undeniably fresh but cannot hold its own against a robust and flavourful kokum, here, in a shockingly bright yellow hue. The Sacred Samosa (S$26++) also fell short of expectations, let down by a Wagyu beef tartare that, on its own, doesn’t dance quite as joyfully on the tongue as it should. The citrus pickle helps in its cause, though I reckon it shouldn’t need to pull double duty to make beef tartare great again.
The large plates in the menu stay true to their description and are meant to be shared. There’s the Salvador Thali (S$41++), a wordplay that references Spanish painter Salvador Dali and the deeply cultural Indian Thali. Traditionally, the Thali consists of a grain, lentils, vegetables, chutney, raita, pickles, and papadum and with slight variations that differ from region to region.
Knowing this, it’s easier to draw parallels with Firangi’s iteration that comes with three wedges of roasted pumpkin, liberally coated with salted, dried chilli for the best sweet-spicy flavour combination known to humanity. There’s also sambhar, mint, and quinoa alongside this ‘Thali’, which I reckon will attract some raised eyebrows from people who can’t draw parallels the way I did. It’s a bit of a stretch, I know.
If you’re up for some meats, The Indian Saddle (S$19++/100g) might be cause for joy. Slices of lean Lamb Saddle come suitably spiced without losing the characteristic qualities of Lamb and demands pairing with the Firangi Naan Basket (S$12++) or the Anise-Ghee Rice (S$6++).
Desserts come by way of a Chocolate Jamun (S$15++) chock full of chocolate flavours and textures without falling prey to the allure of letting cocoa shine without much else. I expected the Jamun to be as saccharine as the OG, but thankfully here, Chef has practised considerable restraint.
I also tried the Mango Kesari (S$12++). Still, I struggle to remember what this tasted like, which is either telling of the quality and memorability of the dish itself or could be due to my cynical attitude towards desserts that are anything but superior. The jury is still out on that one.
20 Craig Road #01-03 S089692
Lunch: Mon to Fri, 12nn-2.30pm
Dinner: Mon to Sat, 5.30pm-10.30pm