The Malgudi Day

It was last Saturday afternoon that we were walking down Syed Alwi Road in Singapore’s Indian restaurant quarter looking for an interesting eatery where we could gorge on Indian food and satisfy our rumbling tummies. That’s when we eyed ‘Malgudi’ – an authentic Chettinad and North Indian “multi cuisine” restaurant. The décor looked inviting and we decided to take a chance and stepped in. 

You must be familiar with the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Well, add this one as well ‘never judge a restaurant by its décor/ambiance’ – and my review of Malgudi will tell you why. 

The ambiance: One would expect a restaurant with a name like “Malgudi” to have some semblance to south Indian décor. Except for the few Tanjore paintings on the walls the décor was everything but south Indian. You may argue saying that Malgudi is after all a figment of R K Narayan’s imagination, but you mustn’t forget that he himself proclaimed that the town, albeit a fictional one, is located in South India. Let us suppose I overlook the fact that the décor is not south Indian (I mean it really isn’t a big deal. There is no hard and fast rule that a south Indian named restaurant must have a similar décor.); I would still expect a sense of warmth and a certain “feel good factor” when I enter a restaurant. However, it felt strangely cold and devoid of any personality. This was further accentuated by the cold blast of air that was hitting me from the air-con vent just above our table. A quick look around and I could see that all the tables had the vent placed just above them. Unable to bear the cold, I had to request the restaurant staff to turn down the air-con temperature. I quickly told myself not to be critical and that perhaps the food would be good. After all that’s what matters in the end anyways. With my stomach rumbling, I was looking forward to having a luscious lunch. 

The menu: Quite an impressive list of dishes ranging from biryanis, Indian breads, tandoori fare, chettinad meals, chindian (Chinese food Indian style), etc. 

The food: Inspired by my Friday evening hindi serial, where the protagonists drive to a Delhi Dhabba which served the best butter chicken and shammi kebabs that melt in the mouth, I was determined to have paneer butter masala (I’m vegetarian and butter chicken wasn’t an option) with some Indian breads. There weren’t any shammi kebabs on the menu and so it was Gobi 65’ that I ordered instead. 

Ten minutes after we were seated, our complimentary paapads arrived. They were quite dismal and that’s putting it mildly. I was horrified at the amount of oil that was glistening and dripping off them. I politely pushed the plate aside and waited for the Gobi 65 with trepid anticipation. 15 minutes passed and there was no sign of our food arriving. 15 minutes is an agonizingly long time if you’re hungry. I cannot fathom what took them so long as the restaurant only had a few patrons (of course I now understand why!). When I thought that I would almost faint out of hunger the Gobi 65 arrived. It was daylight robbery – approx. S$7.00 for a few measly florets of deep fried cauliflower. By now, I had given up on the rest of the meal. Anyways, the main course arrived after another 15 minute wait. Surprisingly the naan and tandoori roti were good; the paneer butter masala was palatable. I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of the main course. You see I was so starved that as soon as the food arrived I pounced on it. 

The service: Oh dear! It’s poor! The waiting time is far too long and that is simply unacceptable. 

The damage: It depends on what you order. S$7.00 for the Gobi 65 starter is unreasonable considering the portion that was served. The breads (approx. S$3.00) and vegetables (approx. S$6.00-S$8.00) were priced at the standard norm. 

The verdict: Malgudi has lost me as a patron for sure. 

“If Broadway shows charge preview prices while the cast is in dress rehearsal, why should restaurants charge full price when their dining room and kitchen staffs are still practicing?” – Marian Burros 

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