FLOUR: Blossom Summer French-Indian Degustation, March-May 2021

March 7, 2021

It's springtime in the northern hemisphere, but summer has already arrived in India, in the pre-monsoon season that stretches from March through May. This is a time of rebirth, with winter's chill receding, with western India enduring its hottest month every April, before the heaviest rains lash Mumbai to Mangalore in the monsoon season of June till September.

FLOUR is stirring anew too, to a city of Malaysian diners reawakening after the forced slumber of 2021's first two months. Its new French-Indian degustation dinner is an 11-course epic themed 'Blossom Summer' (RM550 per person), with flavours to fit the season - light and delicately nuanced, without pepper or nuts, flowing with cooling herbs and spices like fennel and cumin. 

FLOUR's Blossom Summer is a revelation by another measure. For those of us who recognise Indian cuisine by a compass of north and south, FLOUR shows us another side of how the country eats - on its west coast, from the slopes of Maharashtra and Goa to the shores of Karnataka and Kerala, with their bounty of beetroot and berries, fish and fowl, crustaceans and cheese.

The Beginnings marks our first course, a trio of amuse-bouche served on a branch like nature's harvest. 

A chocolate egg, tinged with tamarind, ginger and jaggery, on a nest of fried okra, is a holdover from FLOUR's Winter Wonder degustation, heralding the transition between the seasons. 

Beside it, a small piece of meringue looks pure and innocent - but like all things FLOUR, the surface conceals surprising complexities. The candy's sweetness swiftly yields to savoury undercurrents of tomato chutney with Himalayan salt, ending in the lingering warmth of chillies with dried mint. A rush of sensations in a single bite, true to India's summer tradition of tempering spice with sugariness to head off the heat.

Also reviving is the tart of capsicum and cucumber, looking like tropical passion fruit but tasting like the luscious puree of a mild bell pepper, uplifting with a buoyant balance of powdered spices that accentuate the sense of summer's vibrant colours and flavours.

FLOUR's founder-chef Yogesh Upadhyay is as passionate about wine as food, so patrons are encouraged to pair this meal with a selection that starts with Moet & Chandon (the full seven-glass pairing is RM350 per person; four glasses clock in at RM275 per person).

FLOUR's recipes often find Earth & Sea intertwined: Coarsely textured beetroot thoran is blanketed beautifully with Baerii caviar, sturgeon roe that's more fine-grained than Ossetra, with a crisp pop and creamy finish (if you're in the mood for a splurge, you can upgrade further to Imperial Beluga), paired with André et Michel Drappier Champagne. 

The magic is in the cross-cultural marriage of beetroot and Baerii, bringing together one of India's most ubiquitous vegetables with Iranian-farmed roe from a Siberian sturgeon with origins in the Caspian Sea - a pairing that might only be possible for now at FLOUR.

While FLOUR's soul is solely Indian, its spirit seeks inspiration from every possible place - from France, where founder Yogesh trained many years ago; from Italy, where sous chef Alessandro has his maternal roots (Yogesh's right-hand men Alessandro and Balli work closely with him on every creation); and from Malaysia, where FLOUR found its home and Yogesh his life partner.

Sabah is the source of The Eye, an abalone that's a sacrament of sheer succulence, charcoal-grilled for smoky murmurs, crowned with the puree of Jerusalem artichoke, cushioned with sliced truffles. Served alongside is the mollusc's own ear-shaped shell, demonstrating FLOUR's use of whole produce - bring it home as a souvenir of your visit.

FLOUR's Carabinero prawn carpaccio, its jumbo juiciness surfacing from the deep seas of Spain, looks translucently triumphant enough to devour on its own, the epitome of summertime comfort fare, sprinkled with bright petals. 

But FLOUR doubles our delight by pouring over a Carabinero prawn bisque that takes a leaf from Western India's prawn curry, spiked with chillies, cumin, fennel, and for the only time in this degustation, tomatoes for a tinge of tang, with oceanic creaminess layering the carpaccio's smooth fleshiness. 

The 2018 Maison Saint Aix Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence AIX Rose is a scintillating fruity-floral pairing for this vivid, exuberant dish of Carabinero in raw and strained-soup forms, nicknamed Sunshine in Spring.

The catch of fishermen and the crop of farmers are reunited in FLOUR's Bangda (Indian for mackerel). 

From the waters: A Norwegian mackerel fillet is seared simply, free of added salt and other flavourings, representing the final capture of the nets before the monsoon. 

From the mountains: Dill leaves reaped following wintertime form the foundation for a sauce studded with a glassy gel of garlic with mushrooms and glossy drops of yogurt.

Fish with herbs - quintessential and time-honoured, but quite a trip in the hands of FLOUR.

The next main course wouldn't seem out of place in an Italian restaurant, but its roots rest in Portugal - as carne de vinha d'alhos, a speciality of meat prepared in garlic marinade in Madeira. The cooks of colonial Goa adapted it centuries ago into what evolved into vindaloo, the fiery curry that's now popular in Britain and elsewhere.

FLOUR has transformed the recipe further, relying on duck marinated over three days with red wine vinegar, cinnamon, bay leaves, garlic cloves and chilli, stuffed into tortellini and topped with Parmesan crisps, rounded out with a blend of coconut milk, duck jus and chilli paste, compelling without cream. 

The ensemble is lively and enlivening, flooded with moistness of meat and sumptuousness of sauce, potently matched with the supple, sublime Domaine Bruno Clair Marsannay Les Vaudenelles.

There are always several dishes that stand out the most at FLOUR, that everyone raves about. In a testament to FLOUR's capability to surprise, that turned out to be this meat-free course of Cheese in a Farm, the first time FLOUR has showcased a reinterpretation of palak paneer.

The kitchen-curdled, tandoor-cooked cottage cheese is a revelation, a little grainy and crumbly, pronounced in a sheer milky flavour that vouches for its dairy authenticity, a far cry from blandly processed, one-dimensionally elastic paneer.

Marinated in olive oil and spices, showered with shimeji mushrooms and pickled onions, the cheese is completed with sprightly spinach sauce and naan - all the essentials of a well-balanced palak paneer, but altogether a different culinary creature, still tasting like Indian fare nonetheless. 

And if anyone doubted that Indian cuisine could make for a vital coupling with wine, this course with the La Forge Estate Viognier 2018 is evidence otherwise.

Kerala comes next, its crab roast reinvented as FLOUR's Tarabagani Kamemashi, featuring Japanese red king crab over basmati rice steamed in a stock of the same crab for a coherent, cohesive creation.

What makes this risky is each serving is cooked individually in its own separate cocotte for 30 minutes, so every portion is uniquely distinctive. Laced with curry leaves and green chillies, with a perky mix of mustard and chutney on the side, this rewarding rice dish merits abandoning the keto diet for one meal, appealingly paired with the citrus notes of a Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 2018.

It's been a swirl of subtle spices throughout these savoury courses, buoyed by a barrage of herbs from basil to coriander to tarragon, slicked with olive, sesame and sunflower oils - if this is summertime in India, it's a season we're reluctant to bid farewell to.

FLOUR's Parfait Puri eases us into a sweet finale, still with some element of salt, plus sugar, spice and everything nice, with fried whole-wheat puri partnered with yogurt parfait and mulberries, combining crunch and captivating softness. 

The Cassata bears the name of the Sicilian sponge cake but channels the colours of the Indian flag as an envoy for Mumbai's ice cream parlours. A trifecta of mango, coconut and mint, naturally nectarous with no extraneous sugar, a cool, creative treat to send us out into the night exhilaratingly rejuvenated.

A chocolate-banana bonbon with a digestif of Cognac, chai or coffee offers us time to reflect before leaving. But while this degustation takes only an evening to consume, it'll require many more nights for our imaginations to digest. 

FLOUR continues to cast a special spell, telling the story of Indian cuisine in an inimitable form, guiding us through the unknowns of a nation of 1.4 billion people, showing us how the food of its founder's father, grandmother and great-grandparents can forge fresh, exciting paths for the future.

FLOUR Restaurant

12, Jalan Kamuning, Off Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur.  Open Wednesday-Monday, 6pm-11pm. Tel: 012-960-0053

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