Forget everything you've ever eaten at FLOUR. The fennel-stuffed bitter gourd, the ajwaini baingan and lasooni ghost, those sumptuous curries to share, the paratha, pulao and phulka that made so many renounce their low-carb regimens - it's all gone, as if chef-founder Yogesh Upadhyay never served them to tens of thousands of his restaurant's patrons for nearly four years.
Like a restless explorer forging into unmapped wilderness, Mumbai-born Yogesh is taking FLOUR into new terrain, more tightly weaving together his French culinary training and his Indian cultural identity. The result is an experience that's meant to express the essence of India in its entirety, in a bolder, more imaginative fashion, taking stock of its heritage and history while scouring for clues to its future, abandoning a la carte aspirations for a dinner-only degustation journey.
"I can't keep doing the same thing," Yogesh says, defending his decision. "Constantly moving forward will keep this cuisine at its prime. Food has to evolve. I wouldn't be doing justice to it if we weren't walking away from rogan josh, from butter chicken."
FLOUR 1.0, birthed in Bukit Damansara in February 2017, channelled Yogesh's capabilities into communal cooking of remarkable flair. FLOUR 2.0 marked its physical move to its elegant current location in Imbi earlier this year. And FLOUR 3.0 is its seismic shift to degustation dinners that promise more intimate insights into Yogesh's perspective on Indian flavours.
FLOUR's foray into 10-course opuses debuts with its Winter Wonder menu, catering to a maximum of 32 guests each evening (RM420 per person; lunch is no longer available). Yogesh's wife and partner, Natasha Ng, has suitably outfitted the venue - now looking extra-spacious with fewer tables - with tasteful adornments that'll make folks feel like snow is glistening and sleigh bells are ringing. This seasonal menu will likely last till the Lunar New Year, when spring ushers in another new beginning.
While the format of FLOUR's offerings has been completely overhauled, Yogesh reminds us that he has consistently folded French inspirations into his fare from the very start, with his previous menus comprising categories like entrees and entremets.
What remains unwavering is FLOUR's penchant for upending expectations.
Following rustically textured rye and walnut bread matched with a buttery-creamy blend of maska yogurt and 12-year-aged balsamic vinegar, our first course is an amuse-bouche that reads 'bird's nest, kintsugi' on the menu, summoning visions of swiftlet saliva in lacquered pottery.
The reality is altogether different, setting our palates toward a surprising, spice-laden course.
First, an edible 'egg' on a nest of edible 'grass,' the former crafted of chocolate, scintillatingly tinged with tamarind, ginger, jaggery, chilli and peppers; the latter of slivers of fried okra, sliced 24 hours in advance, aged to strip it of sliminess, then finally fried to an umami-rich, nearly eggy-tasting crisp, sprinkled with chaat masala, scattered with tiny chive blossoms.
Beside them come imperfect, incomplete, broken macarons with clearly mended cracks, one layered with dried figs and aged pomegranates, representative of winter fruits, the other with yogurt and lemon zest. A captivatingly enhanced ensemble that conjures authentically Indian aromatics.
The meal dives into the decadent by the second course, dubbed Earth & Sea, with Ossetra caviar as it's never been served before, blanketing a base of Kerala-inspired thoran of beetroot (another Indian cold-weather favourite) with grated coconut and curry leaves, custardy and flaky, thickened with coconut milk.
Instead of blinis, the caviar is teamed up with crunchy-fried idli, rounded out with Gujarati-style amrakhand curd for the more conventional creme fraiche. Note that you can also upgrade the caviar from Ossetra to the far rarer albino (RM300 surcharge).
Diners have optional alcoholic pairings for this degustation.
As a wine enthusiast, Yogesh has curated a series of French vintages for a classical sommelier's selection (RM240 for four glasses), kicking off with Champagne from northeastern France's Moncuit family, who trace their origins as grape growers to the late 1800s.
But to tread off the beaten path, a unique liquor pairing is also available (RM200 for four glasses, including intriguing possibilities like Hendrick's gin and Japanese sake), with Beluga vodka as a smooth, sensuous companion for the caviar.
The ocean continues to be the cornerstone of the third course, called Bitterness - tandoor-cooked prawns, subtly smoky from charcoal, draped over pumpkin jelly and dotted with the extract of bitter-nutty fenugreek leaves that warm the body. The Indian-cultivated leaves are flown weekly into Malaysia, testifying to Yogesh's devotion to produce that best reflects his homeland.
Kabir (Great) honours the spicy-sweet-sour rasam, regarded as India's greatest soup, poured over scallops and radish, another root vegetable for long winters. The rasam is a shining star in this degustation, deep and dense in flavour - it's no surprise that many guests rank it among their most memorable in this meal.
Gaia is fifth in line: Some 80 micro leaves and herbs commonly consumed in India sprout over soil created from a blend of edible roots, from beetroot to radish, carrots to sweet potatoes. A respectful illustration of how India has eternally relied on Mother Earth for sustenance, this is as raw and real as the land's harvest gets, its fragrant, from-the-fields nuances lingering persistently on the palate.
FLOUR gets its ducks in a row for its sixth course, Three Ducklings - succulent, swooningly savoury poultry, house-brined and smoked, accented with three flavours, one laced with year-end French black truffles, another with winter berries and dates, the last with orange jelly to refresh the taste buds.
An interlude: While the degustation dinner is nothing short of filling, guests can also add on a Spanish suckling lamb shank with biryani and pomegranate curd at this point (RM120 surcharge).
The cordero lechal - unweaned, pasture-raised lamb - is more mellow than any other lamb, full-fleshed nonetheless but achingly succulent with an unmistakably delicate flavour of lamb, elevating the traditional pairing of biryani and yogurt. The presentation of the shank bone to guests by the table is an extra touch reminiscent of time-honoured French dining.
Returning to the degustation, lucky number seven sees Japan Meets India for yellowfin tuna from the Land of the Rising Sun, served tataki-style with a gentle sear, laid atop turmeric leaves instead of nori, with a sauce of Bharata-born mustard on the side instead of wasabi.
Yogesh packs a lifetime's worth of experience and expertise into poetry on plates - the food is easy to enjoy but there's more than meets the eye to appreciate, like an intricately plotted novel that's only fully comprehended through contemplation. Even the five-week-aged mustard sauce here has its own singular story, an ambassador for India's art of spice-fuelled fermentation, not banking on salt and sugar for the process.
The final savoury course yields Satisfaction, another firm favourite for guests - soulful sophistication in a spherical reinterpretation of India's dal-with-rice staple. Masoor dal - split red lentils - enrobes a ball of rice cooked with coconut and star anise, with a sharp, pronounced resonance of spices, comforting in character, surprising in spirit.
We end our degustation with our bellies bursting and our heads swirling with Yogesh's commentaries on how food is relished in India, tales of rum-saturated cherries and blueberries that pave the path for a beautiful baba au rhum, soaked in rose water, cinnamon and star anise, with a dusting of raspberry powder, rounded out with rum-soaked raisins and seeds of nectarous pomegranates to embody winter. A glossy orange circle of pure persimmon in its own juice, with no added sugar, epitomises this season as well, preceding a finale of chocolate and banana, coupled with a choice of bourbon or masala cha.
All in all, FLOUR's metamorphosis marks a quiet revolution that could be underestimated, free of flamboyant flashiness. But it's tremendously thoughtful, taking us on an epic culinary quest that's bewildering sometimes in its complexities and complications - but perhaps that's precisely what the cuisine of a country of 1.4 billion people deserves, with centuries' worth of contrasts and contradictions that can never be resolved.
Many thanks to FLOUR for having us back.
12, Jalan Kamuning, Off Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur. Open Wednesday-Monday, 6pm-11pm (closed Tuesday). Tel: 012-960-0053