FLOUR unveils new home, unleashes fresh formulas for Indian food
May 29, 2020
When the founders of FLOUR hunted for a new home to write their restaurant's next chapter, they found an abandoned colonial-era bungalow in Imbi, believed to have been built shortly before World War II.
Indian chef Yogesh Upadhyay and his Malaysian wife Natasha Ng glimpsed potential in that double-storey, dilapidated venue nearly a year ago and began renovations to open in early 2020. By destiny or coincidence, the house seemed roughly as old as Yogesh's first culinary inspiration, his eight-decade-old father.
While FLOUR's move from its three-year-old address in Bukit Damansara had long been slated for February, the past three months have pummelled everyone's plans. But now that eateries can welcome patrons back, FLOUR is ready for its rebirth, a restaurant to remember for a return to eating out.
FLOUR's new setting is remarkable, well worth the wait. Guided by Natasha, the transformation is dramatic and delightful (search for this location on Google Street View and you'll currently still see a crumbling site with a forlorn, for-rent banner).
A winged unicorn, gold-hued and life-sized, greets guests inside the entrance, a symbol of good fortune. The main dining hall beckons visibly ahead, complete with a trickling fountain and a full view of a 13-man kitchen, led by Yogesh - better known as Yogi - and his senior lieutenants from India.
Turn right and you'll sight a sleek, suave space, where velvet walls and tall mirrors exude pure plushness. On your left is probably the most popular section, a cross between a glasshouse and an old-fashioned English tea house, with the calm, verdant outdoors on display.
The locale holds other secrets, including two private rooms flanking the entrance, one lit radiant white, the other masculine in stately black like a Sicilian Godfather's personal chamber. And above everything, the spiral staircase leads up to a lovely loft whose crystal-clear ceiling shows off the city's shimmering skyline.
FLOUR hasn't just changed its postcode. Its revamped repertoire might be unrecognisable to many of us who first visited the original FLOUR in February 2017, jettisoning the stale, familiar cliches of Indian cuisine and jolting us with a revitalised, 21st-century perspective of what Mumbai, Meerut and Mangalore can offer.
The glossy book that is FLOUR's menu is a collection of curiosities, titled FLOUR Rises, with French overtones in categories like entrees and entremets. Fingerroots with carrots and beetroot? Mushrooms stuffed with olives and water chestnuts? Venison with chillies, ghee and ground coriander seeds? German-bred smoked duck with black lentils? Free-range chicken marinated with raw mango, or steeped simultaneously in saffron and papaya?
"It's modern. It's a totally new set of flavours. It’s food that moves forward from butter chicken, from rogan josh, from aloo gobi, from karahi chicken, from malai kofta," chef Yogi stops by to tell us.
We start with golden, gluten-free patties, their deep-fried crunch concealing a divinely sticky mash of sago, potatoes and spices (RM15 for four pieces of this vada, a light, appetite-whetting snack that Natasha calls her all-time favourite), and tandoor-cooked snake gourd stuffed with crushed peanuts and crisp vegetables like cauliflower (RM30 for five pieces). Bread baskets sit on the side, awaiting sauces - puffy-fluffy puri, unleavened with roasted semolina, alongside sorghum slices with a dense, firmly rustic bite, created with no eggs, baking powder or binding agents.
What makes this iteration of FLOUR potentially contentious is Yogi's refusal to play by safe rules. "Why would you come to FLOUR? Because you want to have butter chicken? No!" he insists. "You want sauces that you’ve never had in Indian cuisine, but it's still Indian food with its soul intact. You want to come with the mindset that you’re going on an adventure."
Out with murg makhani (the chief ambassador for Indian fare since 1948), in with FLOUR's roasted chicken leg heaped on a richly textured, savoury pumpkin sauce, lip-smacking to the bone (RM25). "I was tired of butter chicken," Yogi explains. "It’s impossible that there can't be another sauce made from a vegetable or a fruit to pair with chicken."
That concept is the through line for FLOUR's plates of produce, each ensconced on carefully conceived sauces that rely on herbs, vegetables or fruits not commonly chosen as sauces in Indian gastronomy, yielding sumptuously decadent bases in different shades of green. Nothing here is painfully fiery, so you can truly taste the nuances in each mouthful.
Yogi gets everyone to order the lamb chops, which take half an hour to cook, the crowning glory over a luxurious mint sauce unlike any other, as creamy as romesco (RM65 for four pieces). Even though FLOUR can't presently procure its coveted baby lamb from Spain, this is still carnivorously tender and convincingly tasty - elevated by the marriage of meat with sauce. The lamb is slightly more than medium-cooked, sacrificing sheer succulence to synergise with the sauce instead of tasting like two separate components.
Thought is also poured into the wine selection, compact but versatile enough to accompany dinner here, with palate-cleansing qualities for uplifting interludes in between the food.
Ingredients like foie gras and escargots might seem to lend a French air to FLOUR's artistry, but Yogi insists that snails are part of India's classic diet, tossed simply with heavy spices. At FLOUR, the earthy nuttiness of the escargots (RM42) is matched with a coriander sauce that's both salty and spicy - a sauce of which Yogi is proud to talk about with his Mumbai-based father, a former restaurateur who was supposed to visit Malaysia for FLOUR's relaunch.
"I told Papa, I’m making a sauce from coriander leaves," Yogi enthuses. "He said, how you do make a sauce from that? Then he imagined the taste, and said it would be good. That made me happy, coming from my dad, the biggest critic in the world."
That coriander sauce in a milder variation is also the foundation for what looks like palak paneer. But no spinach complements this fresh cottage cheese, purely coriander, brightened with orange rind and juice (RM26), Yogi says.
"When you want to bring a change to cuisine, your heart skips many beats. I have to ensure every dish that comes out is right, because it’s such a change from what people know. My heart is running and pumping. But my message is, don’t be scared."
FLOUR's overhaul of Indian cuisine is so quietly revolutionary, its definitions and distinctions can be lost on most of us for whom Indian food is like a third or fourth language, those of us who understand mentaiko and marinara better than masala. But whether we realise it or not, the lentil-and-fennel-packed bittergourd (RM28) is mutinously unconventional, shunning an onion-based sauce for its tandoor-smoked capsicum sauce, unheard of in 1900s-era India.
Likewise, no onions or ginger and garlic are part of the okra, made sourish with Greek yogurt (RM26), served at room temperature. The sliminess has been removed from these ladies' fingers, meant to be consumed immediately - let it settle after several minutes and the vegetable turns leathery. It's a polarising preparation, but if passion and prowess excite you about restaurants, prepare your taste buds for a thrill ride at the new FLOUR.
Yogi has obviously lost weight since we last met in December, but in spite of the stress, his fervour never flags.
It's late, but he tells us to have desserts of two different dairy interpretations - the first is his reconstruction of shahi tukda, a cloying dish he has always hated, fried bread dipped in sugar syrup, slapped on a plate with condensed milk. Yogi's ghee-fried rendition is buoyed by a topping of reduced milk, the product of hours of stirring, caramelised to a natural, non-fermented sweetness, swirled with strawberry puree.
Similarly, Yogi's gulab jamun has no added sugar - it's made with real milk reduction, fresh and whole-cream, set into a paste, aerated for sponginess, floral with rose water. Perhaps the most wholesome gulab jamun in the city.
Yogi realises the new FLOUR won't be as crowd-pleasing as before - a meal here is still characteristic of comfort food, but it now demands more from the customer, an open mind and a receptive spirit. He even forecasts that 40 percent of patrons may not favour the evolution.
"I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay. I'm trying hard to take my cuisine forward," he says. "Will Malaysia accept my food?"
12, Jalan Kamuning, Off Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur. Daily, 1130am-230pm, 6pm-10pm. Tel: 012-960-0053