Sri Lukshmi Naarasimham Vegetarian Restaurant has always, in my mind, been eclipsed by its more polished neighbour, the much-adored MTR 1924. Nonetheless, there is something about Sri Lukshmi that lodged in my mind and impelled me to make my first foray into the electric world of Andhra cuisine (the stuff of Andhra Pradesh, home of Hyderabad). It’s South Indian food with a twist, as the dominant flavours are a visceral blend of searing spice and sour tanginess. A chilli-tamarind tag team is used to kick the curries into shape, and your tastebuds into the back of your throat. After nearly nine years of grazing in Singapore, I finally got the feeling that the training wheels were off: a place for the uninitiated Sri Lukshmi is not.
Upon entering, one is enshrouded by a well-fanned fug of sweaty feet and unwashed dishclothes. Action appeared to be suspended, and most of the patrons appeared to be sitting, watching, waiting. One server ambled around, taking an order here, clearing a table there, settling a bill when necessary. The laid-back atmosphere actually belied an incredibly attentive style of service. Nothing fussy, just an uncanny ability to pre-empt needs, and to explain things when the brow registered the slightest cloud of confusion. The feeling was one of balance, equality, mutual respect. The value of the customer was met by the worth of the server in his approachability, helpfulness and sympathetic insight into this most tempestuous of Indian cuisines. I rather liked it.
The South Indian meal (SGD 8.60) was such an obvious choice that we decided to complement it with a rava kitchida meal (also SGD 8.60). The difference between the two was in the starch – the former boasted white rice (annam), the latter a slightly sweetened mound of semolina fried with vegetables and cashew nuts. To be frank I found the flavour combination of the latter to be rather disconcerting, especially when paired with the curries (sweet, spicy and sour? Steady on…). The curries themselves were beautifully constructed and looked delicious but, as expected, almost Machiavellian in flavour. Fiery hot accents and a sweeping sourness dominated all except the dhal. This stuff is not for the faint of heart or weak of palate. The tingling started from the get-go, and it’s one of the few Indian meals that I have eaten where I actually used the accompanying curd as a necessary crutch to help see me through to the finish. Dynamite.
Not only were the flavours strong and single-minded, but so were the accoutrements – a tamarind-infused sambal and ghee, glorious ghee. The ghee was for the rice, the sambal for the semolina. I found the sambal a little too salty, to the extent that it muffled the (almost) refreshing tanginess of the tamarind. And the ghee – to be brutally honest – scared me a little. I’m happy to have the chef – someone that knows what they’re doing – add ghee to my food, but to add extra? To say I didn’t trust myself would be an understatement.
In all, I found Sri Lukshmi to be a place that is both familiar and familial, even though I had never been there before and was new to the cuisine. The service was gentle and subscribed to its own standards, which made the whole experience wonderfully unique and personal. The food pushed me to the very edge of my comfort zone, and it’s the overall sense of pushing the envelope of understanding (and) taste that will be my reason to return.
Sri Lukshmi Naarasimham Vegetarian Restaurant
438 Serangoon Road
Open 07:00-15:00 & 17:00-22:00 Tuesday-Sunday; CLOSED Monday