Seated along Syed Alwi Road, opposite the bustling Mustafa centre and smack in the heart of Little India, is the unsassuming Chindian restaurant Copper Chimney. Yes you read that right, I did just say Chindian. It is exactly as it sounds, essentially Chinese Indian cuisine that originated from the Northern Eastern part of India bordering China. It is this, together with great traditional Northern Indian dishes, that makes Copper Chimney stand out amongst the multitude of Indian restaurants in Singapore.
We were invited to taste the 10-year-old establishment's revamped menu that's been fine-tuned by its current CEO, Vikram Natarajan.
Vikram grew up in Mumbai, where Chindian dishes were considered street food. Largely influenced by the Northern Indian and Chindian cuisines of his childhood, it was natural for him to focus on these two common cuisines when taking over Copper Chimney 2 and a half years ago. The new menu is interesting split into Chinese Indian and Nothern Indian offerings, with the former featuring dishes that can be served dry or with gravy for those having rice/breads.
Salt & Pepper Baby Corn, dry (S$9++)
To start, we were introduced to a few novel Chindian dishes. This dish, while seemingly ordinary, turned out exceptional in its complexity of flavours and textures. Fried in a pepper batter, then stir-fried with a mixture of garlic, pepper and soy sauce reminiscient of XO sauce, these little bites of baby corn were crunchy and shockingly addictive. If not for the explicit description, I would never have guessed that was baby corn! A truly stunning dish.
Chili Paneer, dry (S$10.50++)
Yet another excitingly innovative Chindian dish was this chili paneer. The humble Indian cottage cheese is here cooked with a familiar tangy Chinese chili sauce and a colourful medley of vegetables, resulting in a delectable fusion dish. It's delicious despite the simplicity, and definitely a dish any Chinese would gladly gobble down with rice. A dish that features a Chinese wok-fry method and Indian ingredients, it's the perfect amalgamation of cultures.
Chicken Tikka (S$12) - flavoured with Malai spices
If traditional Northern Indian dishes are your thing, then Copper Chimney's selection of tikkas are sure to please. With an extensive variety spanning fish, lamb and chicken, one's definitely spoilt for choice. I especially like how Copper Chimney offers guests 3 options of flavour marinades, namely Hariyali (mint, yoghurt & spinach), Malai (cream, ginger & garlic), and Tandoori (yoghurt, lemon juice & spices).
We tried the Malai flavoured chicken tikka, which is less common but not to be overlooked. Flavoured with hung yogurt and a garlic marinade, the tender inner fillet came moist, tender, and so so juicy. Cooking it in the tandoor lent to a rich smoky fragrance, which only served to enhance the succulent flavourful meat. I've never had tikka quite like that; and can safely say this redefined what tikka meant to me.
But of course, what's an Indian meal without meats in gravies and amazing breads? Copper Chimney offers a diverse range of Nothern Indian mains, catering to carnivores and vegetarians alike.
The ubiquitous Butter Chicken (S$11.50++) Copper Chimney nailed, dishing up an amazingly creamy and smooth gravy that was both sweet and tangy, and generously specked with tender chicken pieces. What I found surprisingly yummy, was the Mutton Roganjosh (S$12++). Sporting a deep red hue, this aromatic braised lamb dish sees tender chunks of lamb cooked with a gravy based on browned onions or shallots, yogurt, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices. Brimming with flavours of fennel and ginger, the gravy was tangy, fragrant, and super addictive.
These saucey dishes go exceptionally well with naans or rice. We had the Garlic Naan (S$3.50++) which was crisp, fluffy, and topped with a healthy dose of garlic. For an interesting change, try the Rumali Roti (S$3.50++). Nicked the hankerchief bread, this hand-tossed thin flatbread is light, soft, and perfect for soaking up all that delicious gravy.
Veg Jaipuri (S$10++)
Besides the amazing meats and gravies, Copper Chimney also whips up wonderful vegetarian dishes. Essentially spring vegetables simmered delicately in piquant cream, this colourful Veg Jaipuri was aromatic, rich and simply bursting with flavours. It's delicious on its own, and even more amazing with some of that Rumali roti. Easily my favourite of the meal.
Gobi Manchurian, gravy (S$9.50++)
A popular Chindian dish in India, the Gobi Manchurian features lightly-battered cauliflower cooked in a savoury brown sauce that's intended as an accompaniment for rice. It may be a vegetable, but the battered cauliflower had a texture deceptively alike Chinese's sweet and sour pork - super intriguing. While yummy, if I had to choose between the vegetarian dishes, the Veg Jaipuri would win hands down.
Szechwan Noodles (S$11++)
Heartier Chindian mains are also available, most notably Copper Chimney's rendition of noodles and fried rice. Using Szechwan peppers brought in from China, and green chilli paste flown in from Calcutta, Copper Chimney attempts to recreate authentic flavours in their szechwan noodles and fried rice.
The noodles were pleasant, tasting very much like the Chinese fried noodles every hotel dishes up. I liked the generous amounts of sliced vegetables that lent a nice crunch to the noodles; however the flavours were a little one-dimensional and lacked that smokiness and depth we're familiar with.
Szechwan Fried Rice (S$11++)
The same could be said of their fried rice. Using 100% basmati rice, the albeit well-cooked and fairly tasty rice was too light-handed on the Chinese and Indian spices, resulting in a meek-tasting dish that doesn't do either cuisine justice. It wasn't horrible, just unmemorable compared to the other stunning dishes we've had.
Lychee Kulfi (S$7++)
For desserts, do give their kulfi a shot. The traditional Indian ice cream is made in-house and comes in three interesting flavours: pistachio, rose, and lychee. We tried the lychee flavoured kulfi which was light, refreshing, and a great end to the decadent and rich dinner.
Sizzling Brownie with Ice Cream (S$7.50++)
But for those who don't mind an equally sinful ending to the meal, the sizzling brownie is the perfect choice. This is probably the best brownie I've tasted. Think freezing cold ice cream, moist and chocolatey brownie, topped with a luscious fudge that sizzles and spits on a hot plate. No it's not novel, and yes it may not be Indian, but it's nonetheless absolutely delicious.
Stuffed to the brim after the feast, I was invited to have a go at making the Rumali aka hankerchief bread! It is very interesting how the chefs are able to expertly stretch, toss, and fling that dough about without having it torn to bits. Mine of course had holes in them. Shame on me.
Snippets of my disastrous attempt, and a shot from the full video Copper Chimney took here.
Suffice to say I've found my new favourite restaurant for Nothern Indian food - not simply for the curries and classics, but for the novel and innovative Chindian dishes that so impressed during the tasting. While not all the dishes are perfect, some requiring a little adjustment to the local palate, the ideas and success of other dishes are more than enough to pull me back again and again.
100 Syed Alwi Road
Mondays to Thursdays & Sundays: 11.30am-12am
Fridays & Saturdays: 11.30am-1am