Penang-born chef Mano Thevar explains how his heritage flavors the cuisine of his two-star Michelin restaurant in Singapore
SINGAPORE, July 26 – There’s a delicacy to this dish that seduces the senses – the layers of thousand leafthe warm aromas of the butternut squash, the slow flow of the amber-golden sauce.
You imagine that you are dining in a classic French restaurant, and in the techniques employed, at least, you would be at least half right.
But the ingredients and cuisine presented here do not come from Europe but from the Indian subcontinent: the thousand leaf Features poriyal, a traditional South Indian vegetable stir-fry; the sauce is not a rich brown demi-glace but a lighter and tangier tomato sambartypically a luxurious pairing of lentils and tamarind broth.
Adorned with edible flowers and microgreens, the petals and leaves forming a little garden to please even the most cynical visions, this Poriyal Mille-Feuille, Butternut Squash and Tomato Sambar is exactly the kind of fine offering you expect. of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Make that two Michelin stars.
Located along Keong Saik Road in Singapore, Thevar recently earned its second Michelin star in the guide’s 2022 edition.
Penang-born chef Mano Thevar has won a second Michelin star for his classic and contemporary Indian restaurant, Thevar.
The restaurant, which showcases classic South Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist, only won its first star last year – a rising star on the regional dining scene, clearly.
Thevar is the eponymous restaurant run by Chef Manogren Murugan Thevar or Chef Mano as he is affectionately known.
The Penang-born chef believes in reinterpreting South Indian cuisine by pairing fresh local produce such as Bunga Kantan (ginger flower) with Indian spices, rather than rigorously trying to serve authentic Indian dishes.
Chef Mano recalls: “Growing up, I was never the studious type. I feel like Penang is known as the capital of delicious food, and growing up in Penang I was always interested in food and different flavor combinations.
Irish Oyster Rassam Granita (left). Lamb chops with cumin and coriander (right).
There’s no better candidate for it than his Irish Oyster Rassam Granita; the spicy South Indian soup turned into a chilled granita, which perfectly, albeit surprisingly, complements a freshly chilled oyster.
Of course, these aren’t all drastic reinventions: there’s something comforting about Thevar’s cumin-and-cilantro lamb chops; it’s something you would recognize or at least your taste buds would recognize.
Same with the restaurant’s signature Chettinad Chicken Roti. The Chettiars or investment bankers of yesteryear were traders in spices and this is reflected in this well-seasoned dish.
Fold the roast vertically to look like tacos is a nod to modernity, perhaps, but also makes for a worthy appetizer.
Chettinad chicken roast.
Chef Mano shares, “Ever since I was young, I always dreamed of working as a chef and one day running my own kitchen. Penang is a multicultural environment with lots of flavors to offer and I used to play with different combinations whenever I could when working in different kitchens.
These experiences have influenced some of his dishes such as his crispy Iberian pork wrapped in betel leaf, where the famous Spanish delicacy is rendered almost siew yoke style and instead of a crunchy heel (Spanish flatbread), a peppery taste dun sirih used to wrap meat.
Sometimes it’s about raising a humble dish. The popular street snack, kachooriis already elegant in its simplicity — a ball of dough filled with dal and fried spices. Chef Mano deepens the complexity with the shrimp masala, for a most sumptuous bite.
Crispy Iberian pork wrapped in betel leaf (left). Masala Prawn Kachoori (right).
Thevar is designed for communal meals; during a renovation, Chef Mano made sure to bring in larger tables to encourage sharing of dishes.
The Chef’s Table, a relatively recent addition, allows for front-row seating for specially curated menus.
Course by course, it becomes clear to the observant diner that Chef Mano’s own heritage and knowledge of South Indian cuisine he has brought to life colors – and flavors – every aspect of his cooking.
He explains: “My driving force comes from my roots and my interest in cooking watching my mother and grandmother cook in the kitchen from a young age.
“They always cooked traditional South Indian dishes which were really tasty. I wanted to take all this knowledge I had about South Indian cuisine and use it to create Malaysian-influenced dishes. “
Chef’s table at the front of the restaurant.
Developing new recipes like these requires a certain finesse but also thinking outside the box. Take Thevar’s signature carrot pani purifor example.
Chef Mano says, “I wanted to take an ingredient that people wouldn’t think twice about and turn it into something amazing. We use dehydrated carrots with spiced buttermilk; it acts as a cleanser for the palette between dishes.
Often, when we think of Indian cuisine, the first impression is that of spices. However, as Chef Mano is quick to point out, spices are not necessarily about Spicy or fiery heat but rather flavors. And the spice also pairs well with the sweet finish.
Because you always have to save room for dessert in an Indian restaurant, and Thevar is no different.
Choose your Pani Puri (left). Soursop & Aloe Vera Falooda (right).
Perhaps their Soursop & Aloe Vera Falooda will rock you with its tangy marriage of sweet basil seeds and velvety ice cream. Or perhaps Rasmalai’s version of Thevar – is there anything more decadent than this reimagining of the classic cardamom clotted cream?
Thevar’s menu is constantly changing, partly to match the seasons and partly to accommodate Chef Mano’s frequent bursts of new ideas.
The current menu features gems such as the Irish Oyster Rassam Granita and Crispy Pork Sambal Aioli, as well as updates to old favorites such as their Chettinad Chicken Roti, this time with duck as the poultry of choice.
Always save room for dessert: the Thevar version of Rasmalai.
What doesn’t change is Chef Mano’s insistence on always pleasing the people who have made all the difference, especially during the pandemic.
He says: “We prepare dishes that people can enjoy with their whole family. During this time I learned that our customers truly support us and without the support of our customers we would not be where we are today.
9 Keong Saik Road, Singapore
Open Tue-Sat 5:30 p.m. — late; closed sun & mon
Tel: +65-9750 8275