From Ice Comes Fire
I have never muttered the words "French-Indian cuisine" before, but I'm glad I now can. In a span of a month, I've dined at Flour twice. Once to try the restaurant's Himalayan region-inspired '21/'22 winter menu (RM880+) and the second time to experience its Indian coastline-focused '22 summer menu (RM780+).
Full disclaimer, I've never been to Flour in its original form in Damansara Heights. Yet, I've heard both praises and faults. As a first timer, perhaps I'm a good candidate to experience Flour in its current iteration?
I say this because Flour's chef Yogesh Upadhyay, who everybody refers to as Yogi, is very much integral to the restaurant's guiding principles in the kitchen and the whole customer experience. To dine at Flour is to submit yourself to the artist's creative processes and train of thought. And here, Yogi kindly asks that you leave your previous perceptions of his food at the door to fully enjoy what's he's trying to accomplish with his restaurant today.
I was actually just about to start writing my review on Flour's winter menu when Yogi reached out and invited me to make a return visit. Why? Because, as he explained, the only way I could better understand Flour's food was to experience it in its different seasons. Intrigued, I accepted.
Thus the idea for this unorthodox review of Flour came about. Little did I know until I recently finished dining at Flour for the second time did I have the opportunity to pit apples to apples in a menu-vs-menu examination of the restaurant's ethos. Rarely has the chance to write about a restaurant's progression in such a short manner of time presented itself to me. In my experience, I've only ever had the chance to witness and measure a restaurant's growth in years or months rather than days. So, take what you will; I'm just giving you the fine print.
We'll talk more on the other side.
For consistency and easy comprehension, in each section all photos on the left (or that come first) are from the winter menu and all images on the right (or that come last) are from the summer menu.
Named earth and sea, the opening fanfare to both of Flour's winter and summer menus were identical, except that the successor (photo on the right) came enhanced with an additional item – caramelised onion purée with bafun uni. Otherwise, the dishes were similar in every way except the quality of caviar used, which was royal beluga for the winter menu and ossetra for the summer. From an elemental standpoint, however, the idea behind the dish was the same – high-grade caviar served with a seasoned coconut espuma, curry leaves and a rice cracker on the side.
I much preferred the successor over the predecessor. Where the elegant salinity of the royal beluga was masked by the green, bitter spikes from the curry leaves in the first version, the ossetra fared better because its bolder flavours stood out in the second version. The coconut espuma – svelte, airy and unmistakably coconutty – on its own was a fine, almost neutral vessel. As was the lightly seasoned rice cracker, providing crunch and texture. But throw in a more substantial base dish and add another bite of top-grade bafun uni into the picture, you already know which version is coming out the winner.
On top of getting more bang for your buck with the summer menu, Flour also served six novel "snacks" – a puffed potato crisp, a taco, a savoury sponge cake and three types of tuile-like pastries – in the lead up to the summer menu's earth and sea. This appetiser did a fantastic job warming up the tastes buds before earth and sea was was eventually served in the summer menu, whereas in the winter menu the dish was served right after tucking into the breads.
No Soup For You!
Pardon the playful jab in the title above. The dish on the left was titled "this is not soup", and I just couldn't resist sneaking in a reference to one of the best Seinfeld episodes. Now that we've got that out of my system let's get back to the experience.
Still don't know what I'm talking about? Hit the link in the title.
Jokes aside, the dish on the left consisted of a deliciously plump Polish portobello in a spiced vegetable stock that Yogi told me was derived from a hearty Himalayan winter stew typically made with either pork or beef. The chef instead chose to focus on flavours from root vegetables as the basis for the broth, using the gentle heat of Szechuan peppers to complement the elegant earthiness of the portobello and the full-flavoured broth. It was at this course that Yogi proudly informed me that most if not all dishes on the winter menu do not contain salt, which meant that each dish's success more or less hinged on the ingredients used.
If that sounds bold yet difficult, that's because it is.
Fortunately, this dish made such an impact on me during my run-through of the winter menu that I half-jokingly declared it the best dish on the menu right after finishing it. My dining companion concurred. Simple as it may seem, that thick, hearty mushroom-root vegetable broth was so flavourful and soothing to the body, providing a gentle warmth that I didn't know I needed until I had it. I could completely envision how this would invigorate a person's energy after a days spent out in the cold. In fact, this dish still ranks pretty high on my list when put up against all the other dishes on the winter menu.
That's not to say the shorba served wasn't good. Oh no, it was actually rather tasty. Just not as powerful as "this is not soup". Again, chef Yogi goes out of his way to create something befitting his wild vision of French-Indian nourishments. The tomatoes, imported from Spain, are lovingly piquant. The smoky, clear tomato broth hides scallop pearls, spherified scallops that take the texture of beans. This nourishing broth was served with a focaccia on the side, introducing a hard, textural contrast to complete the dish.
From The Ocean It Came
One commonality I discovered between my experiences at Flour was that there was at least one knockout seafood dish. For winter, although it's hard to see underneath all that cauliflower and green pea foam, it was the sun-dried octopus. Flour opts to dry the mollusc in the sun for two hours using a Greek method that draws out the water content from the octopus while enhancing its salt content. Again, no salt was used in this dish.
The octopus was firm with a mild umami taste that was succeeded by a salty aftertaste. The dish felt fresh on the palate; the green pea foam and cauliflower mash used to counter the octopus' salinity occasionally popped thanks to the cheeky use of roasted Spanish red peppers hidden beneath the waves.
While perfectly delicious as is, the knockout seafood dish for me was Yogi's ode to Kerala on the summer menu. Take sweet and plump red king crab, a deceptively delicate and lightly spiced coconut sauce, top that with a melange of tempered spices brimming with flavour, toss in two bite-sized rotis, and you get the idea.
This was easily my favourite dish on the summer menu. Despite a whirlwind of cooking intricacies, spices and flavours in the bowl, everything felt perfectly balanced. I gladly lapped up this dish spoonful by spoonful, roti by roti.
Flour's use of game meats is quite masterful. Case in point, I've tasted four different dishes that are spot-on delicious – partridge, goat, venison and lamb. While two out of the four may not necessarily be considered game animals, they still feature a certain gaminess to the taste. Something worth mentioning is that Chef Yogi tells me that he enlists the help of a hunting family in Spain to obtain the high-quality meats featured here.
Let's start with the charred suckling goat. Fed for 30 days only on mother's milk, the young goat was barbecued using a mixture of southern Himalayan spices. Each diner gets a different cut, and I received the rib. The prized cut had a beautiful texture and was lightly charred with incredibly tender meat and a gentle heat that grew to a comfortable climax the more I tucked into the dish. The flavours were there, but it was surprisingly mild. I still respected Yogi's creative direction to focus on natural flavours as is without the use of salt, but I couldn't help but wonder how it could have strengthened the entire experience.
The basis of the suckling goat dish was similarly echoed in the summer menu's spice roasted young wild partridge. Albeit leaner than the goat, the partridge was just as smoky and spiced, delivering flavourful forkfuls that frankly didn't need the morel sauce and sultanas. While I typically like morels, the sauce added a certain earthiness and sweetness that stole focus away from the patridge. Here, the bird's inherent tastes were more pronounced yet balanced, and I didn't feel the same sentiments for salt as with the charred suckling goat.
Both dishes are essentially uncomplicated, but become so much more thanks to excellent kitchen work and a deep understanding of which spices best bring out the qualities of each protein.
The following mains were equally top-tier excellent – venison steak served with a brown sauce called "the hunt" and suckling lamb shank, pomegranate curd and biryani.
The former used a 100% lean cut but was so flavourful that I felt bamboozled after taking the initial bite. Despite not featuring fat in the cut itself, the meat was exceptionally tender with a satisfying meatiness. The venison itself was only slightly gamey, its taste accentuated by high-grade Sarawakian black pepper and enhanced twofold when eaten with the accompanying brown sauce made from venison jus, root vegetables and onions. If the portobello and vegetable broth takes first place on the winter menu for me, the venison comes in at a very close second.
So important is this next dish, as Yogi told me, that if his kitchen cannot make this that night, he will cancel reservations. Yes, diners have the choice to add this to their dinner for an additional RM150.
The lamb shank on the current summer menu was exceptionally cooked. I distinctly remember tasting and feeling the spices used to season the meat increase with a gentle ferocity with every mouthful. The biryani is also praiseworthy. Flour ingeniously uses two types of well-known biryani styles – Hyderabadi and Lakhnawi – to deliver a welcoming surprise attack. The top layer was dry and slightly brittle, while the bottom layer was moister and flavour-packed, giving you a multi-textural sensation with every spoonful if you scoop up the rice from top to bottom. And then there's pomegranate curd to balance the heat with a much-needed tanginess to round this all off, which I'm told also acts as a healthy digestive.
The Age Old Question
One's pasta, which isn't very French nor Indian, and the other's rice, which hits closer to home. Both dishes were actually pretty awesome.
Let's start with the gnocchi. Once again, Yogi chose to omit meat in favour of hearty vegetable ragout for the winter menu, which worked well with the gentler semi-sharp sweetness of shaved mimolette. The gnocchi itself was playfully chewy, with the distinct taste of barley being a refreshing element. The only thing I didn't like about the dish was the addition of freshly shaved winter truffles, which I think weren't necessary.
In the summer menu, a similar dish gets the truffle treatment. Flaky and buttery black cod was served alongside rosematta rice with snap peas and a thick shallot sauce. Where did the truffles come into play? On top of the rice.
Everything about this dish (save the truffles) is a winner. The rosematta rice had a lovely sweet and buttery taste with a texture similar to that of barley or Job's tears, with aniseed and sea peas adding to the overall natural sweetness of the dish without upsetting its light mouthfeel. The cod was flaky and delicious, becoming even more flavourful when I poured a spoonful of that decadent shallot sauce over it. So truffles, in my opinion, were absolutely unnecessary. But hey, you know my stance on this luxury ingredient.
Dungeons And Desserts
While desserts at Flour come in three courses, I focus on the two highlights using the same fruit – the Kashmiri white apricot. Naturally sweet in just the right amounts, the apricot's desirable qualities really shone through in the winter dish's ice cream iteration. The ice cream's elegant sweetness was balanced with pistachios, a bit of tart yuzu rind and a crisp, thin honey tuile.
The summer menu dessert incorporated the apricot in a different form, choosing to instead use it to flavour the crème anglaise in a soufflé. The taste was there, the apricot's sweetness supported by orangey zest and aromatic vanilla, but the texture was anything but light. What I got a was a tasty albeit heavy sweet treat.
Thoughts And Tastes
Which Was The Better Experience?
I much prefer Flour's summer '22 menu over its winter '21 offerings. Yogi told me from the start that Flour's cooking aims to give diners a culinary sampling of his interpretation of India's rich food culture and seasons. And I believe him after experiencing a dramatic tonal and energy shift as Flour progressed from winter to summer.
The winter menu presented foods that fittingly reflected the diet of those who lived in frozen, mountainous regions. The meal's progression was slow and deliberate, while the dishes themselves were raw and robust.
The winter menu felt like gourmet food for a mountaineer on the Himalayan ranges with access to region-specific spices and seasoning. The summer menu was a different beast altogether, highlighting brighter, more vibrant flavours and seafood with a much tighter course progression that peaks high at the lamb shank biryani course. The energy one gets with the summer menu's pacing is more vibrant, with a generally stronger lineup of dishes. Not to mention that the base price for the summer menu is also RM100 less.
As someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, I could sense the passion and reverence Yogi had for food as he explained every dish, answered my questions, and accepted criticism whenever I voiced my thoughts on both menus. While I may not have agreed with everything he tried to achieve with the end of the winter menu, I could certainly respect it.
Let's Talk Prices
Flour isn't cheap. The winter menu started at RM880+ without any supplementary choices, with an optional natural wine pairing for RM495+. The recently launched summer menu starts at RM780+, with an optional natural wine pairing for RM495+ and the option to add the fantastic suckling lamb biryani dish for an additional RM150 and the spiced roasted partridge for another RM150.
That's RM1378+ and RM1575+ for the full winter and summer menu, respectively. Per person. If you can afford having the full monte at the restaurant, I recommend that you do pay it a visit with such a strong menu. The winter menu might have been a harder recommendation but the summer menu, as how I experienced it, is a much easier sell. Especially with that excellent lamb biryani.
The wine pairings on both accounts were actually pretty fantastic. There's a great selection of natural French red, white, champagne and rosé that do a great job at enhancing the overall flavour profile of the dish or refreshing the palate for the next bite.
The Artist's Temperament
As I mentioned at the start of the review, dining here is to go along for the ride with chef Yogi in control at the helm. I've seen his face light up with childlike amusement when I managed to pick up what he tried to achieve with certain dishes. I've also seen him when he's in full concentrated artist mode telling you how your meal will fare better because of the changes to the menu that you'll only discover when a new dish comes served instead of the one as listed on the menu. I can see how some people can admire or be taken aback by such a personality. Say what you will about Yogi, but he's a good showman who isn't shy to stick to his guns to pursue his vision. And as a fellow creative, I can jive with that.
Whether you enjoy Yogi's vision in 11 courses as a whole or not, or if you liked certain things but dislike others, like all forms of art that's for you to discover and discuss. I know that I enjoyed Flour's French-Indian cuisine, with the current summer menu being a knockout for me.