When I first dined at Flour last year, I was taken aback at the pull-no-punches attitude and candour that its chef-owner Yogesh Upadhyay (or Yogi as everyone calls him) had for his approach to Indian cuisine and his ethos as a chef. Since then, I have dined at Flour a few more times and got to know the boisterous chef a little better in the process, along with the contemporary creations and narratives he tells through the canvas that is his restaurant. And I have come to realise several key tenets that make Flour one of the most exciting fine dining establishments in town.
First and most noticeably is Flour's attempt to challenge convention, which gave me a newfound respect for the rich roots of Indian cuisine and Yogi's work as an artist. I've always loved Indian food, or what we as Malaysians have come to define as Indian food. More specifically, the food loved by our Indian brothers and sisters who have help to shape the cuisine for us here in Malaysia with spices and flavours that predominantly hail from the southern part of the sub-continent.
Because I didn't get the chance to dine at Flour until 2022, the only restaurant in town (to my knowledge at the time) paving the way for modern Indian cuisine to evolve was Nadodi. And so I dined, tasted and critiqued two of Flour's seasonal menus last year and ultimately left happy knowing that Kuala Lumpur had yet another champion bold enough to push the boundaries of Indian food and had the chops to do so.
Secondly were the educational experiences that I began to associate with each subsequent visit to Flour, whether it was to taste food from a critic's point of view or to chat with Yogi over craft beers about gastronomy with my journalism cap equipped. Since my inaugural visit, never have I gone to Flour without learning something new or exciting about Indian cuisine, modern cooking techniques, and even the current state of gastronomy in KL, for Yogi isn't just a chef, he's also an artist, and quite the conversationalist.
And it was precisely that last reason I called Yogi up a few months ago to appear in a feature I was writing for June's issue of The Peak for a story on the business side of being a chef-owner. My interview turned into a review once the conversation ended, and just before I tucked into dinner there, I looked at the menu, called Aarrambh (meaning origins), and noticed that it had the words "part one" written at the top and realised that what I sat down to have on this menu was just the beginning.
It wasn't until I sat down for the following "part two" menu, called Parivartan (meaning evolution), that everything began to click. When dining at Flour, I've learned that one must respect the chef's vision for the menu and his creations to work. One has to trust the process, and in time, both during the dining experience and after, in hindsight, it will make sense. To resist is to deter, and to deter is to diminish what Flour as a restaurant brings to the table.
Flour's Year-Long Gambit
The two menus I had at Flour in 2022 spotlighted different regions in the Indian subcontinent. Yogi decided on another creative direction for 2023, choosing to instead play around the concept of time. This year, Flour intends only to serve two menus. These two menus are two halves of a culinary narrative that explore the way Indian cuisine, rich and diverse that it is has evolved – starting from ancient times up to today's contemporary influences.
As someone who can only admit to having a rudimentary understanding of Indian food, I will say that I do have a natural curiosity to taste and learn more about one of the world's oldest cuisines. And so, after experiencing both menus, Flour's 2023 gambit to weave millennia and centuries' worth of culinary advancements in India, both at an agricultural and gastronomic scale, into a two-part narrative has paid off.
Take the dish above as an example of what I just mentioned, a dish that appears on both menus. Called mango lassi, it's a creation so zany that it challenged my perception of what the beloved yoghurt drink could be.
You see, Yogi's process of creation isn't very orthodox. The man told me that he dreams of his dishes, wakes up, and quickly writes them down before they fade into his subconscious. And this dish, like many others served at Flour, was created in the same fashion.
So I thought to myself, "ok, this is going to taste like mango lassi with caviar on it," based on visuals alone. But the chef pulls a few tricks to alter how his mango lassi tastes in the mouth. First of all, no yoghurt was involved, and the chef uses a touch of cream to give the "lassi" a slight bounce in the mouth. Secondly, there's harumanis pulp on the bottom to switch things up texturally. And lastly, let's not forget the prized Royal Beluga caviar crowning the dish, an ingredient that replaces the salt element of a lassi.
Before I took a bite, everything didn't seem like it would work to me on paper, which may be an opinion that stemmed from my preconceived notions of what a mango lassi should actually taste and look like. Funnily enough, the dish did, in fact, taste like mango lassi. But it wasn't like I was sipping mango lassi from a cup from a straw, no.
For starters, the mango lassi had a bounce and texture thicker than greek yoghurt. Thanks to the high-quality harumanis mangoes from Perlis, the mango taste was pure, and sweet and dominated the overall flavour profile of the dish, as expected. Introducing the caviar into the mouth is where things got interesting. The elegant salinity of such high-grade caviar surprisingly worked in harmony with the sweetness of the mangoes, creating a salty-sweet combination that I thoroughly enjoyed. Two small basil leaves add an herbaceous aroma to round out this exciting duality.
Ker sangri, a signature dish of Rajasthani cuisine made using ker berries and desert bean (sangri) that was born out of necessity during an ancient famine, had received a significant reimagining at Flour. Appearing in both the Aarrambh (part one) and Parivartan (part two) menus, Flour uses organic French beans, Spanish asparagus, feta cheese, curd, raspberries, and tamarind to create a cold salad dish that's refreshing with a mild dose of umami and zinginess.
Keralan delicacy konju moilee (curried shrimp) was one of the numerous menu-exclusive dishes that only appears on Parivartan. This delicious plate utilised tempered chilli, coconut and curry leaf sauce to embolden a masterfully smoky and charred prawn. Simple yet bursting with flavour, this dish was an excellent example of Flour's part two menu exhibiting the willingness to recreate beloved Indian foods.
The dish "kebab" similarly echoed this theme of evolution, throwing out what I thought I knew was a kebab while keeping all the elements of what makes a kebab a kebab. Save for the meat and everything else, really. The result? A unique smoky, yoghurt-forward, garlic-butter flavour train that all comes together with each mouthful you take.
The absolutely delicious white apricot tart served at the end of Aarrambh showed the same ingenuity, perhaps foreshadowing Parivartan's arrival now that I think about it. White apricot compote resting atop diced Gariguettestrawberries and purée, lavender honey, and shaved almonds make for a truly decadent finish to part one. The white apricot and strawberry duality features two different types of sweetness that were incredibly palatable, bowties by the crunch of the almonds and the lingering floral taste of lavender honey.
Every rice dish I've had at Flour always pleases in spades, and the wazwan course from the Parivartan menu was no exception. Featuring pilau rice, rogan josh and dum aloo, three parts of a whole that complemented one another, every bite between each dish, with the rice serving as the medium, was a luscious orchestra of flavours that harmonised beautifully no matter which order I enjoyed them.
You Have To Experience It To Believe It
This is by no means one of my orthodox reviews, where I usually give readers a blow-by-blow account of my dining experience in an attempt to emulate the dining experience in writing. The way I broke up each section, without a chronological history of the dishes I enjoyed across two distinct yet complementary menus, was intentional, mirroring my mindset that jumped across timelines as I recalled and reflected on my time at Flour this year.
Because Flour's 2023 vision is one that I believe is difficult to explain in words, it's a dining experience that I feel shouldn't be overlooked, imparting new creations born out of love for classic and ancient Indian foods that have sustained such a large and diverse nation for centuries.
For those who enjoy Indian food, I highly recommend visiting Flour if you haven't done so already. You may no longer be able to try Aarrambh, as that chapter is now closed. However, you still have the chance to experience Parivartan, where the restaurant's dextrous breaking of the rules of Indian cooking without disrespecting the foundations laid before since the dawn of the civilisation is itself worth your money and time.