After a wildly successful eight-month-long residency at the Mandala Club, Indian chef Gaggan Anand is finally opening a restaurant here. Architect Amanda Gunawan, who helms the interiors, gives us a first look.
Two years ago, while in quarantine, chef Gaggan Anand wrote a story of a Mexican girl, Ms. Maria, and an Indian boy, Mr. Singh, who meet and fall in love. This tale of romance and adventure would later materialise into a restaurant, its narrative unfolding in a comic book that is also the menu.
Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh debuted in Bangkok’s bustling Ekkamai neighbourhood in March 2020 to much fanfare. It was – as Gaggan described in a social media post – a “curry house dream” come true, complete with big, bold, home-style Mexican-Indian flavours. Signatures include Gaggan’s Crab Curry, Pork Vindaloo Tacos, and the Maria Singh Fish Tacos, which are best paired with two complementary boozy shots.
These much-raved-about dishes are now served right in our own backyard with the opening of Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh on Craig Road. Tasked to design the buzzy Singapore outpost is architectural firm OWIU (short for The Only Way Is Up), which took special care to highlight the whimsy and play of Gaggan’s literary and culinary works in the space.
Says OWIU founding principal Amanda Gunawan of her client, “Gaggan knows who he is. He’s always on. Because he is so specific in his vision for Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh, it leaves very little room for emptiness and surprise. How do we level up from the restaurant in Bangkok? That was the challenge.”
Whereas the first chapter embodies the headiness of a budding romance with bright, eye-popping colours, the second imagines the fictitious lovebirds as life partners and culinary veterans, reflected in a more refined, fully-matured menu, design and associated storyline. “In creating this new iteration, we really delved into the characters,” says Amanda, who is also this year’s Prestige 40 Under 40 laureate.
“Ms. Maria is Mexican from Oaxaca and Mr. Singh is from Jaipur. We immersed ourselves into their cultures and interests to better translate their story into a visual form. We wanted to bring together the two cultures in the space, yet keeping them distinct.”
Amanda goes on to distinguish the two: “Mexican and Italian cultures are similar but also so different. Both use a lot of bright colours, but the colours are different. Mexicans tend to have more red, yellow and orange, like the warmer brights. The Indian colour scheme, on the other hand, is cooler, with blues, purples and greens.”
Staying true to the vibrancy of the brand, the Singapore outpost establishes a continuity with its predecessor by drawing on a similar, but more muted, colour palette – but that’s about where the similarities end. Here, Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh have grown up, their space exuding polish and charm.
Draped across the ceiling are swathes of sarees procured from Little India as an ode to Mr. Singh’s heritage. The brightly coloured, overlapping window panes on the walls are, too, a nod to his city, Jaipur. As for Ms. Maria, her presence is felt most in the open kitchen, where beautiful Talavera tiles wrap the base of the counter and some of the walls.
Given OWIU’s past projects, which leaned towards modern Japanese minimalism, the new Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh came with a radically different brief. However, the design team still manages to leave their signature around the restaurant, which will have a smaller menu of 25 items, including some exclusive to Singapore. “Gaggan had set these parameters for us,” adds Amanda. “He wanted windows, Mexican tiles, Indian motifs and Mexican colours. One feature we gave our own spin to was the blue and yellow walls, which were Venetian plaster with a feather finish.”
The clean lines, raw wood accents and calming ambience are also elements OWIU is known for. “Singapore being the second episode of Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh, Gaggan wanted the space to grow with the characters,” she explains. “So even though the restaurant is nothing like what we’ve done before, the approach is the same. In every project, we have to have the OWIU tenets: thoughtful execution and careful construction. We care about the intention; the purpose of design. We view all of our spaces like an orchestra. There is the strings section, the conductor, etc, and all of them are good individually. Then, when they’re together, they create a symphony. That’s also how Ms. Maria and Mr. Singh come into being. The narrative, food and atmosphere come together to form an experience.”
Considering how Gaggan Anand keeps on selling out his seats, this experience, though different from the first, is looking to be a smash hit.
This story first appeared in the Nov 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore.