Seven years ago, I was a youthful 19 year old backpacker taking a summer vacation from university, and living in the heart of Little India. It was during this three month vacation in Singapore, that I first discovered Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant. I can't take credit for discovering Gokul, as it was actually my girlfriend who found out about this place, and subsequently brought me there. Seven years ago Gokul looked completely different. Now, in 2013, Gokul ranks as arguably the most popular vegetarian eatery in Little India, which attracts a diverse range of customers. Regular readers of my blog will know how highly I rate Gokul - I wanted to focus this latest Gokul review on their new look menu, and uncovering how 'vegan friendly' Gokul is.
Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant
Location: 19 Upper Dickson Road
Opening Hours: Daily 8.00am-10.30pm.
Lemongrass Juice. Although the price may seem a little excessive, I was impressed by the flavour and attention to detail of this drink. Visually, it really looks delightful. There is a piece of lemongrass, pandan leaf and sprig of mint all floating in the cup. The whole lemongrass is particularly useful in allowing you to stir around the liquid. The more you stir it around, the more lemongrass flavour is released from the stem. The juice is actually made up of a number of fruits - Instead of telling you, perhaps it would be more intriguing for you to order this drink yourself and attempt to guess. A little costly, but a really refreshing drink that went perfectly with the food.
Price: $5.00. 8/10
Soup Tulang. This is a perfect example of a dish you will never find anywhere else other than Gokul. This is essentially a Malay 'mutton' soup. The soup is thick and the flavours are very earthy. Spice wise, this is a very mild soup. The toasted bread acts as an ideal tool to dip inside and soak up the delicious soup.
Price: $6.00. 8/10
Roti Jala. This was a first experience for me, as I've never eaten this dish before. Visually, it looks as if an idiyappam has bred with a dosai. This is a crepe-like snack that is typically made with coconut milk powder, turmeric (where the yellow colour comes from) and egg - However, Gokul have managed to concoct roti jala without the use of any eggs. The texture of this dish is crunchy like a dosai, but a lot more chewy. It goes perfectly with the chutney and curry that was served with it. Roti jala is a Malay dish that you will literally not be able to find anywhere in Singapore (at least not a vegan version of it), so certainly customers should make the most of this rare opportunity, and order this dish. Personally, I still prefer dosai - But it was still interesting to sample this dish.
Price: $6.00. 7/10
Most of the bread items at Gokul are totally vegan, one of those being Romali Roti. The name romali roti can be translated to mean 'hankerchief bread', it gets this name due to the thin layers of paper-like texture that each piece has. The texture of this bread comes from the mixture of two flours (atta and maida). This bread must be eaten fresh and hot, when the elasticity of the bread is still at its best. It is a versatile bread that goes well with any curry, and particularly well with food cooked in the tandoor.
Price: $4.00. 8/10
Claypot Malabar Briyani. The term 'malabar briyani' refers a rice dish coming from the state of Kerala, it also can be known as thalassery biriyani or kozhikode biriyani. This is not a traditionally vegetarian briyani, as 'thalassery' was actually a olden time sea port in India, needless to say fish features heavily in the traditional version of this dish. Gokul have managed to effortlessly covert this briyani into being totally vegan though. The rice is presented in a claypot, with pineapple, mock meat and a variety of whole garam masala spices lurking inside. The light and fluffy briyani is accompanied by a rich tomato curry, and a selection of sliced cucumber. The tomato curry was a particular highlight for me. Gokul curries just seem to have a superior flavour and aroma, compared to any others that I have tried. Top notch rice dish.
Price: $12.00. 8/10
Baingan Bartha is a dish that almost everyone will know. This dish has literally hundreds of different variations, depending on which state/city/town you visit in India. Therefore, it is surprising that baingan bartha is actually a pretty difficult dish to find in Singapore. Considering Gokul do not use any onions and garlic in any of their food, it is an incredibly bold move to put this dish on their menu. Baingan bartha is typically known to depend heavily on the usage of garlic. This dish was probably my favourite of the evening, and I was really in awe of how the chef managed to achieve such a delicious baingan bartha, without the usage of any onion, garlic or dairy. Not only that, the eggplants were smoked expertly, which gave a sensational aroma throughout the dish. Presentation wise, once again this dish was impeccably served.
Price: $8.50. 9/10
Chendol seemed like a perfect dish to finish this delightful meal. The key to what makes a good chendol is very simple - The quality of the gula melaka (palm sugar) that is used. Good quality gula melaka has an intense taste, and lingering aroma. The palm sugar at Gokul was high grade and delicious. Another aspect of this dessert that I adored was the red beans, which were lurking at the bottom of the bowl. The beans were soft, mushy and sweet and almost resembled the texture of jam. I was also pleased with the coconut cream that was dribbled over the top of the mountain of ice. This cream was clotted and had superb flavour.
Price: $4.00. 9/10
Conclusion - I've said this before, and I'll say it again - The mark of a truly world class eatery is that every item on the menu is excellent. It needs to be stressed, Gokul is not merely an Indian restaurant. Inside the doors of 19 Upper Dickson Road are some of the finest Malay, Chinese, Western, Thai and Indian food you will ever likely eat. A restaurant like Gokul comes along once in a lifetime, and I feel lucky as a food writer to have eaten there so many times and enjoyed so many excellent dishes. The scary thing is, Gokul is getting better and better. As far as vegan/vegetarian restaurants go, this is the closest you will get to perfection.
Food - 10/10
Service - 10/10
Value - 9/10