He's opened a string of popular "unauthentic Indian" restaurants in New York (Babu Ji NYC), Santa Barbara (Bibi Ji) and Sydney (Don't Tell Aunty). Now chef Jessi Singh is back in the city where his career flourished, and is set to open Daughter In Law in Melbourne's CBD.
"Melbourne has always been my home," he says of the city where he launched Horn Please, Babu Ji St Kilda and Dhaba at the Mill (he's no longer involved with the restaurants). He says Daughter In Law will be his most "unauthentic Indian" restaurant yet.
"There's no such thing as authentic Indian food. Indian food for me is what my mom cooked for me all her life from recipes passed through the family," says the Punjabi-born Singh. "What we know in the West as Indian restaurants is British-Indian food."
To wit, Daughter In Law has a very contemporary take on Indian cuisine, sliced and diced with very Australian ingredients. Scallops are turned into a ceviche laced with coconut milk; while puri, the deep-fried shells of dough typically found in the street snack panipuri, comes filled with beef tartare, pomegranate seeds and green-mango powder. The tandoor gets a workout too: in goes a rib-eye to be served with curry-flavoured chips, as well as yoghurt-marinated Brussels sprouts, beetroot and mushrooms before receiving a final char on open fire.
Then there's the signature from the Babu Ji NYC menu: naan pizza. Of the six on offer, Singh nominates the blue-cheese naan pizza as his favourite. "We bake the naan and put the blue cheese inside it, with a sauce on top of beautiful cherry tomatoes, onion, ginger, garlic and garam masala," he says. "It starts in the tandoor and then goes into our pizza oven."
The dining room riffs off the kitsch and glam style of his Sydney restaurant Don't Tell Aunty – the light fixtures are gold, the walls are dusty pink and the banquettes covered in emerald-green velvet. Bollywood films will also be projected onto the walls during service.
The self-serve drinks fridge – another fixture of the Sydney restaurant – is populated with Kingfisher beer, as well as drops from local microbreweries. The wine list, selected by Sacha Imrie (Marion Wine, Builders Arms Hotel), focuses on small producers making biodynamic and organic vino. And the restaurant's tasting menu comes with a drink-pairing option.
As for the name, Singh says it refers to the trope of young brides who enter arranged marriages, but aspire to more than domestic duties. "No one listens to their story, no one respects what a huge decision they go through," he says. "It refers to smart, young women who break the barriers.
"The daughter in law doesn't stick with the traditional – she's a young modern woman and we're honouring that. That's the reason we're serving steak, tartare and ceviche."
Daughter In Law is set to open on 19 June, 37-41 Little Bourke Street, Mon-Fri noon-3pm, 5pm-late, Sat-Sun 5pm-late, daughterinlaw.com.au