[Penang] Tamil dinner at Fire by Shankar

Fire by Shankar is the latest upmarket Indian eatery in Penang, but the first to specialize in Tamil cuisine. Despite Tamils making up almost 80% of the Indian population in Penang, and Tamil being the most commonly-spoken Indian dialect in the state, there hasn’t been any fine dining Tamil restaurant in town … until now. Prices are steep, higher than even the usual Mughal/Northern Indian fine dining eateries.

But what one gets at Fire by Shankar is perhaps the finest Tamilian cuisine in the country: awe-inspiringly ambitious cooking, yielding some of the tastiest Southern Indian dishes we’d ever encountered, not just in Penang, but the country!

The restaurant is strategically located in the posh Straits Quay mall and marina, catering to a large expatriate populace in the area.

Fire by Shankar is the eponymously-named restaurant of Penang-born corporate trainer and motivational guru, Shankar Santhiram, who also happens to be a hardcore foodie who knows how to cook up a storm.

Service was exceptional here - an amazing breath of fresh air from the usual family-style Tamilian restaurants in Penang with their nervous, hesitant waiters. Here at Fire, our waitress could confidently banter with the customers, and served out food & drinks promptly, whilst explaining each of the items.

Our dinner consisted of:
Mutton meatballs (kola urundai) - little orbs of sheer deliciousness. Just wished there were more.

Okra and sour cream (vendikkai pachadi) - lightly-spiced, its sourish tang was not something I looked for. Won’t be ordering this again.

Chettinad brussel sprouts masala (kalaikose masala) - ordered by one of my dinner companions. Not something I’d order again.

Grilled Chilean salmon with spiced coconut cream spinach - very rich sauce, which complemented the perfectly cooked salmon steak.

Grilled cauliflower steak, with chimichurri sauce, served with arugula-pomegranate salad. Beautiful dish, and one I’d return for.

Curry leaf prawns (karuvepillai yeral) - deliciously-spiced, very fresh prawns.

Masala lamb chops - flame-grilled NZ lamb chops, served with spiced cauliflower, arugula-pomegranate salad, and mint-yoghurt dressing. These were done medium well, but still too gristly for our preference.

Mutton burger - spiced ground mutton patty, caramelized onions and garlic aioli, served with hand-cut fries. Mildly-spiced burger to suit all tastes, executed perfectly.

Home-style ghee tosai (veetu nei tosai) - DO NOT ever miss this - singularly the best tosai I’d ever tasted in recent memory: crisp, grainy-textured, and the ultimate taste sensation. Best thing ever in today’s dinner spread.

Desserts were rather shaky, compared to the confidence exuded by the main courses. Perhaps Fire needs to get a good patisserie chef to complement the rest of its very competent kitchen team.
Pandan panna cotta - badly-shaped, tasted quite nice, but not enough pandan fragrance to lift it out of the ordinary.

Carrot halwa was also pretty pedestrian and lacked the “wow” factor that one had expected here.

Prices are quite stratospheric, but you get to taste the best South Indian cooking in this part of the world.

Fire by Shankar
3A-G-19 Block A Ground Floor, Straits Quay, Jalan Tanjung Tokong, 10470 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-493 0911
Operating hours: 12 noon to 3pm, 5.30pm to 11pm, Tue to Sat;
12 noon to 4.30pm, 5.30pm to 11pm, Sunday.
Closed on Mondays.


There seem to have a been a few dishes that were “off the mark” for you. Shame - as they look really good. Burger looks great and a bit of a surprise to find it in amongst all the obviously South Asian dishes.

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Interesting. There are a few dishes here that I would not order if I saw them first. Which is nearly a first for the reviews you post, Peter.
Mutton is a dish I have had a few times that were less than appealing, but it sounds like it is done right here, which makes this a dish I would gladly try. The grilled cauliflower and the lamb chops look good. I love lamb chops so that is a no brainer for me. The burger is intriguing for being unlooked for.
Thanks for another great review!

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I was at dinner with a couple of friends, and one of them ordered for all of us. :joy:

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What really surprised me was to find a rib-eye steak amongst the main courses. A first for a Hindu-owned Tamil restaurant here? It’s supposed to be very good, so I look forward to have that the next time I’m there.

Malaysian-Tamils, by and large, and despite their close cultural and religious links with Tamils in India, are much more liberal in their thinking and attitudes. Two centuries of life in Malaysia, and their constant interactions with the Malays and Chinese in British Malaya do change their way of thinking and lifestyle in many ways.


By agreement, or… :joy:


Compared to other fine dining, or compared to other Indian? (Dave Chang had some interesting / valid comments about expectations of what cultures should have inexpensive / expensive food, which always makes me think about menu pricing for non-western food.)

Very cool.

Menu seems like an eclectic mix of traditional dishes you might not find outside a home (meatballs, okra) and reimagined dishes and sauces with non-traditional ingredients or preparation (sea bass, cauliflower).

Quite a recommendation @klyeoh

I don’t know why indian restauarants the world over struggle with this! There is such a vast pantheon of delicious indian sweets to draw inspiration from, and yet, they almost always just fail at dessert.

Not really. :joy: :joy: :joy:

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That’s what I was afraid of

ETA: Curious what his Sunday tasting menu would be like. The regular menu looks really good!

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My favourite local place merges kulfi and falooda into a lovely dessert - basically falooda with a “stick” of kulfi in it. It looks like something the cat dragged in but it tastes fantastic. I’m usually too full from previous savoury dishes to want dessert but, from time to time, moderate myself so I have room for this. But what does disappoint is that here, along with most other Indian restaurants, there’s sticky toffee pudding on the menu. I mean, it is a nice dessert but does it have to be quite so prevalent wherever you go.

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That sounded like a dream, John.

Having travelled to Chennai (formerly Madras) on a few occasions, I must say that the finesse of Tamil cooking there is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. I had these at Southern Spice at the Taj Coromandel, one of the city’s finest, a few years ago.

I still dream of going back there.


Oh my. What a spread - and what a treat.

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Kulfi falooda is a legit and popular dessert (Badshah in Mumbai is the grandaddy of falooda, if you find yourself nearby someday) – not one of mine, though :joy:

I’ll take a good kulfi any day (though sadly “good kulfi” is an oxymoron in the US).

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Indeed. But you don’t see it in the UK, although you regularly see them separately on menus. The restaurant specialises in Mumbai street food so maybe no surprise that it’s on the menu here.