Design Dish: Baba Ji – Curry Favor



“Go west, young man,” was the advice given to adventurers hoping to strike it big.  Chef Jessi Singh and his wife Jennifer Singh take that advice to heart, with the opening of Babu Ji in San Francisco. The restaurant, born in Australia and bred in New York’s East Village, showcases the couples unpretentious and playful approach to the food of India, Jessi’s native country, and signals a homecoming of sorts; the couple originally met in the Mission District.  

Inspired by both the bold flavors of iconic Indian street food and the bountry of Northern California’s produce and seafood, Chef Singh offers up his take on classic curries from Butter Chicken to Scallop Coconut Curry. As in New York, the Chef’s Tasting Menu features signature appetizers and Tandoor items, a thali-style curry platter served with charred naan, and desserts, like the signature Kulfi with cardamom, honey & pistachios. To complement the spicy dishes, a “help yourself” beer fridge is stocked with a changing collection of craft beers. Cocktails spotlight savory ingredients including beetroot, ginger, fennel, coconut, clove and cucumber.

The restaurant’s design draws inspiration from its namesake. “Babu Ji” is an honorific, bestowed on a neighborhood character. Here it belongs to a turbanned man with an oversized moustache, aviators rakishly askew, who beckons you inside the simple, modern space.  SF-based artist Jenni Witt helped curate design elements such as the metal flower garlands, brass wall installations from Oakland-based jewelry designer Shelly Harper and a watercolor portrait of “Mr. Singh,” created by Melbourne, Australian-based artist Rebeccah Power. Dark navy and green walls in the bar area, white walls in the main dining room, metal chairs and wooden table tops, a far cry from the white tablecloths of the Indian restaurants of yore, signal diners to expect the unexpected, whether that is in decor or in food.  

Babu Ji280 Valencia Street (at 14th St.) San Francisco, CA 94103, 415.525.4857