THERE are meals that are the stuff of dreams and meals that should be. But when the two don't coincide, disappointment is inevitable. Curry Tiffin at Singapore's Raffles Hotel dates from 1892, when Raffles' Armenian proprietor, Tigran Sarkies, opened its Tiffin Rooms. These days it is a tradition, an institution even, comparable perhaps with tea at the Peninsula or a bellini at Venice's Harry's Bar. So it was with high expectations that I approached the maitre d' at the Tiffin Room's entrance in the refurbished Raffles lobby. He cautioned me it was a curry buffet. The waiter took my drink order - and it was mostly downhill from there. At first sight it was a varied and colourful spread. But if the view was mouthwatering, the tastes were less so. Blandness may be excusable given the range of palates, some probably unadventurous, being catered to. But just how the chefs have managed to make such diverse dishes taste so similar is a mystery. From the bland, creamy sauce on the paneer masala, to the grey, unappetising floury dhal hara moong, to the two mixed vegetable curries, the prawns in a tangy (well that's what the sign said) sauce and the fish in coconut cream, regional specialities from across Southeast Asia were reduced to a virtually interchangeable series of bland and creamy concoctions. Yes, there were good points. The little vegetable samosas were mild but full of delicate flavour. The murgh mirch masala featured a rich sauce, and this chicken, though far from melt-in-the-mouth, was more tender. The prawns dakhsin, with chilli and onion, was the hottest item and tasted of its spices, rather than that universal taste. The desserts were the real let down. A combination of Western and Asian, they ranged from a poor attempt at a fruit crumble, the top too crumbly, the bottom so glutinous I couldn't identify the fruit, to a cheesecake that bore a startling resemblance to those in the supermarket freezers. The Indian bread pudding tasted like cotton wool, the grapes on the fruit platter were spotty. But - thank goodness - the creme brulee was a triumph. That the Tiffin Room is a charming and historic place to dine there's no doubt. The green outlook, the bustling waiters, the attractively laid out spread all enhance the air of occasion. But the food simply isn't good enough. This may be Raffles but it is, after all, a restaurant first and foremost, and I go to restaurants primarily for the food. The atmosphere and history I can soak up in the lobby - for free.