KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR / ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Sometime last year, Puan Sri Gita Menon found herself with a lot of spare time on her hands. Her kids had flown the coop, leaving the family home much quieter than usual. So Gita sat and thought about what she wanted to do with all this extra time and came to two realisations: 1) she loved food, so, 2) why not open a restaurant?
“I suddenly found that I had nothing to do. So I thought – ‘Okay, I like food and a lot of my friends are starting restaurants, so let me try that.’ And that was it,” she says.
A prolific home cook, who learnt from both her mother and mother-in-law (both of whom live with her), Gita initially opened a tapas restaurant called Mr Tush in July last year (2016). But she soon realised there was a niche market for modern Indian food served in a funky environment. So she did away with Mr Tush, refurbished the space and came up with a brand new restaurant called GinRikSha in January.
The name GinRikSha refers to the traditional jinriksha carriage, although the term extends to rickshaws in general. To Gita, this humble vehicle represents the ultimate in reliability. “To me, it’s mainly about the rickshaw driver, the guy who takes you to your destination, come hell or high water – through floods and everything. That’s the kind of ethos that I’m trying to follow here,” she says.
Gita came up with the menu, with most of the recipes coming from her family’s vast culinary repository. The chefs she has employed are often deployed to her home, where they are taught how to make heirloom recipes from scratch, under the watchful eyes of her mother and mother-in-law.
WHERE: 37 Ground Floor, Plaza Damansara, Jalan Medan Setia 1, Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur
OPEN: Mondays to Saturdays, 11.30am to 3pm and 5pm to 12.30am. Closed on Sundays.
TEL: 03-2011 1266
She also spent (and continues to spend) hours on the Internet, searching for recipe ideas and variations, which she then tries out at home.
“I didn’t want to be called another Indian restaurant. Our food is Indian food with a modern twist or modern food with an Indian twist – depending on how you like to think of it,” she says.
As a result of all that experimentation, the menu is teeming with a panoply of unusual options. Like the popcorn tempura (RM14 or S$4.50), which is basically sweet corn fried in a light tempura batter.
The concoction sounds deceptively simple, but wait till you sink your teeth into these addictive little morsels. The tempura batter is crunchy and the corn kernels sort of burst in the mouth, offering sweetness and crispiness with each mouthful. This is the sort of intoxicating treat that will have you yearning for more.
Then there is the mango chicken pappadams (RM18). Gita and her team originally served this mixture of grilled chicken, mango, cucumber, coriander and yoghurt in taco cups, until one of the chefs came up with this inventive idea. The pappadams make ideal receptacles for the other ingredients, adding a light crunch and touch of saltiness to the fresh-tasting filling.
Another offering that successfully marries Indian flavours with a traditionally Western concept is the butter chicken poutine (RM22). Poutine is a classic Canadian dish, and Gita's version has been given a distinctly South Asian spin; a creamy butter chicken is used instead of the usual cheese curds and gravy over French fries.
“We thought butter chicken is something that everybody loves because it’s comfort food. So why not make butter chicken, use that as our sauce and put it on top of this? So we made it and everybody loved it, it was an instant hit,” says Gita.
And Gita isn’t overselling the dish either, because as it turns out, it is a winner. Although fries and butter chicken sound like strange bedfellows, their union proves a meeting of kindred spirits – the creaminess of the butter chicken atop the salty, crispy French fries is likely to inspire a huge fan following (and perhaps some copycat versions too).
The varuval quesadilla (RM34), on the other hand, seems to be a quest for fusion that has inevitably turned into that dreaded confusion. The dish pales in comparison with its peers, as the cheese totally overwhelms the mutton varuval, subduing it to such an extent that it is almost indiscernible.
The chicken pot pie (RM20) marks a return to glory. This chicken stew is Gita’s mum’s recipe – a Keralan dish full of chicken and potatoes and lots of onions topped with a flaky, doughy pie crust. The delicious crust yields willingly to a filling of rich, creamy stew and is the stuff you’ll dream of on those rainy days when a hot pie seems like the only thing that could possibly satisfy your cold, weary soul.
If you’re after something spicy, the Kerala shrimp (RM38) ticks all the right boxes. The voluptuous prawn pieces are coated in an array of fiery spices, topped with roasted coconut. The prawns offer lots of rich flavours (and the promised spiciness) in spades.
For dessert, try the chocolate bread and butter pudding (RM18). The pudding is soft and dense, interspersed with chocolate flavours. If you’re a purist, you’re probably going to feel like this isn’t quite as good as a traditional bread and butter pudding, but let go of those preconceived notions and you’ll discover an interesting offering in its own right.
GinRikSha also has a wide drinks menu, incorporating specialty cocktails that make for great after-dinner night caps. Like the gin basil smash (RM38) which is made up of Hendricks gin, lime juice and basil leaves. The drink has strong herbaceous flavours, and is fresh and refreshing from the get-go.
Then there is the midnight kiss (RM26), composed of Malibu, Blue Curaçao, grenadine and pineapple juice – a fruity, tropical drink that brings to mind images of sunny beaches and hot days and is perfect for those looking for a shot of escapism.
Gita says that GinRikSha has totally cured her empty nest syndrome, and she is so rarely at home these days that her mother and mother-in-law have started complaining. It is evident that this passion project has turned her love of food into something far more meaningful.
“I love the fact that people come here and tell me, ‘Your food is amazing'," she says. “I think it’s worth it just because of that.”