As you approach GinRikSha, it’s hard to know what to expect.
You’ve read a little bit about it. ‘Modern cuisine with an Indian/Asian twist’, says the media kit. Then there’s the name, GinRikSha. Pretty much sounds like a portmanteau of the names of three college mates having a field day with a Marketing 101 assignment. The media kit further explains. Jinriksha, the Japanese term for rickshaw is behind the inspiration, with the rickshaw puller being the focus – a man who will transport you through ‘hell or high water’. This is followed by a schpiel about how dedicated they are to their people. ‘Gin’ comes from the fact that their bar is a key aspect, with a ‘super’ mixologist at the helm. ‘Sha’ is the first three letters of ‘share’, a reference to their menu of tapas-like sharing plates. Marketing 101.
Nevertheless, you understand. The rickshaw is an Asian icon and this will colour the flavours. With a plan to change the menu every six months, shifting its geographic focus, the plan is to keep you guessing. But for the moment, the skew is on Indian, with unexpected integrations with Mexican (Varuval Quesadillas), Japanese (Pop Corn Tempura -just corn not popcorn) and Canadian (Butter Chicken Poutine) influences, amongst others. Despite the disparate influences, it’s easy to imagine how well the flavours will go together. A hot varuval with melty cheese and a tangy salsa? Yum. Creamy spicy butter chicken hot-poured like lava over crisp french fries? Heaven.
You navigate the leafy streets of Damansara Heights to Plaza Damansara where GinRikSha is located. The restaurant evokes the same feeling of not being able to put a finger on things. The green canopy and gold lettering on the exterior calls to mind an Irish pub. Outside, there’s the modern equivalent of white wicker seating commonly seen in beachy or garden settings. The interior is as eclectic as the menu. Turquoise walls with orange banquettes anchor the colour palette. You look up and see bicycle wheels (think rickshaw) in complementary colours, reminiscent of Indian fabrics. There’s a peacock motif on the wall (echoed in the menu), Mexican patterns on the rug, glazed Chinese Celadon tiles on the bar (less celadon more swimming pool), and a wall of vertical (fake) greenery. Okay.
The restaurant is open, with overhead air-conditioning units. On a hot day, things could get a little moist, but on the whole the place is comfortable enough to linger.
You look eagerly to the menu. There’s a lunch menu, and a more extensive menu of starters and sides, along with dinner offerings. True to the ‘Gin’ in GinRikSha, there’s a list of interesting cocktails. You’re pretty impressed with the prices, ranging from RM3 for a side, to an average of RM20 for a main, with the price of a coffee at RM10, and the most expensive dish being the Slow-Cooked Lamb Shank at RM48, before the service tax of 10% (no GST yet!). Cocktails range from RM26 – RM38, before tax.
GinRikSha is great for civilised evenings where you might like to savour a cocktail or two (mocktails are also available) with good company before meaty conversations over shared plates. The resident mixologist, Cath, recommends her favourite – Cath’s Gin Ginger (RM35) with Tanqueray gin, grapefruit juice, a self-made ginger syrup and lemon juice, though according to her, regulars swear by the Gin Basil Smash (RM38), with Hendricks, lime and basil leaves. Other favourites include the Passion Fusion (RM35) with Aylesbury Duck vodka, passionfruit, lemon, mint and triple sec.
In keeping with the eclectic decor, you go with the Rassam Mary (RM37), a take on the traditional Bloody Mary, but with Aylesbury Duck, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and a twist of rassam (a spicy vegetable broth). Sipping through a straw, it takes you a while to get the full nuance of the cocktail, while the cool subtleness of the vodka slides over your palate. Though you understand why Cath has opted to let the rassam shine over the Worcestershire sauce, you can’t help but wish for a smidgen more. Of both the rassam and the Worcestershire, actually.
The highly recommended Quinoa Cranberry Salad (RM18) arrives as a spinoff of the Cucumber Raita. A little short on taste, it is nevertheless a great complementary side dish, particularly if you’re planning to sample the many curry dishes on the menu.
The Pop Corn Tempura (RM14) – fresh corn kernels deep fried with tempura batter is addictive. With the right amount of savoury crunch, and juiciness from the fresh corn, this is all you’ll be thinking about whenever you hear the term ‘Netflix and chill’. If you were to choose, it would likely be a threesome of you, your favourite show and the Pop Corn Tempura rather than a date to mate in front of the TV.
There’s nothing Marketing 101 about the Kerala Shrimp (RM38). A plate for sharing, the flavours – salty, earthy, sweet, spicy and sour – are balanced in equal measure. The shrimp has a nice bite though it is slightly overcooked. The dish is served with a multi-grain toast, but you would have much preferred a flatbread roti or the dish’s natural partner – rice. Only because the recipe for Kerala Shrimp contains a winning combination of masala powders (combining chilli, coriander, turmeric, pepper & fennel), kokum, curry leaves and coconut cream, which may not be as keenly tasted with toast.
You discover that the kitchen creates its own Garam Masala, ground on the premises itself, and all the syrups used in cooking or in the cocktails; a fact to be lauded. You also learn that the creative menu is the brainchild of one of the owners, Puan Sri Gita Menon.
The Mutton Varuval (RM32), another sharing plate, is professionally executed. A gripe you may have had with this dry curry, which requires the meat to sit simmering and be continuously stirred till the liquid in the gravy has evaporated, is that the result may end in meat with a hard, tough texture. Not at GinRikSha – the meat is flavoursome and relatively tender. However, again, the finer points of the curry, infused with cumin and fennel, are a little lost on the dense pieces of toast.
The Maharaja Plate arrives. It’s a lunch set priced at RM22, featuring the Beef Rendang Tok, once enjoyed only by the royals of Perak. (The option of Chicken Rendang is available at RM18). The dish is served with pickled vegetables in the style of a Mexican salsa, chili brinjal and kerabu rice. The set also comes with an iced tea and dessert of Crème Caramel. The rendang is divine to a fault. While the chili eggplant and rice complement the rendang, the pickled ‘salsa’ adds a delightful contrasting high note to the entire meal, and you can’t get enough of its sweet, piquant flavours.
The pièce de résistance arrives in the form of the Banana Leaf Baked Sea Bass (RM36), served in a paper pouch to seal in the juices, on a bed of basmati rice, and brinjal sambal. Hot clouds of steam emanate from the package and the aroma, infused with fragrant banana leaf and the spices in the sambal, is enough to make you happy. The texture of the fish is perfect. Despite the flavour-strong sambal, you can taste the natural briny character of the flesh, its purity left intact. You can’t seem to get enough of the basmati, coated to a sheen with the sambal.
Though you can’t possibly do any of the desserts on the menu, (you have one taste of the run-of-the-mill caramel pudding that came with the Maharaja Plate), you do top off the meal with a Masala Chai (RM12), expertly brewed by Alicia, the restaurant manager.
As you let the spices and sweetness round off the eclectic meal, you can’t help thinking that despite the many items from all over the world on the menu, GinRikSha is really a rather good place to get Indian food. Some of the mix could remain, (the quesadillas, the fries) but you can’t help imagining what further wonders the kitchen would produce, if it didn’t pretend it were anything else but an accomplished, highly-skilled Indian kitchen.
GinRikSha is open from Monday to Saturday (closed Sundays) from 1130am to 3pm, and from 5pm to 1230am. Last call from the kitchen is 30 minutes before closing.
Location: 37, Ground Floor, Plaza Damansara, Jalan Medan Setia 1, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone: +60 3-2011 1266
GinRikSha is now also taking orders for delivery! Call 11am – 2.30pm to place your order and they will deliver within 60 minutes.
All prices are accurate at the time of publication.
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