Oct 5, 2018
Pravda Parakkal, Being new to Melbourne, I am on that fascinating phase of exploring the city. Added fact- all my friends and family here are committed food aficionados. Which means, I invariably end up relishing some of the best flavours across the town every weekend. That is how I went past the lively Rathdowne Street in Melbourne’s bohemian suburb of Fitzroy and discovered ‘Shompen’ Dining room. I went inside pre-assuming an entrée of tandooris and spicy curries. But what awaited me was a crazy roller coaster of insanely divergent flavours and countless ‘whoa’ moments! Would you care to hop on this ride because I assure your taste buds will thank you later!

As we enter in to the cosy and relaxed space of colourful and artistic interior with starched white napery and wide front windows, Shaun Moorhouse, the restaurant manager greets us with a disarming smile. The service was genuine, warm and straight from heart. They were more than happy to explain the dish to us in detail and give suggestions. We went for the eight-course dinner with a bottle of wine each.  Every dish that came to the table was a visual delight.

The simple Indian Papadum was given a fascinating reincarnation as papadum cones filled with an assortment of fillings. As we savoured the black garlic crusted goat with pinewood smoked onions and the lobster and coral trout with coronation dhal, we could not help but daze at the careful thought and creativity that has gone into the crafting of each dish. With each dish,the chef kept outdoing himself taking it to a satisfying culmination of artistic fusion.

It was only natural that I requested to meet the hands that worked this wizardry. Thus I met the avant-garde cuisinier, the owner chef of ‘Shompen’, Vikram Kotamraju. In all its sense, ‘Shompen’ is not a conventional Indian restaurant. I was intrigued to know his story, for it is not every other Indian chef that chooses to stray away from typical Indian cuisine.

Vikram is a taste explorer, traveller and an entrepreneur. Hesays: “It is vital to me that the original essence of South Asia’s diverse culture is reflected in our progressive approach”. Each of his dishes is a testimony of this, each taking you through a journey as you discover incredible flavours. A graduate from the highly reputed Institute of Hotel Management, catering and Nutrition, Pusa, New Delhi, Vikrams menus/influence comes from his experience working for some of the best Restaurants in Melbourne and abroad including Sheraton Hotel Melbourne and Circa Restaurant. His vast experience in 5 star hotels and restaurants helped Vikram sharpen his skills in multi- cuisine.

He elaborates on his concept of food, “every individual element of food should be like a note complimenting each other to become a symphony of flavour and vibrancy”. And I should say that he did hit all the right chords! Assisted by Chef Andrew Whittaker, Chef Vikram’s culinary wizardry transforms the way we think about Indian cooking. His plating and flavours is inspired from his travels, adventures and experiences.Just like one of the delighting offerings at Shompen, the ‘Dhokla and pan seared Scallops’.It is conceivedback from Vikram’s time in Gujarat as a student at culinary school where he was working as a waiter then for a large wedding of the Ambani family, the Indian business tycoons. There Vikram witnessed the waiters offering little slices of ‘dhokla’(a fermented lentil cake) as a canapé with tempering and sprinkle of fresh desiccated coconut. It was so delicious with an incredible flavour. The acidity instantly brought to his mind lemons and the perfect partner for lemons, seafood. This memory takes a rebirth in Shompen as ‘Dhokla and pan seared Scallops’ when Vikram uses the bush herbs, sea banana, and see asparagus for a crunch and a hint of Nasturtium salt. The dish is finished with cucumber yoghurt and kokum to support the bright tanginess of the dish.

And just as I thought this couldn’t get any better, drum rolllls!!! Vikram tells us that the standards that has been set through ‘Shompen’ is now taking a step ahead as the restaurant is all set to unveil its new form under the name ‘Pagla’, meaning ‘the crazy one’, with a vision to create not only a culinary but also an unparalleled textual and visual experience. There cannot be a better name for this place which is a true punter’s dream and as much as it is, a place for adventurous food lovers.

As ‘Pagla’ is all set to unfurl in October, 2018, one can expect a space where diners can come to experience food that reflects a return to the roots of South Asian cuisine, where they can experience the food of the village refined and taken into the future. Through ‘Pagla’ Vikram envisions to bring a new perspective of South Asian food and elevate its place in future discussions surrounding Australian Cuisine. As a predecessor, ‘Shompen’ dining house indeed has set high standards and one can only expect it to get better with added south Asian elements in the décor and service.

They say a chef must think like a scientist, organize like an accountant and plate like an artist. And that is exactly what you will witness in ‘Shompen’.

Each plating is an artwork in its own, with flavours bursting as you devour, which makes every dish a unique experience. It has been a crazy journey for this head chef, delving into risky terrains of changing the preconceptions around South Asian food, true to the word ‘Pagla’.  However, it has well been worth it, with his work now being recognized by food enthusiasts across Australia. ‘Shompen’ bagged the AGFG Chef Hat for 2018 by the Australian Good food and Travel guide and was titled the “Best Progressive Indian Restaurant” at the Restaurant & Bar Awards 2018 hosted by Lux Magazine. It is the same reason why I chose to give our readers an insight into the transition of this culinary haven. Look out for the coming editions!
To be continued…

Shompen ...to...PAGLA Restaurant
401 Rathdown Street,
Carlton. Vic
Ph. (03) 9347 1991

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