Jan 11, 2019
By Community Correspondent Beyond INDIA, This place is crazy. An Indian pony tail chef is emerging in Melbourne....Vikram Kotamraju.

We are living in Melbourne since last 35 years and we go for dinner in Indian Restaurants from time to time and we find no change, I mean no change in the taste of Indian cuisine at all. Same Malai Kofta, Makhani Dhal, Butter Chicken etc. Taste is same and presentation of dishes is also quite similar. Though we all watch Master Chef and notice how these immature chefs are presenting their dishes. Even in India, when I went last time to Delhi, I found the change in presentation of dishes, which gives the attractive look and feel like eating more. I noticed Bathura in the shape of a boat etc. We have tried the food of many Indian restaurants in different parts of Melbourne and other states as well & found more or less the same typical taste. May be some of the restaurants’ change one or two ingredients to look different but that seems to be not working. Most of the restaurants in different parts of the world have progressed and modernized in the look and presentation of food but unfortunately it is not the case in Indian cuisine in Australia. They are still the same old Nans & curries.

Whenever Indians want to take their local or overseas guests, they shy away taking them to Indian restaurants. Rather they prefer European, Mexican or even Chinese etc.

But now there is one Indian restaurant where Indians feel proud to take their guests to entertain. This restaurant is called ‘Pagla’, Carlton, Melbourne (Vic). which has come up with new concept. Chef Vikram has known with peers as PAGLA who dares to keep the Tradition of Indian dishes with different look and presentation. Now it is high time for change in the look and presentation of our Indian cuisine. We should start witnessing the progressiveness in taste and presentation.

A lot has changed in this suburb but Pagla is re-assumingly familiar, almost disconcertingly so. It’s a fun venue, abuzz with energy and packed to the brim; a place to see and be seen. There is something very humble about this unassuming Carlton restaurant with, arguably, some of the nation’s finest Indian restaurants. It’s an attitude that emanates from head chef Vikram Kotamraju and infuses everything.

Pagla’s high concept, highly technical food often sets out to surprise and deceive with dishes such as Paneer Korma that looks like beautiful red Truss Tomato, Coconut Rabri that looks like Pepper (and vice-versa); Quail egg and maple leaf that burst to reveal yogurt ice-cream. Dinner is a tasting menu. Each dish has been carefully crafted by Vikram to be complete and unique experience, from Tandoori Potato to Lobster. Elegant and complex dishes that you will probably find yourself compelled to describe in detail for months afterwards. His food has layers of crunch and crackles, mingles with salty explosions and silky sauces. Vikram’s formative years in India plays a big part with dishes representing landscapes and experiences that have influenced him throughout his life.

Fine dining restaurants are more casual than they have ever been and this one is no exception. Service is casual, a little more polished, relaxed and informal.

Pagla’s front of house run under the guidance of Shaun Moorhouse. Who’s also the manager in the restaurant.  He’s experienced in top restaurants including Rockpool in Melbourne.

Generally, birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations is the excuse to purge at a top tier restaurant. These spots do it better than anyone else. Pagla is one of those spots. In short; you bring the occasion and leave it to the staff to supply the special.

Vikram and Shaun are ambitious persons, who has vision of revolutionizing Indian cuisine. Since opened the Restaurant bagged 2 awards in a short span of time. Dishes are presented in such an innovative way that you would like to just look at these instead of eating.

Though Vikram has worked in popular hotels and restaurants but he always develops his own recipes and style.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to dig a little deep into Vikram’s past;

Born in Delhi. India

Vikram started his career as an apprentice waiter at Taj Group of 5-stars Hotels in Delhi. It didn’t take too much time to realised that he was more interested in watching the Chefs cooking and plating than Front of House. He fell in love with the white jackets and long hats. He used to stand outside admiring the chefs and cooks, all in line, coordinated and working in excitedly discipline.

He realized his passion is more in the kitchen than in the service.

One day, he went to executive chef and asked him to give him a chance to work in the kitchen as an apprentice chef. He was advised to enrol in a hospitality course. Then he decided that it’s the thing he wants to do, that it’s his direction in life. He enrolled into one of the reputable institutes named the Institute of Hotel Management, catering and Nutrition, Pusa, New Delhi.

After graduating, he started working with Kempinski Hotel in Mumbai as Chef Management Trainee for nearly 3 years. Due to family circumstances, he came back to Delhi and joined a French restaurant (Club De France) at Sheraton Hotel as Chef-de-partie.

At the time his family was living in Australia, so he came on a tourist visa to visit his family. He loved the country and became his new home. During those years, he travelled to America and worked with reputable restaurant under highly regarded chefs. As he came back to Australia, he joined Sheraton Hotel Melbourne Worked alongside chef Nicolas Polart. After his term in Sheraton, he was offered a position at Circa Restaurant at Prince of Wales hotel in Saint Kilda, under chef Matthew Wilkinson.

All these years working in various 5-star hotels and restaurant, Vikram sharpened his skills in multi- cuisine. All the knowledge he gathered, he decides to use it in his native cuisine. He found an opportunity to open his own restaurant in Carlton 401 Rathdowne street called Shompen in April’ 2017. By 1stJan’18 bagged two awards. ‘One Hat’ from Australian Good Food Guide and ‘Best Modern Indian restaurant in Victoria’ by Lux Group.

Shompen has been re-launched in Jan’2019 with a new name...” PAGLA”.  The cuisine is Indian, modern, artistic and progressive. Currently ‘Pagla’ opens from Wednesdays to Saturdays, from 5pm till 10.00pm.

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