Reprinted from BASEDtraveler Plymouth (www.BASEDtravelerplymouth.com)
Written by Emily Stewart
“Wetherspoons?!” I repeat incredulously. “Of all the places to eat out in Plymouth, you go to Wetherpsoons?!” Laxman Giri laughs in his reserved Nepali way. “Yes! I love fish and chips. It’s very British, you know. And the service is so fast. At other places you wait in a queue for a table, then ten minutes later someone takes your drink order…At Wetherpsoons the service is fast, the food is always good, and my friends can join me with no problems.”
Kind of like Ganges & Gurkha, I think. From the moment I enter the Nepalese and Indian restaurant at the entrance to Sutton Harbour I sense an emphasis on quality that I haven’t noticed elsewhere in the 25+ curry houses located elsewhere in Plymouth. Laxman and Sunil greet me at the door, offering me a cup of coffee for my interview with Laxman. Sunil is the newest employee, just moved to Plymouth from Barnstaple to work at Ganges & Gurkha. It is technically his day off but he stopped by for “coffee and water” then willingly helps out, more evidence of the work ethic displayed elsewhere at Ganges & Gurkha.
“I developed the menu myself, everything about it is my design and my cooking,” Laxman explains. He was trained under an Indian-Nepali chef in Scotland and has founded something like ten restaurants across England. Laxman used to be a bit of a wanderer, a single guy who moved where the work was. Now, he’s a proud husband and the father of two brilliant students. He’s been at the helm of Ganges & Gurkha for three years and couldn’t be more excited about its development in that time.
“This location has been an Indian restaurant for 45 years. Before we moved in, it never had a 5-star Food Hygiene Rating. It was #300 on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Plymouth. I paid careful attention to all of the regulations. Now, we are 5-star. And we were voted the best take-away in Plymouth and are #62 on TripAdvisor.” In fact, I had just checked TripAdvisor before visiting. “Actually, you’re #61,” I correct. He smiles. “Wonderful!”
Ganges & Gurkha is so successful that Laxman is opening a second take-away specific location in Devonport. For the interview and dinner, Laxman and I sit in an expansive dining room. Multi-hued curtains line the ceiling and beams, anointed with twinkling lights. Traditional music plays. Laxman tells me about intensive renovations, including redecorating the entry-way with decorations, a small bar, and low seating. Why did he want to separate from this traditional and tasteful location?
“I do prefer dining. I love to make the customer happy and it is much easier to do when people stay. We can help them with the menu, providing everything they need. If anything goes wrong we fix it immediately. With take-away, you only have one chance to do it right. People expect perfection. So, it is a bigger challenge.” Still, Ganges & Gurkha take-away is so popular the segmenting in geography and offering is a smart business decision.
Eventually, Laxman takes his leave of me. Not only is Laxman in the kitchen but he’s also delivering orders until it gets busy. He offers the reigns to his wife, who has just returned from puja in a nearby church and wearing her pink-and-orange churidar outfit, a bindi on her head and bangles on her wrists. I can’t understand how she’s working despite the fact that she’s fasting for the holiday, especially with the smells coming from the kitchen. Before Laxman leaves he presents my friend and I with drinks: A house glass of sweet and wet Merlot and a Makara Nepalese beer. The beer is one of our favorite tastes of the night. Priced at only £4.50 for well over a pint, it doesn’t taste like other Asian concoctions which are watered-down to suit Western tastes.
The beer and wine complement our starter course, an order of vegetarian and lamb momos. Laxman recommends the crispy steamed dumplings as a most traditionally Tibetan taste. Dipped in a lightly spicy sauce, my friend and I can’t decide whether we like the vegetarian or lamb better. The lamb momos are rich; one could easily pair them with a light side dish as their main course. The vegetarian make up for the lack of inner consistency with crispier exteriors. Although the momos are fried, they are not as oily as one might expect.
“We use less oil and preservatives than other Indian places and no artificial colors,” Laxman professes. In a city where “Indian food” is in some minds synonymous with “oily,” this helps set Ganges & Gurkha apart.
Only when we’ve completed the appetizer does Laxman’s wife bring a small candelit platform to bear our upcoming main dishes. It is while admiring the flickering shelf that I notice postcards laid underneath the table glass, showing images of Nepal and India. It’s a sweet and genuine touch.
Laxman recommends the Nepalese Butter Chicken and Tawaa Lamb. “No one has ever complained about the Nepalese Butter Chicken,” he says. “I prefer the Tawaa Lamb to other lamb dishes because it is soft and spicy.” Any meats can be ordered with bone-in or bone-out. An experienced bone-in eater, I choose chicken with bone-in and lamb without.
Although we attempt to demurely taste the meals, we soon repetitively spoon the curry-style concoctions, fragrant rice and punctuate it with garlic naan bread. We love the chicken because it is lighter and fragrant with coconut undertones. The lamb is savory, rich, and spiced; it is best stacked with simple white rice on a bite of naan. Both dishes are bright with complex after-tastes.
What we find most intriguing about the food is the conversation it inspires. My friend and I accidentally spend three hours over dinner, talking like Nepalese men in the mountains. At one point a small Plymothian family joins us at the next table over. They order a spread of starters and mains delivered at the same time, like Spanish tapas. Their barely table-height son devours everything as the parents chat.
Finally, my friend and I tear ourselves from the candles’ dying wicks. We are more than happy to pay a relatively cheap bill (as Laxman says, curry he serves for £9.95 is priced at £12.95 elsewhere). As I exit I ask Laxman the results of his recent fundraising initiative for Nepali Disaster Relief. “We raised £150!” he exclaims. Considering Laxman’s efforts were undertaken at a rained-out event and in coin-value donations, this was a feat. Laxman hopes to support more British-based community initiatives next. “The UK has been so good to me,” he says. “I want to help out.”