Fine dining means more than just good (or great) food. It also involves atmosphere, service, ambiance, and an overall experience. Blue Ginger at The Taj West End epitomizes this feeling and a meal here is one for all the senses. With the bubbling water and rocks and bright flowers around, and the rustic outdoors setting, you can’t help but feel relaxed. As India’s first specialty Vietnamese restaurant, the place has a reputation that it constantly lives up to, with fantastic food, a lush, forest-y setting and pitch perfect presentation. Blue Ginger recently revamped its menu and an invite to meet the chefs and get a live lesson in making Vietnamese summer rolls was not to be missed! Vietnamese food, as I’ve said elsewhere, is one of my favored cuisines.
Chef Rishi talked us through the signature dishes and gave us a lesson in the preparation of Vietnamese cuisine, its key ingredients and how to handle said ingredients to maximum effect and taste. Chef Duong was the man behind the wheel, expertly dicing, slicing, rolling and wrapping. They import the rice paper wrappers for the rolls direct from Vietnam and other neighboring countries, striving to give Indian patrons an authentic experience – this is one of those things that just can’t be as good with substituted items. Chef took us through the entire process, from the soaking of the rice paper covering in water, to the adding of the perfect quantity of veggies and meats and the oh so important wrapping tightly step so as to be bale to have a well packed roll that would retain its shape and not fall apart when cut.
We were also guided on the “proper” way to eat different things. There were two of the well-known salads, the raw mango and the raw papaya – the Vietnamese variants are less potent than their Thai counterparts but just as delicious. In fact, on a hot summer day, I can happily make a meal of just the salads. These were laid out with fried rice crackers, vegetarian and prawn flavored. Using a cracker as your spoon, all you had to do was dig into the bowl of salad, something I did with gusto, though the prawn was a tad too strong for my taste. There were a few different sauces to dip our rolls into, including a super peanut one, a plum sauce, and a chilli one. The rolls had fillings of crisp fresh veggies, rice noodles, roast duck, crunchy fried shrimp, water chestnut, asparagus and shitake mushroom – all yummy though the duck one was my favorite. Apart from the summer rolls, we also ate fried rolls, Nem Ran as well as rolls that forgo a glutinous cover in favor of lettuce. Fillings included chicken, water chestnut and bamboo, mushroom, and had the beautiful flavors of chilli, lemongrass, basil and more. I would have been quite happy to eat another round of rolls and then head on home, but there was an entire 3 course meal ahead of us!
Vietnamese cuisine has a detectable French influence, thanks to French colonization and this was clear in the Grills – hot appetizers that started off the sit down portion of lunch. Beautifully prepared proteins with tangible but minimalistic additions that allowed the meats to shine – prawns, lamb chops, chicken and tofu with the now familiar chilli, lemongrass, lime leaf flavors were made short work of. The mains included a fiery Franco influenced Vietnamese red curry with Baguette bread, Stir fried prawn with tamarind sauce, Stir fried chicken with lemon grass and chilli, Asian greens, Trio of Mushrooms and a beef dish. Jasmine rice and rice noodles accompanied these dishes, of which the chicken and mushroom ones linger in my memory, though all were beyond good. We of course ended on a sweet note, with Jelly with coconut cream and fruit with rose petal ice cream. Every aspect of this dessert was beautiful, from the made in-house ice cream to the yummy jelly with coconut cream – exactly the right note to end a multi course meal on!