Gai’a has got the wow factor.
Forget the food for just a moment because you’re likelier to get taken in awe of Gai’a at first sight. My first trip to the Japanese Fusion restaurant in Lahore (on my last trip to Lahore) turned out to be quite the social scene as I bumped into Fawad Khan and his wife Sadaf, Humaima Malick, Iman Ali, Syra Shehroze and Zara Shahjahan within the one hour that I was there. Catching up with everyone got the better of my attention and so I made a second trip to do justice to do the food. Advice: make a reservation; this place usually has a long waiting list.
Here’s the thing: Lahore is infamous for getting awestruck by every new, swanky place that comes along; anything that has a reasonable level of ‘cool factor’ will have its attention until the next big thing comes along. But where casual fine dining is concerned, not many restaurants can claim to have made an impact as strong as Gai’a and I think this relationship will be long-term. Tucked away in Defense, it has become quite the celebrity hang out and one would have to credit the menu as its main bait.
Walking into Gai’a, you’ll end up withering away unless you were bright enough to make a reservation, in which case you’ll be led upstairs to the dining area. Notice that the level of lighting will vary from trip to trip, depending on the level of celebrity present. You know Fawad Khan is around when the place is really dim. The ground level is a bit more casual but beware that you won’t be permitted in if you’re wearing shorts; not even Ralph Lauren shorts.
Over to the food. When on starters, the Rock Shrimp Tempura is hard to avoid and I would suggest you not even waste time trying to avoid it. It’ll be a guaranteed mood-lifter. I would also swear by the Seared Salmon Tataki, an attractive platter that offers a delicate balance of flavours, teasing the palate with the zest of lime balanced with a miso glaze. Japanese fusion means that miso does play a predominant role in most of the food at Gai’a. For those of us who love this soy bean fermentation, a seasoning unique to Japanese cuisine, it’s a win win.
We also tried the Duck Salad, which was interesting at the time but also quite forgettable. Having experienced the quintessential Oriental Peking Duck in Beijing, I’ve been unable to find anything, anywhere that is half as satisfying. That said, you cannot make a trip to Gai’a without experiencing the Miso Black Cod. Iman Ali infamously just orders two servings of this each time she’s in. Velvet-smooth, soft and cooked to perfection with a miso infusion, this was at the same time delicate and comforting. We ended up having two as well.
The sushi makes you just thank the Japanese gods that you don’t have to drive half way across the city to Fujiyama. Be generous in your order though and easily go for one platter per person. The tantalizing little sushi treats at Gai’a are sexy enough to have you hooked and you’ll find yourself wanting more. We went for a variety and the salmon lover in me came away delighted with each morsel.
The customary teriyaki did come to the table but what caught my liking was the Beef with Three Mushrooms, which is served on a banana leaf and is an exciting combination of textures and flavours. By now you’re probably so stuffed that you can’t even think of dessert but I would recommend the Dark Chocolate Torte and the Cheesecake. New on the menu, the Matcha green tea banana cake drizzled with toffee sauce does seem like an attractive end to a satisfying meal and I definitely will try it on my next trip.
Be warned: the bill will creep up on you and there’s no point even thinking of Gai’a if you’re on a budget. It will set you back an average of four grand per head, especially if you’ve ordered as if there’s no tomorrow. Great food does come at a price and the consolation is that you’ll come away with an experience that takes you beyond the culinary.
- This review was first published in Instep on Sunday, May 14 2017