GAIA Japanese Fusion Fine dining specialises in modern Japanese cuisine. Setting an aura of sophistication and class, GAIA has made a name for itself among local eatries. Each item on the menu is dished to perfection to deliver both a delicious as well as an aesthetic experience. Asim Malik, Director Operations at GAIA speaks to us about the specialties of the restaurant, the process of developing new dishes and the secret to sustaining a restaurant
What is the process of developing a new menu or dish at the restaurant?
Well, developing a new dish or a new menu at any restaurant comes up for a few reasons. They want to add a new dish to the menu or a chef’s brainchild may be taken up. Here at GAIA, however, the process is a little different. R&D is an on-going process and after careful consideration of what ingredients to use, whether any special ingredients are required and what the optimal way to prepare a dish is, a dish further goes through a testing period of a month and then if approved, makes its way on to the menu.
How is GAIA’s menu different from what other restaurants are offering?
When we were opening, Azfar (the co-owner) believed in me more than I did at one time. Initially we had a lot of doubts over the menu we designed and whether or not it would succeed but we went with it. We used inspiration from renowned restaurateurs and chefs including the likes of ZUMA, ROKA and my all-time favourite, Michelin starred chef Nobu. We have come up with a menu that offers unique flavours and a special dining experience.
What is your favourite dish from the menu?
This is a tough one! GAIA is my baby and a father loves all his children and grandchildren equally. *Laughs* on a serious note, my favourite dish on the menu is Beef with three Mushrooms. The dish is somewhat of a Korean and Japanese fusion, the shimeji mushrooms add a lovely crunchy and nutty texture, the oyster and shitake mushrooms add an oriental taste and with the right balance of ingredients that we here at GAIA created by testing out random flavours and R&D, the dish is undeniably delicious! Also I enjoy the sashimi quite a lot, could have it for all three meals every day!
What are some of the specialties at GAIA?
One of our specialties is definitely The Miso Black Cod. World renowned Japanese celebrity chef Nobu came up with the dish and I was fortunate enough to learn from chef Nobu himself. Made with a special marinade, carefully cooked to perfection with an exquisite balance of sweet and sour flavours, the Miso Black Cod is genuinely one of a kind. The steaks are amazing, our Chilli Beef Steak is a hot seller, so is our grilled lobster and although I personally do not like the dish myself, the Teppanyaki is also extremely popular, the people love the Japanese Taka Tun meat dishes!
How has Pakistan changed in terms of spending and eating out?
The restaurant industry in Pakistan has changed drastically over the past 20 years; the trend of going out to eat was not as popular as it is now. I think the revolution came about when international fast food chains entered the Pakistani market, the masses welcomed the change as people started to enjoy going out with their families. The beauty of the restaurant industry now lies in how much it has expanded, there are so many options and there are options for everyone. Nowadays the food scene in Pakistan has expanded so much, the larger cities seem to be awake all night, and it’s mostly due to the endless choices of restaurants.
In your opinion, what differentiates Lahore and Karachi in terms of taste and food choice?
During the 90’s, Karachi was not even a speck on the food map of Pakistan. Lahore was the leader back then and it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that Karachi came up with some amazing eateries. The special thing about Karachi is its “diversity”. The diversity of people and cultures in turn brings a great variety of flavours that makes for something spectacular. Lahore on the other hand is in a different state. In my opinion, a vast majority of people from other cities have now settled in Lahore and they are not as experimental with food as Lahoris generally are known to be. As a result the same tried, tested, established but slightly redundant 25 year old menus, the Tarragon and Jalapeno Chicken as options do enjoy success. Now however, some people are experimenting with new flavours so let’s see how things go for these Lahori food scientists.
What trends do you see shaping the food and beverage market in 2019?
I think Pakistani’s generally appreciate Oriental and Japanese fusion flavour a lot; the palettes are such that they are similar to ours. Even children enjoy these types of cuisines due to their similarity to our own taste palettes and Japanese food is in the same position as Chinese food was when it was new to Pakistan. Aromatic and flavourful, I believe Japanese food will enjoy a lot of success here.
What is the secret behind sustaining a restaurant?
The secret behind sustaining a restaurant is simple enough, one doesn’t only need to be an investor and a businessman; the secret is being passionate. It’s the passion for food which makes a restaurant a failure or a success, the passion shapes whether or not a food business will succeed and the rest is up to God.
What are some of the challenges of being a restaurateur?
Time management; sometimes you get into trouble with people you care about for being too involved in the business. Quality staff and staff retention is a big challenge. In a place like ours with multiple dishes and ingredients from abroad, effective supply chain management is extremely important, everything from the timing to the handling we have to make sure we are operating at all times.
What continues to motivate or inspire you in coming up with a new idea for GAIA?
Well these ideas will be unveiled gradually with time. What I can assuredly say is that, GAIA will be launching a catering service soon and our services will be available for anyone looking for a classy and chic option. In the restaurant business, it is important to constantly innovate and look for new ways to improve on the experience for customers so with our rigorous R&D and selection process for ideas and dishes for GAIA, we continue to try and work to optimise the taste and services we provide.
What is your least favourite culinary trend?
Molecular cuisine on steroids is overdone and passé.
How would you describe GAIA and its meals?
The ethos behind GAIA is to please its guests with a pleasant and memorable dining experience in a fun, vibrant and sophisticated environment. Our ingredients are carefully selected to ensure they are of the highest quality, and are plated to please the eye. GAIA’s modern Japanese cuisine delivers authentic flavours blended with a creative twist.
What is in store for GAIA in the future?
At this moment in time, I cannot reveal too much but there is a lot in store for GAIA and I will let time unveil our hard work.