Culinary life in Gurgaon of 2002, the year I moved into Gurgaon, used to be near-non-existent, apart from a handful of absolute delights for which my friends would drive down all the way from Delhi. Most of these gems have fallen by the wayside, unable to bear the mall-led competition. One restaurant that has managed to survive all these years is Red Hot Café, a predominantly Thai eatery that used to put our hearts and palate on fire every weekend. Recently, with the restaurant explosion that Gurgaon is currently witnessing, it has gone into oblivion with hardly anyone ever mentioning it. I am here to find out if the old magic still exists.
I am surprised to find the restaurant completely empty at peak Saturday lunch time, given that in earlier times, we had to wait for a considerable time to get a table. Also time seems to have taken its toll on the interiors which look frayed at the edges. Once seated, I meet with Sunita Chopra, the lady who with a partner decided to start this venture over a decade ago, when she stepped in to fill the culinary void in the more bucolic Gurgaon that existed then. I ask her if anything had changed. “Despite the rising rents and increasing competition, we have never compromised on the ingredients, or on our value-for-money pricing,” is her reply. Reassured I get on with the business of choosing my lunch.
My first dish (that happens to be a favourite of Sunita’s too), banana leaf wrapped fish (Rs 325) hasn’t lost its magic. Pieces of river sole have been marinated in fresh Thai spices and then wrapped in banana leaves and pan-fried, resulting in a soft, flavourful and succulent experience. I am not so lucky with the rest of my order, though.
My next dish laksa is a popular spicy noodle soup from the Peranakan culture, which is a merger of Chinese and Malay elements. In its authentic form, it is bright red in colour, and makes for a passionately exciting eating. The veg laksa (Rs 230) I am served is none of the above. It is a pale yellow looking gloopy tasting mess. The stir-fried chicken Vietnamese style (Rs 275) is not even remotely Vietnamese, and pretty average to taste. Lamb matsaman curry (Rs 310) is somewhat pink looking rather different than the traditional brown, and is lacking in depth due to the conspicuously missing spices. The Pad Thai (Rs 170) tastes flat (literally), without the crunch of the sprouts or the heat of the chilies.
I tactfully ask Sunita about the mystery of the missing spices over the years. Her frank reply is that her regular customers find the food too spicy so she has had to tone it down.
The dessert I have chosen is the enigmatically named Thai dessert (Rs 145) which is comfortingly nice. It has lychees and lychee jelly cubes in sweetened coconut cream, making it the perfect vegan dessert.
I understand Red Hot Café’s need to ensure its loyal patrons keep coming back by adjusting the food to their tastes, but as a foodie it saddens me to see a beautiful restaurant lose its steam over time due to commercial pressures.
Ratings out of 5
Food: 2.0 | Ambiance: 2.5 | Service: 3.0 |Overall: 2.5
Meal for Two: Rs 1200|Alcohol: No |Credit Card: Yes |Timings: 11 AM to 3 PM, 7:30 PM to 11 PM
Address: Red Hot Café, UG-1, Centre Point, Sushant Lok-1, Gurgaon | Phone: 9811837421, 0124-4014658, 4104155, 4104154, 2572477