“If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time,” Mahatma Gandhi said. If only we’d been able to muster that level of patience when we ate at Gandhi’s Village.
Opened last September, the humble and even a little dishevelled 26-seat eatery on Mann Avenue in Sandy Hill serves South Indian fare, which ranks highly on my list of mouth-thrilling cuisines. During my three dinners at the eatery, we sampled both satisfactory dishes and duds. But most frustratingly, slow and amateurish service consistently detracted from our meals.
Gandhi’s Village seems to be pretty much a one-man operation, with an owner-chef — “David,” says a server, “Chef Sweety,” says a handwritten message on a takeout menu — who often appears in the dining room, sometimes taking orders, assisted at times by that well-meaning, but untrained server. At my first visit, pakoras took more than 90 minutes to land at our table, despite our repeated inquiries, and well after the slow, one-by-one succession of main dishes — at least our final bill was discounted to acknowledge the gaffe.
At another visit, no water was provided until it was requested, after some good, and reasonably prompt, samosas were downed. At my last visit, the owner initiated the transaction for me to pay with a card, but left midway so that I had to make the machine issue my receipt.
After two dinners that dragged on, I made a point last week of placing my order when I reserved my table, basically spotting the kitchen an hour, I thought. But if the chef took advantage of that head start, it didn’t make much of a difference.
And yet, despite — or perhaps thanks to — delays in the kitchen, the chef, working from a halal-approved and perhaps too-large menu, is able to prepare some robustly flavoured and well-sauced dishes, although they will usually be rustic and even thrown-together in look and feel.
Most deep-fried appetizers were alright, including those long-to-arrive pakoras, plump samosas and some more intriguing bondas, which seemed like loose potato croquettes. Lentil fritters (parippu vada) seemed overly crunchy.
One of the best items I tried at Gandhi’s Village was a quirky freebie appetizer. The chef came to our table and asked if we would like some deer meat, on the house, which he explained had been a gift he received from a hunter friend. The meat was well seasoned with South Indian spices, and served simply, bereft of sauce, but with diced onions. If only other dishes had been as clear in their preparation and appeal.
Among several meaty curries, we preferred the lamb chettinadu, which delivered good heat and complex flavours. Kerala beef curry was similarly tasty, but its meat was chewy. Chicken curry, which was bone-in, zinged with flavours, but seemed overly salty. Duck moilly boasted a savoury gravy, massive chunks of potato and toothsome meat, although the meat had to be separated from flaccid duck skin even though the menu referred to “skinned duck.” Shrimp konkan was mostly sauce, which was creamy and flavourful, but short on its too-small shrimp.