Chef Vikram Kotamraju called his Rathdowne Street restaurant Pagla, slang for "crazy" or "mad" in Hindi, after repeatedly hearing it from his family when he began showcasing Indian cuisine touched by molecular gastronomy.
Kotamraju, who previously had Shompen Dining Room in the same location, quietly opened in January after 11 months of renovations. He fitted out the 30-seat dining room himself, decorated with vivid photographs of people in traditional dress – including a woman sitting on the ground hunched over a laptop – popping against grey textured walls and white-washed wooden chairs.
Kotamraju imports lesser-known Indian ingredients for his menu, such as red ants, cured Katarua truffles from Uttar Pradesh and Goa's version of prosciutto, which he serves wrapped around a compressed log of butter chicken.
His 10-course degustation is $90, or there's an a la carte menu that kicks off with Blackman Bay oysters in edible shells made from flour and spice, finished with sea herbs and a coconut "pearl".
Evoking Attica's "potato cooked in the earth in which it was grown", Pagla serves a potato cooked in the bag from which it came – a blackened orb rolled in hay and hessian, fired in the tandoor and plated with parmesan dumplings fried in potato stock.
But you'll have to hold off until February 22 to try them – he's been called home to India on family duties.
Kotamraju worked at the Sheraton and at Circa during its heyday, but he became interested in modern cuisine in overseas kitchens such as Galvin at Windows in London, Sotto Sopra in Baltimore and now-closed Moto Restaurant in Chicago.
"My background is in European restaurants, so I thought, 'why not modernise the home cooking that I've seen my mother and grandmother doing and put it on the plate?'"
Open Tue-Sun 5pm-10.30pm.
401 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, 03 9347 1991, pagla.com.au