The Taste With Vir: Restaurants that are turning Goa into the food capital of India

Updated on Sep 05, 2022 11:59 AM IST

People are now referring Goa as the culinary capital of India. I am not sure how accurate that is. But yes, you can eat very well in Goa. Here are some of the restaurants I went to last week.

Dishes from Bomras Goa and Izumi Assagao(Instagram/@bomrasgoa, @izumiassagao)
Dishes from Bomras Goa and Izumi Assagao(Instagram/@bomrasgoa, @izumiassagao)
By, Delhi

People have now taken to referring to Goa as the culinary capital of India. I am not sure how accurate that is. But yes, you can eat very well in Goa. Here are some of the restaurants I went to last week.

Cavatina

Avinash Martins is one of India’s best chefs. His food has been well-reviewed at the pop-ups he has done all around the country and he featured on the Food Superstars list of India’s Top 30 Chefs.

I ate at Cavatina as part of a lunch event and banquet food is rarely as good as food individually ordered and cooked specially for you. Even so, the meal was outstanding: Notable for its flair, its presentation, its imagination and its flavours.

We began with small bread balls with a spicy filling, and went on to eat black rice pancakes with prawn balchao, breadfruit ‘kababs’ on skewers, a re-imagined Goan prawn curry served in a coconut, chicken cafreal in a potato rosti nest and more.

Easily one of Goa’s best restaurants. And probably one of India’s best too.

Miguel's

This is a lovely bar with a wonderful art-deco interior and great cocktails. I liked it because it has courage. That’s a funny thing to say about a bar, but it takes guts to do everything from a central island where all of the drinks and all of the food are prepared in full view of guests. There are no back areas and no prep-kitchens.

The chef is Madhav Dayal who cooks an inspired menu of dishes that are hard to categorise. There is a modern-style curry, a steak decorated like a Jackson Pollock painting, potatoes cooked with chorizo oil, a take on Portugal’s famous Francesinha sandwich, and all of its looks great and tastes good.

At present Madhav’s influences are all on the plate – chiefly Gaggan Anand and perhaps Massimo Bottura – but he is only a couple of steps away from developing his own voice.

Makutsu

Pablo Miranda is one of those chefs who excels at whatever he does. During the lockdown, he opened a delivery operation that served delicious pastrami sandwiches. And now that life is returning to normal, he is back to running the wildly successful Antonio’s. I went instead to his Makutso next door, a small Japanese izakaya transplanted into the heart of Panjim.

Pablo made the best yakitori I have ever had in India: Crisp golden bits of skewered chicken that melted once you bit into them. A chawan mushi was technically perfect, a bone marrow dish was up there with the classic rendition at Bangkok’s 100 Mahaseth and a Hokkaido-style riff on French Toast was sinful.

Izumi

The original Izumi is in Mumbai and the chef is Nooresha Kably who went to Japan to learn how to make sushi. Nooresha is also among India’s Top 30 chefs, so it is no surprise that the Mumbai food is terrific. But what truly astonished me was this wonderful Goa offshoot. Set in a garden overlooking a pool (you can sit out), it is far more beautiful than the grubby Mumbai original. Nooresha was not there when I went, but the food was outstanding: A mix of modern Japanese and some traditional dishes. The torched nigiris were fun, the kara-age was perfect, the gyoza were delicate and the chawan mushi was nicely trembling.

There is no better place in Goa for a relaxed lunch.

Bomras

This may well be Goa’s most famous foodie restaurant. Bawmra Jap is a Kachin from Burma’s eastern region who ran, for many years, a massively successful restaurant not far from the Aguada complex. He has since moved to a much prettier location (complete with an actual treehouse which serves as his on-location residence), and though there should be no connection between the move and the cuisine --- the food has definitely got better!

I was not anonymous so I can’t judge the service and Bawmra did the ordering himself, but what I ate was fabulous: A mix of North-eastern flavours, from the Golden Triangle at the edges of Thailand, Laos and Burma and our own hill states. All of it was re-interpreted through Bawmra’s vision: ‘Scotch Eggs’ filled with black rice, a noodle dish that incorporated rice, a giant wild mud crab, a delicious crispy pork salad and his famous tomato salad.

Gunpowder

There was a time when this restaurant, set in a lovely bungalow, had a formidable reputation. It has since fallen from foodie-trendy favour and entered Touristland. (The Tamil Table is the new trendy place, but it was shut when I tried to go)

I didn’t think it was as bad as people said it would be. All of the food – a riff on pandi curry, appams, sabzis, curries etc. --- was fine. Yes, none of it was memorable or outstanding but there was nothing to complain about. Service was efficient and thoughtful. (I was not recognised).

Jamun

There are actually two restaurants struggling to get out at this Goa outpost of the national brand. If you like Jamun in Delhi then you will be pleased to get the same sort of menu of regional Indian favourites cooked to a high standard. And you can sit out in the lawns of the wonderful 19th century mansion where the restaurant is located.

But the group’s executive chef, Rahul Gomes Pereira (or Picu as everyone calls him) is the best young Goan chef in the world, so you would be crazy to only try and recreate the Delhi experience.

We asked for the full Goan experience (Picu grew up in Panjim and spends much of the year in Goa) and we got even more than we had expected. We sat in one of the atmospheric historical rooms while two brilliant guitarists and a singer with the voice of angel sang Portuguese Fado and its Konkani equivalent.

It is hard to say how the food differs from the food available elsewhere in Goa but the closest parallel I can think of is the food of the Lucknow dhabhas (which is the equivalent of most of the Goan food served at restaurant) versus the food of the Awadhi nawabs, which is hard to find in Lucknow unless you know somebody well connected or take Gulam Qureshi to Lucknow with you. This is the Goan equivalent of the nawabi food; a vanishing style of cooking haute cuisine.

To just list the menu --- pork balachao, crab kalchi kodi, Potato and beef curry, pork assado, prawn pulao, stuffed squid, beef chilly fry, crab kishmoor etc. – is to miss the point of the meal. These were the best versions I had eaten of many of the dishes, all cooked with the best ingredients and slightly sophisticated-up by Picu’s training as a European chef.

This is the great Goa experience; the best evening I have spent in Goa in a decade. But you have to give them advance notice (ideally before you leave for Goa) and hope that Picu will be in town.

Mahe

Sandeep Sreedharan is a largely self-taught Malayali chef who cooks the food of his native North Kerala. He was a much in-demand private chef for upmarket dinners and events before he ended up in Goa and opened Mahe and Ella. He cooked us an extraordinary meal at Mahe which had distinct Kerala roots, but which incorporated Goan influences. Pickled Kerala mussels were paired with fermented Goan cashews. The patatas bravas were made with tapioca. (You can take the Malayali out of Kerala but you can’t take the tapioca out of him!) Beef with Tellicherry pepper, crispy bhindi with radish and gunpowder etc. were all excellent.

I have no idea how long Sandeep will stay in Goa. But he is clearly a major talent.

The Others

I stayed at two hotels and the food was good at both. At ITC Grand Goa, there were no surprises. I have stayed there before and the food has always been good and dependable. The Goa Westin is new but I know the chef Ravish Mishra from before. He runs a very good kitchen so I even risked a hotel version of a Goan street food favourite, a ros omelette and was impressed by how good it was.

Vaishali Joshi, an accomplished home cook does not cook commercially but because her son is a friend of my son, we were lucky enough to try her food. It was astonishingly good: The standout dishes were a chicken xacuti, a coconut curry made with hot plums and an unusual heeng-heavy prawn pickle.

Jeneva Talwar is a pastry chef whom I know from when she was at Delhi’s Artful Baker. She has moved to Goa and I tried some of the stuff she is producing there at her own establishment. All of it was very good, but her cake was out of this world.

Tesouro

This is India’s best bar. There is no doubt about that. It has been rated as the fourth best bar in Asia. It has many wonderful elements: A happening but cosy downstairs area, an omakase counter by the bar and a quieter area upstairs where you can eat surprisingly good food.

It also has the greatest asset any bar can have--my friend Arijit Bose as a co-owner. Bose is India’s most charismatic and brilliant bartender. He creates great cocktails but they fade in comparison to his own star quality. Go to Tesouro just for Bose. Even if it was not such a great bar, Bose alone will make the journey worth it.

Food Capital?

Not yet, I think. But yes, Goa is headed in that direction.

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    Why hide the papers? Why keep the conspiracy theories related to Netaji Subhas Bose’s death alive? And why deny India the truth about the death of one of its great freedom fighters?

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