There are those who believe that Goa is home to someone from just about every corner of the globe. Whatever the truth of that, Goa has always had quality foreign food options: La Plage, La Fenice, Lila Café or Bomras, to name some. But a second wave of cafés and restaurants has risen up beside these — quietly and often by accident, or due to restlessness or the nagging desire to create a taste of home. It’s the classic story of migration really: go to a new country, look for something to do, cook and sell your food. This new food culture isn’t targeting tourists alone, but also those who live here.
High up on everyone’s list is Sublime. The restaurant — it has moved home from Anjuna to the tucked-away village of Saligao — is the creation of Saleem Christopher Aga Bee. Born in Mumbai, Saleem attended culinary school in New York, worked his way through several bistros and high-end restaurants and discovered his voice as a chef, before landing in Goa eight years ago, aged twenty-four, as head chef at Nilaya. After a period of exploration, both in terms of jobs and the food Goa had to offer, he decided to set up his own restaurant. Working with the freshest local ingredients (“it’s a blessing to be in Goa”), the menu is a fusion of world cuisines, typified by a dish such as clams in Goan marinara with capsicum, coriander and Goan sausage, where the deep, dark meat combines with the seafood in satisfying and unexpected ways. A special mention has to be made of the steak served with a sauce that’s cooked down over four days. But what makes the place really stand out besides the food (and a fiery, peppery bloody mary) is the atmosphere. Set outdoors in the grounds of a red laterite Goan house, with tables beneath a large gazebo, it creates an aura that’s both stylish and informal, where Saleem declares he wants to see “the hippie sitting next to the chief of police and the local Goan next to the fashion model from Delhi”.
On the other hand, when you walk into the grounds of Villa Blanche, in the sleepy village of Assagao, it feels like you’ve been invited for a meal in a picturesque village garden in Germany. Indeed, owner Yogini Rammacher — who sold her share of a high-end fashion business in Amsterdam, came to Goa to ‘retire’ and then got bored of the sunsets — tells her staff that once they step through the gate they are in Germany, with all the cleanliness and efficiency standards this implies. Crucially, this strictness is balanced with love; love for the food, for the people who make it and for those who eat it. The result is homey, authentic European cooking, the foundation of which is the “housewife’s education” Rammacher received in the village where she grew up: the cakes, pretzels and waffles are outstanding. But Yogini isn’t the only secret Villa Blanche has up its sleeve. Her partner Marco drives a bus at the start of every season from Switzerland to India, via Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, picking up the freshest local ingredients to bring back: the finest olive oil, olives, feta, pistachios and dates.
Baba au Rhum, in the western reaches of Arpora, is best known for that most sacred of French artefacts: the baguette. This hidden-away café itself conjures up memories of the hippieish, inclusive Goa of ten years back. Owner Leo, who moved from France to Germany when he was eleven, worked in markets with his stepfather as a perfume seller and then a pizza maker at festivals, before finding his way to Goa, where he settled with his Aurovillian wife Dayini. They have grown slowly over five seasons, serving breakfast and brunch options from coffee to croissants and, of late, wonderful thin-crust, chewy-doughed pizzas from the newly installed pizza oven. The café is well integrated into the community; the landlord’s son is the head baker, the waiters are neighbourhood boys, the feta is made locally by a German lady, the mozzarella by an Italian and the ham is from a local English family.
Now a word about that ham, because my English husband, who knows about these things, reckons that it’s the best ham in the subcontinent and possibly even (with a pinch of national pride and hyperbole) the world.
And it was the yearning for a sausage sandwich that led Brendan Barr and his wife to establish British Bangers and Bacon, a home-run butcher shop in the village of Parra. Brendan asked a friend coming from the UK to bring back a few skins, with which he made a few sausages, giving the extras to friends. They proved so popular that the couple decided to set up a business; the sausages were followed by bacon, ham, gammon, black pudding and some particularly fine steak burgers. Apart from direct sales, Brendan, who has been joined by sons Chris and Stephen, now supplies to over fifty restaurants. There are two reasons why their products are so good: firstly, the quality of the meat itself — the Barrs only use organic meat from farms where the animals are treated nicely (‘stressed’ meat doesn’t taste as good, as you’d know if you’ve eaten chicken in Delhi). Secondly, they employ time-consuming, old-fashioned methods — some dating back to the 1920s — which aren’t even used in England anymore. But it’s worth it because, as Brendan says, “the English breakfast is sacrosanct”.
Separated from the rest of the state by the stuttering trails of the Sahyadri Hills, tourism developed much later in Canacona than in its northern cousins. Thirteen years ago, Claudia Zubani was the first expat to open a restaurant, Magic Italy, in Palolem. Back when she first set up shop, Palolem was a sleepy village, and they “just started to roll pasta” thinking it could be sold as takeaway. The restaurant slowly grew, but there still wasn’t much else around. Then in the past five years the scene exploded, with a new kind of traveller coming to town: affluent, tech-savvy, media-conscious and in search of a good time. Some of those visitors never left, resulting in the highest density of quality food anywhere in the state. But, for the moment, back to Claudia, the pioneer.
“We didn’t start with a business in mind,” she says, “just a little support to live”, only wanting to see people happy. Clearly people were happy, for the restaurant is now one of the busiest places in town, with a wonderful cavernous feel inside, serving plate after plate of excellent pizza, each made from richly textured dough topped off with intensely flavoured cheeses, meats or vegetables. But it’s the pastas that are the real draw, containing a rustic depth of flavour that’s the result of a lengthy preparation.
Goa also has the perfect coffee haunt — the Israeli-run Café Inn, with a reputation for the best coffee for miles. A friend of ours said it reminded him of Europe, “standing around with friends, having coffee and croissants in the morning, catching up on each other’s lives”. The café has now moved to a bigger space with a coffee-garden in the rear. The place has a warm and lively Tel Aviv feel and the local Goan staff (mostly women, a nice touch) bustle cheerfully around the tables, bringing coffee and croissants, pita wraps and desserts (including an incredibly zesty lemon and pineapple pancake topped with crushed almonds). In the evenings, an Israeli-style barbecue is served, with laffa bread and ten traditional salads that are continuously refilled. And the coffee? Surely it’s imported? No, says co-owner Sharon Salman, with a laugh. “I do a lot of tests, throw out a lot of coffee. All the coffee is grown, manufactured and mixed in India but the taste comes from the blend. Coffee is all about time and testing.” Since Sharon won’t divulge the secrets of his blend, you’ll have to go try it there.
If you’ve got a hankering for some real (and really spicy) Thai food, there’s the lovely Yum Yum Tom Yum. Back behind the palms near the southern end of Palolem beach, this small restaurant (Goan-German husband Joseph, Thai wife Nok) is deliciously seedy in that Thai backstreet way. Authenticity is guaranteed, whether in the papaya salad or the steaming bowl of tom yum soup, all fat prawns and imported essentials.
Speaking of chillies, there’s the famous chilli jam on toast, one of several Anglo-Indian fusions on offer inside the teak-tented canopy of Cheeky Chapatti. Owners Daz and LJ, refugees from the UK workday grind, opened in 2004, starting slow and small. Closer inspection of this ostensibly English venue — with a mean Sunday roast and a hearty breakfast — leads to a pleasing confusion of classification. English standards are reworked using local ingredients and ideas, so that fish and chips becomes beer-battered shark and chips, fishcakes contain the memory of mackerel curry and the chicken for the Sunday roast, while marinated in the English method, is brought to the table via the tandoor.
When you’ve had enough of Palolem, head south to Patnem and the relaxed European sophistication of Home. The restaurant, run by Richard Gaywood and wife Julia Mumford, started as a coffee shop ten years ago after Richard holidayed in the spot and the landlord offered him the contract. A wise decision, because Richard had worked with some of the best chefs in London (Marco Pierre White included), in some of the most famous restaurants of the day (The Ivy, Le Caprice). “Our basic philosophy,” he says, “was not to compromise; to apply the same standards and ethos here as back there.” Season after season, the staff (“you could put the kitchen staff straight into a restaurant in London,” says Richard) ensure consistently high quality service and food. And the menu? Mediterranean via London with a little Swiss thrown in, growing in size and sophistication as more products become available in the market; the highlights are excellent morning coffee, poached eggs, röstis, light, punchy pastas and a very special fresh pesto risotto.
Three years ago Home experimented with a night menu; it proved so successful that one of the partners then, Swiss chef Patrick Buob, decided to branch out with wife Heidi and open Hidden Gourmet. The restaurant is appropriately named; first for its secluded, romantic location on Colomb rocks, then because of the experience Patrick has brought with him, working his way up from apprentice to head chef at various five-star hotels in Switzerland and Australia. Like so many others, Patrick came to Goa on holiday, fell in love with it and decided to settle down to a new pace of life, bringing his talents with him. Now in its second season, the restaurant sources the freshest local produce for high-end ‘world cuisine’. Unsurprisingly, fish is at the forefront (shark stew with carrots and capers; marinated glazed tuna steak in tomato-herb crust), along with some wonderful tenderloin steaks. But Patrick’s menu is ever changing, so if you want world-class food right here in India all you have to do is turn up.
Baba Au Rhum: The best baguettes in Goa, the best pizzas in the north, great coffee, great atmosphere and a new French pastry chef making sumptuous éclairs, choux and tarts. 450 Cuddos Vaddo, Arpora (9822078759); 8.30am-4pm; meal for two Rs 400 800
Britsh Bangers: And Bacon Meat of a quality that’s hard to get in Britain these days. Their burgers are too good for words; the sausages and ham aren’t far behind either. 342/2 arradi b parra (9822177991); 8am-8pm (24hr notice required on all orders); burgers Rs 50, ham Rs 720/kg, sausages Rs 420/kgc
Cafe Inn: The best coffee for miles, a fantastic breakfast and hangout spot, Israeli specialities like shakshuka and an evening BBQ — Canacona couldn’t live without it. Next to Palolem bus stand (cafeinn.in); 8am-11pm; meal for two Rs 500-1,000
Cheeky Chapatti: New Anglo-Indian fusion under a stunning teak roof. Their chilli jam is justly famous and they also do wonderfully healthy breakfasts and some great cocktails for later on. Palolem Main Road (7798681393); 9am-2pm, 5pm-midnight; meal for two Rs 700-1,000
GAIA: While it only opened last month, those in the know say this hilltop bar and restaurant is going to be the place for sunset cocktails, tapas and sushi this season. Coming down off the back of a successful Mumbai sushi delivery service, Shilarna Vaze’s cool new venture promises to deliver. Hilltop, Aswem-Mandrem Road (9820036525); 5pm-midnight (dinner service from 7pm), closed on Tuesdays; Rs 800-1,500, cocktails from Rs 250
Hidden Gourmet: The secret’s in the name. Hidden out on the headland in the village of Colomb, overlooking Patnem beach, this is five-star world cuisine in a secluded, paradise setting. Colomb rocks, facing Patnem beach (Patrick, 9923686185); 8.30am-3pm, 6.30pm-10.30pm (dinner reservations recommended); meal for two Rs 800-1,000
Home: A place to return to, day after day, for morning eggs and coffee, impeccable service, a lovely beach, gorgeous desserts and daily specials to die for. Patnem beach (0832-2643916); 8.30am-9.30pm; meal for two Rs 600-1,000
Magic Italy: Rustic, authentic hand-rolled pasta and pizza from Goa veteran Claudia Zubani, served up in generous and hearty portions inside beautiful surroundings. 260 Beach Road, Palolem (8805767705); 11.30am-midnight; meal for two Rs 700-1,500
Sakana: It opened too late for me to include in the feature, but this small and stylish Japanese restaurant is a hundred per cent authentic, importing all the necessary ingredients (including sake) for not only sushi and sashimi but also izakaya-style yakitori chicken and the warming home-food, gyudon. Chapora Road, near Anjuna petrol pumps (9890135502); noon-3pm, 5pm-11.30pm; meal for two Rs 800-1,500
Sublime: Elegant, sophisticated and fun, this is the best restaurant in Goa right now, combining local ingredients with world cuisine to make it an unforgettable experience. The kingfish carpaccio with pomegranate, lumpfish roe and watermelon vinaigrette is one of many delights. 1/9-A Grande Morod, Saligao (9822484051); 11am-3pm, 6.30pm-11pm; meal for two (without drinks) Rs 700-1,200
Villa Blanche: The finest ingredients paired in wonderfully simple, classic combinations, Yogini’s authentic German cakes and European mains speak for themselves. Assagao (9822155099); 9am-5pm (Sundays 10am-3pm); meal for two Rs 500-1,000
Yum Yum Tom Yum: Real Thai food from a real Thai cook. The signature tom yum soup and special “PKP” here have a mighty satisfying kick to them. Behind Pelton’s, Palolem beach south-end (7798681077); 10am-11pm; meal for two Rs 600-1,000