It had been a charming day, flitting in and out of pretty houses, which in Goa is not a difficult thing to do. I was staying at the Vivenda dos Palhaços, a century-old Portuguese residence in Majorda, now reinvented as an intimate boutique stay. I had just been privileged a peek into our cartoonist, Mario Miranda’s stately home in Loutolim. My journey into the South Goa hinterland had next taken me to the mansion of the Braganzas in Chandor, a shimmering vision of the old Goa. And then it was time for lunch.
In Goa, lunchtime is as sacred as the siesta that follows it. A respectably gluttonous colleague had alerted me to the presence of a fine home establishment in Quepem, not far from Chandor.
When I arrived at the Palácio do Deão under the glare of the noon sun, I was of course stunned by the imposing façade. A short flight of stairs spurred me into the cool interior of the house.
The palatial dwelling, set on a hillock, was built in 1787 by a Portuguese nobleman from Braga, a certain Deão José Paulo da Costa Pereira E Almeida. José Paulo was also the founder of Quepem town. Palácio do Deão’s present owner is Ruben Vasco da Gama, a man as enterprising as his name would suggest.
Ruben ran the Tiracol Fort as a heritage hotel for several years before calling it quits to devote all his time to the Palácio. Now he stays at home, with wife Celia and their children, happy to show visitors around the house which he has lovingly resorted (oyster-shell panes, eccentric old furniture, a marvellous colonial-era stamp collection, the geometrical gardens echoing those in Braga). Call Ruben in the morning and he will also ensure a sumptuous meal.
So on to the main business! Lunch is served in a belvedere at the back, overlooking the Kushavati River. There are dainty starters, rissois de camarão (prawn fritters) and fofos do queijo (cheese balls). There’s a seasonal vegetable to mop up the red rice, and chicken curry. And then there’s peixe com molho, a whole fish stuffed with a complex green masala which has me hankering for refills. The homemade bebinca tastes nothing like the pasty packaged stuff. Celia is one of those needlessly modest home cooks blessed with magic fingers. Somewhere in the house, Amalia is crooning a soulful fado. My plate is clean. The siesta will be well deserved.
Palácio do Deão, Opp. Holy Cross Church, Quepem, Goa, 0832-2664029, 9823175639, www.palaciododeao.com; visiting hours: 10am-6pm, Fridays and after 6pm: prior notice required; lunch: Rs 400 per person.