Going by the cars and their number plates, it was as if people were waiting for travel restrictions to be relaxed, says Aakritee Sinh, owner of one of Goa’s top rated restaurants, A Reverie. It was early June when the Union government had just begun to relax the pandemic containment measures and announced that restaurants could open. And with her restaurant located on ‘Holiday Street’ in Calangute, north Goa, she definitely had her finger on the pulse of India’s sunshine state.
While restaurateurs and café owners in Goa, as in other parts of the country, were eager to reopen, it was easier said than done. Many of the staff members had gone back to their homes, markets were not fully open and raw material and other stuff were in short supply. Besides, opening with curtailed capacity to ensure distancing norms, had a direct impact on their earnings. And above all, people, though happy to venture out, were still wary. Implementing the best of hygiene protocols inspired confidence but people, though happy to go out, where still a tad wary of the surroundings.
“It is necessary to give diners the confidence to feel safe as well as an experience they will cherish,” says Sinh. ”A Reverie, a long running gourmet restaurant, specialises in Continental cuisine.
Rethinking or redesigning the menu and service might help inspire visitors, she points out. “For example, I may offer a tasting menu which a group of family or friends can savour over a longer period. Or offer more innovative experiences such as a DIY (do it yourself) meal at the table or maybe have little notes posted guiding the diner through our wine library, where they can go and get the bottle and bring it to the table for consumption.”
Mezmiz, in Sangolda (north Goa), owned and run by Kush Sharma and his wife Nazneen, caught people’s fancy with its Middle Eastern cuisine. “Mezmiz is a restaurant aiming to bring the warmth and flavours of a Middle Eastern home closer to you,” says Sharma. The restaurant has been around for one-and-a-half years. It is located in a beautifully designed villa, away from the beaches, where, in the pre-pandemic phase, the ambience inspired sharing meals and holding conversations.
While they hope to retain the mood, a lot of things that had been taken for granted for so long will have to change, says Sharma. “There are government directives to follow as well as our own stringent SOPs. However, we always changed our menu every two to three months, and have therefore kept it short.”
Offering guests a new menu at regular intervals as well as their home-made pita bread and sauces, will remain the USP of their restaurants, assures Sharma. Don’t forget to check out if they have the Noon Khamei or Persian cream puffs – lightly perfumed rosewater cream filled in puff pastry – on the menu during your time of visit.
The pandemic and the restrictions in its wake was a blow to the newly opened Villa Nova, a restaurant and pizzeria in Arpora, the north Goa coastal town which leads to a string of beaches. But Aliya, the intrepid owner, is confident of regaining Villa Nova’s popularity riding on the success of her wood-fired pizzas.
The restaurant occupies a remodelled old Portuguese property, shaded by swaying palms and flowering plants; space is not a constraint. “We plan to use the building and the courtyards to seat our guests so that they feel comfortable about distancing norms," says Aliya. "It is important to understand the new normal world and what it entails for everyone. This will ensure success in the long run.”
Besides the pizza, you can also bank on Aliya to serve you some of the old favourites such as fresh salads, Japanese Prawn Gyooza, Goan Prawn Curry or the Indonesian Nasi Goreng. The restaurant began with an eclectic global menu and promises to retain the format.
However, most Goan restaurateurs agree that business will be slow until the government agrees to allow them to open the bars and serve liquor to guests.
Note: Restaurants in Goa are opening gradually for dine in with limited hours of service. Also most are accepting advance reservations only. Guests have to maintain mandatory protocols, such as wearing masks. The restaurants may send you the menu in advance for ordering and also request online payment only. Most restaurants are also offering home deliveries and takeaways. Do remember, imposition or relaxation of pandemic containment rules are dependent on the situation and the government orders. Hence check with the restaurants before heading out.