By Kuheli Bhattacharya Rane
As the monsoons begin to ebb, and fashion houses start to announce their fall-winter collections, Goa too undergoes a metamorphosis of types. It’s soon going to be ‘tourist season’ and the first fresh restaurants start blooming up along the touristy coast line. The slim stretch of land in North Goa is famous if not world renowned for the eclectic group of tourists that it attracts and the enormous number of international cuisine available, and we found ourselves drawn to Baga to a place called ‘Go With The Flow’. Situated on the banks of a river across Baga Bridge, this place can be tricky to find, especially without GPRS the first time round. But the search is worth the find.
Ambience: In the peak of the ‘season’ this place blooms fullest to its glory, but even though most of the outdoor sitting and terrace verandah is shuttered against the rain, the indoor sitting area is quaint and colonial. Go With The Flow has been set up by Samarpan Foundation, which is a non profit trust, run by volunteers, and works towards humanitarian, ecological, and environmental harmony. Started in December 2013, it opened its doors a week back. Sitting inside in the high ceilinged old Portuguese home, complete with antique lamps, white cane furniture and a delightful faux white candle at every table, we spoke to Guto and Neel, a husband and wife couple who help run the restaurant for Samarpan. Neel hails from Netherlands, and her husband who is the inimitable chef of this place is from Brazil.
But home to them is Goa, even as their daughter reads Hindi and watches Chhota Bheem. Neel explained how a sushi bar and a shop selling Samarpan art and artifacts are also going to be part of this ever evolving eatery.
Food: Now for most of us, the FIFA world cup was the closest to Brazil that we ever got, apart from the shared Portuguese culture that Brazil shares with Goa. Fine dining with elegantly plated Brazilian cuisine in itself would be an experience to look forward to, and chef Guto helps unravel the mysteries of his beloved cuisine as we dine. The spiced Gazpacho, a cold tomato-based soup with Andalusian origin made with uncooked raw vegetables blended with olive oil and spices, was chunky with vegetables, and so much more authentic than the pureed version at many restaurants. Next came a few Japanese-inspired dishes; the prawn tempura served with homemade chilli sauce which was great but predictable, the hot Philadelphia with salmon was a sushi type roll but only deep fried and served with the quintessential wasabi and pickled ginger. A lot of Japanese immigrants to Brazil have influenced the cuisine of that area. The Brazilian gratin, a creamy baked dish made with fresh fish is what would be a great hit with the Indian palate, especially fish loving Goans.
Escondidinho was easily the most lyrical food name I have heard in a while, and is highly recommended for everyone choosing to try a unique, flavourful and authentic slice of Brazil. Literally meaning ‘hidden’ or ‘hide and seek’ this dish is very much like a British shepherd’s pie, a stacked dish of pureed pumpkin, pulled beef and topped with mascarpone and parmegiano. The mascarpone and the sweetness of the pumpkin were perfectly balanced against the saltiness of the beef. The meat itself had been dehydrated over salt and then rehydrated in milk for a super tender yet granulated texture.
The funghi porcini risotto was rich and creamy intensely flavoured by the sharp Italian porcini, and topped with slices of pancetta.
A dish unassumingly named ‘filet of fish’ was in actuality a minor work of art, with so many complex layers of elements elegantly served that it truly makes one gasp in awe. Mamamia! A crab mousse sandwiched between two fillets of grilled fish, gift wrapped in zucchini and resting on a spiced orange and cashew nut sauce. The orange sauce deceptively simple looking was a labour of love of which Chef Guto was quite rightly, extremely proud.
The beef steak was another house speciality, served with thyme butter, mashed potatoes ingeniously served with spinach and blue cheese wrapped in parma ham. A well conceptualised dish, brought together by the crispy Farrofa originally made with crisp onions and cassava flowers, and reminded me a lot of the crunchy Goan kismur.
For dessert we had the crème brulee Indianised with a touch of cinnamon, and churros. I am always partial to churros, which are like donut sticks. Deep fried batter rolled in sugar and cinnamon, crisp on the outside and soft and chewy inside. I love to dunk them in molten chocolate for a sinful end to a delectable meal. The version of churros at Chef Guto’s was served with a milky doce de leite. Doce de leite, much like the Indian kheer, is made from sugar and milk, slowly reduced to a creamy confection. Chef Guto regaled us with stories about his previous restaurant receiving a Michelin star, and his reasons for not accepting it. Michelin or no Michelin, there is no hiding talent whether in the back of beyond, or end of the Baga beach.
Ambience: 3/5 plates
Service: 3/5 plates
Food: 4/5 plates
Shortcomings: open only for dinner and not an all-year-round restaurant (although they hope to be open throughout the year hence forth, fingers crossed for that)
Go here for: escondidinho, filet of fish
(Member of food bloggers association of India, blogs at foodietrails.blogspot.com, instagram #goaonmyplate)