Everyone has their own version of Goa. To some it’s a place to drink, smoke, and dance till dawn, to others it’s a five-star resort that you don’t budge from until you check out. For me, Goa has always been my go-to place to relax and recharge. Something about the dappled light that falls in between the coconut trees and the somnambulent locals, lowers my blood pressure almost immediately.
Post the crazy festive season at the cafe that begin with Diwali and ended only after new years (and I have to interject here and apologise for the serious absence of blogging during that time), Sunil and I were in desperate need of some down time. On this trip, we were hitting Goa sans offspring so we decided on a hotel in north Goa for a change. Being season time, we aimed to hit all the amazing restaurants in the north that are usually closed when we visit in May or September.
Our hotel – Chalston Beach Resort – was prettier than we expected. Located right on Calangute beach, you could enjoy your morning cuppa at sand’s edge or sip away on your evening sundowner to the thrum of enthusiastic speed boats all along the seafront. However, word to the wise – avoid Calangute / Baga beach itself. A short stroll on our first night along the beach to the iconic restaurant – Souza-Lobo – turned into a nightmare what with having to dodge vile groups of inebriated men gyrating to Bollywood music to skipping between beer bottles by the dozen being washed in and out by the retreating tide. It was enough to make one cry out in frustration. This was SO not the Goa one loved and wanted to return to time and again.
Luckily our next two days redeemed themselves. On our first full day in Goa, we decided to drive out to Morjim and Ashwem in the far north. As the roads became more winding and the tourists a whole lot whiter, the restaurants seemed more and more dream like. We skipped out on the legendary La Plage and opted instead for Elevar located on the premises of Leela Cottages. Spread over several levels all of which led down to the pristine Ashwem beach, Elevar comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. Comfortable couches, shady corners, weather beaten furniture and a cool blue and white colour scheme does not detract from the real star of the show – the food. Chef Sai Sabnis has a created a menu that delights and surprises and we truly wished we had more time to spend in Goa, we would surely have camped out at Elevar for more than just the few hours we spent there.
For dinner that night, we returned to Morjim and to Chef Christopher Saleem Aga Bee’s Sublime. Opting for the five-course seafood set menu, we were regaled with dishes such as a fresh seafood salad, lobster soup, crab mousse, steamed fish fillets and fried ice cream.
One of my all time favourite discoveries on this trip to Goa was this gorgeous place – Cafe Chocolatti. A magical blend of Alice in Wonderland meets Secret Garden, the place reeled me in with its arched doorways, white picket fences and inventive menu. I ended up just sitting in their garden with this goofy “I’ve found my happy place” look even before the food hit our table.
Lunch was at Fat Fish down the road from our hotel. Here, we opted for the fish thali which was as soul satisfying as it looks.
By now am sure you think that all we did in Goa was eat and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. However, to balance things out we did sleep a lot and shop a bit too. Avoiding the stalls that lined the roads and beaches selling tat and crappy clothes, we found the Broadway Bookstore that sold books for 50 bucks a pop and the Mario Gallery also on the Calangute-Candolim main road that had an excellent selection of Mario prints and knick knacks.
We definitely saved the best for last on our search of the best in North Goa. Bhatti Village came highly recommended and thankfully Google Maps managed to locate and give us directions to this home turned restaurant. There is no fixed menu and Patrick the owner just recites whatever has been cooked fresh on the day itself. Do call ahead to make sure they are open though.
Dinner began with a platter of freshly fried white bait and moved on to a delicious melt in the mouth Pork with kokum curry and traditional prawn curry rice and beef croquets. The portions were ideal for two and the price (Rs. 800 including alcohol!) was unbeatable.
When a simple question about where to eat in Goa results in an inundation of recommendations, Google map links, and heartfelt pleas not to miss a particular restaurant or a favourite dish, we knew we had a long way to go before we could reach any conclusion on the ‘best’ of Goa. A big thanks to all of you for your lists and mails and messages. Goa is and always will be a foodie paradise. And even if you choose to ignore the mushrooming ‘pure veg’ restaurants and Dilli chaat houses popping up everywhere, you will still be lost for choice in terms of the sheer range of cuisines available. We can happily say that our mission to find the best is still a work in progress!