Gusto is a wonderfully relaxed establishment that combines an emphasis on great ingredients from the area with local charm, style and panache. Located just off the maddening Candolim main road and tucked into a quiet lane, the restaurant is refreshing in every sense of the word! It doesn’t seek attention with flashy lights and live music. They focus on what they do, and trust that those with a good taste in food and looking for a quiet evening and will find their way there.

Jennifer and Bilal, the husband-wife duo running the restaurant are a charming pair, and give you the insider feel that you don’t get at more formal restaurants. I, for one, and I think most of us, love that homely touch when we dine out. The foodie-enthusiasm that they show wouldn’t be exuded quite as joyfully as in a larger enterprise.

AMBIANCE

On turning into a lane off the main road, Gusto is located a few hundred meters down, right next to the Literatti Book Shop. It was once called Tamarin, but a change of name and location has brought it where it is today.

gusto tamarin goa

Once you’ve arrived at this outdoor restaurant, take a seat under bright orange canopies. It makes a pleasant, breezy space for an afternoon lunch, and as the sun begins to set, you’ll notice that each canopy has a light bulb shielded with a basket for a rustic appeal. Bug spray on each table is effective enough to let you enjoy your meal, pest-free.  A little distance away, the magic happens in an indoor kitchen tucked out of sight behind a wall of bamboo.

SERVICE

While the staff is attentive and capable enough to answer questions, Jennifer is the force behind running the floor seamlessly. I couldn’t help but notice her cheery hellos and goodbyes to diners. She suggested a great mix of dishes that allowed me to sample a bit of the Kashmiri and Mediterranean menus, ensuring each course wouldn’t fill me up before the next.

Bilal, from Kashmir, manages the kitchen behind-the-scenes. In the brief conversation I had with him, I was amazed to learn about how he scoured the state to find the international-level produce – mozzarella, mutton and what have you, from suppliers in Goa, that I, being a local, haven’t ever heard of! He said he hadn’t studied cooking formally, yet his love for food was apparent in his words and shone through in the food he prepared.

FOOD

At first, the half-Kashmiri, half-Mediterranean menu can be a bit strange. But hey, if you do both equally well, it would be a shame to hide it.

Gazpacho + Beetroot and Mint Soup

I preferred the gazpacho to the beetroot and mint soup. Both were served chilled in little shot glasses but the gazpacho was delicious and not like watered-down salsa you get in many places. Made with chilled tomatoes, spring onions, olive oil and garlic, it’s great to get the appetite going before ordering mains.

gusto goa

Lebanese Beef Kibbeh

Kibbeh is the epitome of Middle Eastern comfort food. These were rounder, firmer and slightly drier than croquettes. The exterior was deliciously crispy, and surprisingly, there was not a drop of oil on it at all! So easy to fill up on these since they can be quite heavy!

lebanese beef kibbeh

Mushroom Kebabs

I could not get enough of these, they were SO GOOD! Gorgeous juicy mushrooms stuffed with parmesan, homemade pesto and pine nuts, roasted or sautéed and skewered on a stick. These were absolutely melt-in-your-mouth and the presentation turned the delicious outdoor appetizer into a classier version. Must Try!

gusto candolim mushroom pesto kebab

Israeli Sauteed Chicken

This chicken was divine, and is understandably Gusto’s bestseller. Every bite of the well-cooked, succulent chicken absorbed sweet and savoury orange sauce that really hits all the senses and taste buds. Just enough jus in the bowl lended flavour to the Mujadarra rice with black lentils. The dish was complete with cucumber cut into paper thin slices, pomegranate for a pop of flavour and mint for freshness. This dish was sheer poetry!

israeli chicken gusto goa

Mutton Biryani

Faultless! Before even tasting biryani, I look for the caramelized onions on top! Was instantly pleased with this one and it just kept getting better from there. Fragrant rice, scrumptious chunks of meltingly-tender mutton, ghee, saffron and the taste of fresh herbs and spices cooked together. Another winning dish from Gusto and we polished off every last grain of it.

mutton biryani gusto goa

Rogan Josh

The aromatic lamb dish of Persian origin, is one of the signature recipes of Kashmiri cuisine. This was yet another sensory striking dish – it’s thick gravy marked with its vibrant red hue, brimming with flavour. Again, the lamb chunks were ultra soft and came apart at the slightest insistence. Mutton lovers will recognize the premium cuts of lamb used by the lack of sinew and presence of a delicious layer of fatty goodness. First timers, don’t be alarmed by all the red you see, it’s not fiery hot at all!

Wangun Ruwangan

I’m a huge fan of brinjal/aubergine, especially when paired with a tomato based gravy. This dish with a funny name had fried baby aubergines cooked with tamarind and spice-spiked tomato sauce. Zingy gravy and deliciously mushy brinjal! This is one of those wonderful dishes created with minimalistic ingredients but packing a ton of flavour.

wangun ruwangun gusto goa

Phirni

I overdosed on Phirni this year and swore to stay off it because it was getting boring and monotonous. But when Bilal said he gave it his own spin, I decided to give it a shot, seeing as how he hit the ball out of the park with every other dish. While it was much better in terms of looks and texture, what put me off was the cardamom. I’m not a fan of evil little elaichi when its presence is overly felt.

phirni gusto goa

Coconut Ice Cream

Move over, Naturals Ice Cream! This handmade ice cream has to be tried to be believed. Ultra creamy, smooth and satisfying and surpassing other coconut ice creams by miles!

Overall, the chef-owners have developed a harmonious menu that is thoughtful, aestically well presented and stripped of any pretentions. Both types of cuisine are filled with expertise and sophistication and its worth visiting, not just to eat, but to relish an extraordinary dining experience in the most casual atmosphere.

Meal for 2 – Rs. 1500- Rs. 1800

Address – Literati Bookshop, Gaura Vaddo, Calangute, Goa 403515, India

Check out my post featuring Mustard, which serves French and Bengali cuisine, bound together by a common ingredient! Also, don’t miss some authentic Goan fare at Goan Stories at Vivanta by Taj!

Catch up with you soon! Till then, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Hey Guys!

I know I’ve been MIA for around 2 weeks, but you know how hectic trips home are! Seriously!

When I was studying, going home to Goa meant lazing around, sleeping, eating my fave dishes that Mum cooked and sleeping some more.

Now, before I even reach home, I have a list of restaurants to visit and I eat out more than I eat in. I love it because that means I get to tell YOU GUYS where to find the BEST when you go on a short trip to Goa. Because who has time for mediocre food, right?

This November, I went to surprise my uncle who came home to Goa from the US after 9 whole years. Imagine his craving for authentic Goan food after that long a time. At every restaurant we went, we scanned the menu for some Goan sausage, vindaloo and xacuti because when you’re home for a week, you can’t waste an opportunity to eat that! Of course, most restaurants do it all wrong.

Goans, I know you’ll agree with me here. Our food is complex. Preparing it takes ages. I’ve never seen my grandmother use powders and pastes for as long as she lived. She’d sit out in the balcony and grind masalas on stone, scrape fresh coconut, tap into her stores for vinegar and toddy every single day – and the results showed in every last drop that we’d lick up. The quick, half-hearted ways that many restaurants cook these days is a sham! And sadly, most tourists will never know true Goan food, if they don’t step away from the beach belt.

AMBIANCE

I was invited by Vivanta by Taj, Panjim to check out their new restaurant, Goan Stories. The hotel is located right in the middle of Panjim and isn’t surrounded with acres of greenery and a view of the sea. On entering a small, but well spaced-out lobby, Goan Stories is located on the left of it. At first glance, it does appear quite bare and not as opulent as you’d expect a restaurant in the Taj to be. The tables and chairs are well spaced out and a wooden bar stretches along one end.

At one point, this restaurant, called Tease, was solely a bar. It has now been converted into a restaurant-cum-bar so that it sees footfall all day long, and not just during the evening hours. Goan Stories is relatively new. Still, you can’t help but notice the thought that’s gone behind every touch point.

goan stories taj vivanta goa

Starting with the music! Thankfully, it wasn’t one of those dreary old Konkani playlists but upbeat and super fun songs that are apt for a tiatr. In one of the songs, the singer enthusiastically sung about how he ate a green chilly and his rear-end was now on fire. Totally had us in splits!!

Even the napkins that were neatly placed like a bow on the plates was a Kunbi weave, a craft that is slowly dying out. The kunbis are the aboriginal settlers of Goa and I’m told that to get this particular fabric and pattern, the team hunted the length and breadth of Goa, in the end, finding an old man who was still in the trade, with thoughts of closing down his business. Luckily, Goan Stories now has cloth napkins in the original Kunbi weave style.

kunbi weave taj vivanta goan stories

SERVICE

Well-informed, smartly dressed boys managed the floor with no hitches. If you’ve been reading my reviews, you’ll know I don’t give shout-outs unless really warranted! Thank you, Marvin D’costa, for the apt suggestions and pleasant conversation.

The bartender makes a pretty good martini!

vivanta taj goan stories

FOOD

Let’s not waste any time beating around the bush here! The food was epic from start to finish! Chef Rego, a renowned name in the food industry for preserving Goan cuisine worldwide, has supervised the entire process of putting together the menu at Goan Stories. Most dishes was flawless. I only wished my appetite allowed me to sample it all!

The menu was another element I loved about the restaurant – it came in a huge shell and on opening it, the booklet was stuck to the shell’s hinges. Lovely!!

Flavoured butter!

OMG this was to-die-for! The bread basket had tiny poees, the katro pao (shaped like a butterly) and the much-loved-but-rarely-seen-anymore, kakonn, shaped like a hard bangle. Three flavours of butters arrived too – xacuti, piri piri and cafreal. While it may sound off-putting at first, these were INSANELY yum. It was against our better judgement to fill ourselves up on bread, but we just couldn’t resist those butters. I hope they bottle it up and sell some soon! Oh, and four types of pickles came with the bread, too.

flavoured butter goan stories taj vivanta

thatgoangirl goan stories

Beef and Fish Potato Chops

Goan snacks are incomplete without chops! While the beef chop was pretty great, the fish one wasn’t fishy-enough. Possibly because there was potato mixed in with the fish. It would have been great with some great fusion-sauce, like the butter. I ordered sample portions of these, hence there are only a few on each plate.

snacks goan stories taj vivanta

Rissois

One of my favourite Goan snacks, the rissois usually comes with minced prawn inside. However, in order to keep the veg-non veg balance, these were filled with spinach and corn. LOVED it! The delicious outer shells were beautifully coated with breadcrumbs and so crispy, and the inside had that delicious silky smooth texture, just like prawn rissois are. Must try!

potato chops goan stories vivanta taj

Goan Sausage Chilly Fry

Most Goans know how good these sausages are by the smell alone. For me, just the thought of the heady aroma of spiced, tangy, smoked and sundried goan choriz is something that makes me drool. My rule of thumb is if you can smell it from 500 meters away, it’s gotta be delish! The choriz here ticked all the boxes – robust, packed with rich flavour, and all the delicious juices intact, soaked up in the onions. Gosh, I’m salivating just writing about it!

goan sausages chorizo goan

Crab Xec Xec

Huge red rock crabs cooked in delicious spiced coconut gravy tastes like the coast! When crab xec xec is made from scratch like this was, you’ll taste the complexity of the spice mix and feel the flavours unfold in every bite.  I’ll let the picture do the talking here, but I’ll say this – we had runny noses while eating it. And that = gooooood!

crab xec xec goan stories

Chicken Xacuti

An absolute Goan favourite, and you can’t leave without trying it! The chicken xacuti is much milder than the crab xec xec and we ordered 2 sannas to go with it as rice came along with the dish! Absolutely yum and we mopped up the thick, fragrant curry with deliciously sweet sannas!

chicken xacuti goa goan stories

Sera Durra

The last time I was in Goa, I went to 6-8 restaurants in the hope of tasting Sera Durra, a dessert my family reserves for special occasions. It features layers of biscuit crumbs and whipped cream and the trick to getting it right is whipping the cream just enough, not more – not less, to achieve the right consistency. Many places use sweeteners and gelatin, thereby affecting the taste. The Sera Durra here ended our meal on the perfect note. We were so stuffed, that this light, not-too-sweet dessert topped with berries was just what we needed.

serra durra goa goan stories

This was definitely one of the finest Goan meals I’ve had. Tourists, foodies, everyone, put this on your map the next time around! It will set the bar in terms of authentic Goan food.

I’m sharing pictures and stories of my recent trip to sunny Goa, and current trip to freeezing Canada on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Come along!

Hey guys!

After sampling the limited-time-only Rajasthan Food Festival at Grand Hyatt, Goa in August, I hadn’t visited any short food festivals or special menu events. While these events are few and far between, they’re slowly starting to become a trend. I love attending them for a couple of reasons. These limited-time-only menus give chefs a chance to reinvent and step away from the tried and tested menu that often haven’t been re-looked at in years. The creativity in the new menu speaks volumes every single time!

Often, the menus highlight a certain ingredient, festival or region and chefs from outside the restaurant, or even state and country are brought in. During the ‘Culinary Journey through India’ by Marriott, Goa, the resort honed the skills of their in-house chefs from around the country. The Punjabi chefs took over on the day dedicated to Punjabi cuisine, Goan chefs highlighted Goa fare and every day gave a new chef a chance at the helm. Not something you see everyday, is it?

Without rambling on, I’ll get to the point. The Heirloom Festival by Punjab Grill has been on for around 2 months now and the menu reflects a dedication to using thoughtfully chosen fairly traded ingredients. There’s just about a  week left until the dishes are taken off the menu, so I hope you read this in time. The main ingredient in every dish is chicken!

Scroll through all the delish items on the menu (I sampled EVERYTHING!)

MURGH SHORBA WITH GARLIC AND BARLEY

Flaming orange, super fragrant and spicy (but not the tear-inducing kind), the soup had small chunks of chicken and a generous amount of barley for some chewy texture. It was rich and comforting and I could feel the warm spice make its way down as I swallowed. One of those feel-good, scintillating soups for sure!

murgh shorba garlic barley soup punjab grill

MURGH DALCHA TIKKA

Murgh dalcha is a gravy dish where chicken is cooked with lentils. This was the ‘tikka’ variety. Chicken coated in a smooth lentil/dal paste with yogurt and spices and then dipped into the tandoor to cook. Can’t tell you how succulent this was – the texture of the chicken was neither stringy, tough or too soft. In fact, the chicken in every single dish was spot on perfect. I haven’t seen this dish offered in any restaurant so far, which is quite a pity.

murgh dalcha kebab

TAMARIND TANDOORI CHICKEN WINGS

BBQ glazed chicken wings is always a crowd pleaser! This one was a tad different as it was marinated with a yogurt-spice mix, cooked in the tandoor and then glazed with finger-licking good tamarind sauce. Beautifully sweet, tart and sticky.

tamarind tandoori chicken wings punjab grill

CHARGHA KUKKAD

Can’t believe I’ve never heard of Chargha Kukkad before. A delicacy from the streets of Lahore, chicken is marinated in ground spices and deep fried until golden. This would have probably tasted better with the crispy skin left on, but it was delicious without it, nonetheless.

chargha kukkad punjab grill

MURGH CHAAMPEIN 

Don’t be fooled – these aren’t your everyday chicken lollipops. These chicken drumsticks were marinated and slow cooked for hours so that the flavours penetrated to the bone. This dish just cannot be faulted! It was so juicy and flavourful and had was slightly charred for a smokey taste.

murgh ki champein punjab

THE MAINS

After those 4 meaty starters, I was in no position to attempt mains. But since I may never taste these dishes at Punjab Grill again, I went YOLO! and sampled a spoonful of each.

CHUR CHUR NAAN – I’m one to choose rice over flatbread, but this naan was such a guilty pleasure! It’s hot and firm exterior was stuffed with a thick, satin-like paste of cauliflower and apricots. It was so yum, I could have eaten it plain. But it perfectly complimented every gravy offered.

RAW MANGO CHICKEN CURRY – This dish really stood out! I can still distinctly remember the taste of that tangy gravy. If you’ve ever tried Kasundi, a Bengali curry made of raw mango and mustard, you’d find slight similarities to this one.

MURGH ROAST FATEHWAL – This was really the star of the mains. It was punchy, well balanced fragrant and the taste of ground spices roasted in ghee was apparent in every delicious morsel. Highly recommended.

MURGH KOFTA – I didn’t find anything really spectacular about this dish. It was pretty standard – chicken meatballs cooked in generic Indian spices.

ALOO MURGH KI TEHRI – Simplicity at its best! Baby potatoes cooked dum-style along with minimally spiced boneless chicken. The long-grained rice was also cooked in spices and the rich taste of saffron made its presence felt. There was generous caramelized onions, something I can’t do without in biryanis.

heirloom menu punjab grill

PHIRNI

I thought the phirni I had in Delhi was good. But this one was off the charts! After talking so much about the food, I’m sure you’ll believe me when I say it was Ah-Mazing! The custard like texture, nuts, saffron, broken rice – this was harmony!

phirni punjab grill

Expect nothing less than excellence from the house of Kalra – they’re restaurants never fail to deliver time and again. Head over for a ferocious display of chicken dishes from Punjab Grill before they go.

You may also want to check out my review of another mindblowing Kalra restaurant, Pa Pa Ya.

There’s something new coming up on the blog next – so I’ll be taking a sabbatical from food related posts for a week or so. No shortage of it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram though. Are ya ready?

Mahabaleshwar, the queen of hill stations, is known for many things – the enchanting views of the valley, the chilly weather almost all year round, its strawberries, and its evergreen forests. One thing it is not known for is the food.

It’s true that there are restaurants lined up one besides the other offering cheap eats like south Indian fare in traditional udupi restaurants, steaming maggi noodles in little cafes, wraps and rolls – ideal for a budget traveller to grab a bite and head off to explore. But unless you’re staying at a resort like Brightland, the chances of finding a good quality, sit-down restaurant, complete with great ambience and music is almost nil.

grapevine mahabaleshwar

I heard about The Grapevine coincidentally through the grapevine (sorry, I just had to do that!)  It was recommended to me by a friend, Briston, who owns Foxes Fiesta, close to my home in Goa, that too, as a comment on my check-in to Mahabaleshwar on Facebook. When a chef suggests a restaurant to you, you know it HAS to be worthwhile going there and that’s why I did. Obviously, I was not disappointed; on the contrary, I was blown away! And while I wasn’t intending to blog about it initially, after visiting I feel the world should DEFINITELY know about this little jewel.

AMBIENCE

It took a while to find Grapevine, because Google Maps took me to one side of the building, when the entry to the restaurant was on another. But when I did find it, it stood out right away. Unlike the makeshift restaurants I had seen so far, with their offerings printed on large boards at the entrance and their red plastic chairs within, Grapevine had a clean open facade with white, wrought iron furniture outside.

grapevine restaurant

On entering, a variety of liquor and wine in a wall-to-wall set-up at eye level breaks up the seating areas – one, a couple of steps up on the mezzanine floor, and the other, a couple of steps below ground level. The whole place has a warm, rustic feel and the upbeat music really livens it up, making it almost too hip for Mahabaleshwar!

grapevine restaurant mahabaleshwar

the grapevine mahabaleshwar

SERVICE

Apart from a couple of wait-staff who bring food to the table and clear the dishes, the show is almost entirely run by the chef/owner, Raio, a third generation Parsi from Mahabaleshwar. Softspoken and smiling, he greets us with his warm countenance and since Briston has already given him a heads-up that I may visit, he kindly joins us for a chat.

Raio tells me how his grandfather moved here because the clean air helped his asthma troubles. His family then started Imperial stores, a shopping establishment in Mahabaleshwar. Raio always knew that whatever he ended up doing in life, he’d want to do in his hometown. So after studying Hotel Management in Goa and working for the Taj Hotels, he started the Grapevine.

FOOD

It was quite early in the evening when I visited The Grapevine, and my intention was only to stop by for a coffee or mid-evening snack. But seeing Raio talk about his food so passionately, I couldn’t leave without trying something, nor did he let me.

The restaurant has a huuuuge menu – encompassing soups, starters like tempura, prawn cocktail and parsi mutton bheja cutlets and a small spread of veg offerings too. Mains span from hakka noodles to akuri, pastas, thai curries and of course, Parsi staples like Patra Ni Macchi.

Having fresh seafood brought in all the way from Mumbai up to the hills miles away, just to serve in a gourmet restaurant seems like a whole lot of trouble. So trying a seafood dish seemed like a must-do. On Chef Raio’s recommendation, I tried the Prawn Pattiya which is essentially a Parsi gravy that he has turned into a starter by serving it semi-dry. Perfectly cooked, juicy prawns were coated with the richest sweet-sour gravy I’ve ever tried. Absolute winning dish and we weren’t even sorry that we scraped up every last bit of gravy from the plate.

prawn pattiya grapevine

Just when we thought nothing could top the Prawn Pattiya, the lamb shanks arrived! Oh, those lamb shanks!  It cut like soft butter and was so delicate, you’d have a hard time believing it escaped a furious fire just minutes ago. Deliciously smoky-sweet and overwhelmingly tender, the dark gravy penetrated right to the bone! It was served with a generous helping of cheesy mash potato that sent us to seventh heaven!

lamb shanks the grapevine

A Parsi meal without dhansak? No way! Chef Raio sent this delicious quintessential Parsi staple up next. A huge bowl of fragrant brown rice alongside chunky pieces of mutton that had been simmered in a dal based gravy. What was to be a coffee break turned to a full-fledged meal by 8 pm and we could only manage a couple of spoonfuls. I’ve probably said it before, but I’ll say it again – soOoOOooo good!

mutton dhaksak

Lastly, we sampled one of the desserts, the Ferero Rocher terrine, which was a cool slab of dark chocolate Ferrero Rocher, liquid malt syrup, cream and dark chocolate sauce. It is one of Chef Raio’s inventions. Not too sweet, but considering the meal was so indulgent, we were glad the silky smooth dessert wasn’t too decadent.

thatgoangirl the grapevine 2

It’s a pity one has to go all the way to Mahabaleshwar to get a taste of the food at The Grapevine. I wasn’t intending to make another visit to those parts, but there sure is enough incentive now! If you ever visit that gorgeous hill station, do NOT leave without trying this place out!

Address – The Grapevine Restaurant. Mahabaleshwar Jama Masjid Rd, Mahabaleshwar

Cost for 2 – Rs. 1200-Rs. 1500

Check out my other posts on Mahabaleshwar and drop by to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for a chat. Bye!

One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more travel stories and know more pet-friendly trips you can take. Well, ask and you shall receive! I made my second trip to Ratnagiri, Maharashtra in 2 months and found a spot for all you nature enthusiasts. *happy dance*

A couple of weeks ago, I stayed at the Fern Samali in Dapoli. The Fern is a brand known for its endeavors to be in unison with nature – be it in a bustling metro like Mumbai or off the beaten path in Dapoli. And Ratnagiri district is known for being so tropical – with its sandy beaches, forested ghats and balmy weather. As a vacation spot, it can be quite outlying and relatively unknown as a tourist destination.

GETTING THERE

From Mumbai, The Fern Samali is around 220 kms and you’d have to drive to Panvel and carry on straight until you take a right turn to enter Khopoli. Cross Imagica and head further on until the road divides into two. Turn left to get on to NH66 and follow the road past Kolad, Mangaon, Mandangad and Palgad. Finally, take a right at Sondheghar and after driving 35 kms or so, you’ll have arrived.

thefern samali dapoli

However, I made my way there from Mahabaleshwar, which was a breathtakingly beautiful drive for the most part and I’ll share the travelogue with you shortly. We drove through the flowering ghats on route 72 and turned left at Poladpur to get on NH 66. Once you take a right turn from Khed, its around 30 kms to Dapoli and another 6 to read the entrance of Fern Samali.

fern samali dapoli

THE HOTEL

What I found pretty cool about the Fern Samali is that it dates back to an era when that spot was a British Military Camp. Being on a height, one can see the sea from certain vantage points (one of which is marked with a horse statue.) The resort has 16 luxurious cottages and 22 well furnished rooms.

fern samali entrance

fern samali entry

You get a taste of the lush greenery from the moment you begin heading up the 2 km long driveway to the lobby. Parked outside are a row of cycles which I later learnt you could take and pedal down to the mango plantation the hotel takes care of. The lobby is bright and simple – stairs leading down to a small seating area and a small desk with a receptionist. Got to love these quaint, small-town hotels!

eco friendly fern resort dapoli

fern samali reception

Quite thoughtfully, the hotel has a rack of brochures comprising of things to do in the area. If you’re a long time reader of That Goan Girl, you’d know I love collecting brochures and flipping through them on rainy days! Anyway, I didn’t linger here for long – couldn’t wait to see my room! So I sipped up the welcome drink and headed off, while encountering some lifelike statues of a leopard and deer on the way!

fern samali rooms

fern samali property

Doesn’t this abundance of greenery look refreshing? The botanical names of most plants were mentioned on little boards as an activity for kids to find and cross off these names on a list for a gift.
fern samali resort

fern resort grounds

MY ROOM

Quriky, colourful, fun – what’s not to love! These rooms had character alright – a patterned headboard, cool lamps, colourful pictures hanging on the walls and bright tiles as cupboard handles! The room was spacious and I kid you not, that bed was the softest I’ve ever slept on – it was like sleeping on the clouds! We just lay on it and were out like a light.

aster room fern samali

fern samali dapoli room

All the rooms are named after flowers, and the category I was in was called Aster. One of the characteristics of these rooms was picture-perfect balconies behind sliding glass doors. It was absolutely blissful to sit here on the swing in the morning and look out at the greenery. The hotel has set up little bird feeding stations between two balconies so that you can wake up to the sound of chirping birds. Cool concept, right? Oh, and don’t miss those eclectic tiles

fern resort dapoli

Another smart move to further the eco-friendly nature that the Fern Resorts live by is that the air conditioner automatically switches off through sensors the moment the patio doors open, in an attempt to cut electricity wastage.

The bathroom was pretty small in comparison to the roomy bedroom and could have been bigger. I had an opportunity to check out the rest of the rooms and really loved the one in the Saffron Suite! What was interesting was that the Lilac cottages had open sky bathrooms with real-life gardens having a lotus pond and no glass door separating it. I’d be pretty scared if I was showering and happened to see a lizard or a frog, lol!

Coming back to my room, in terms of amenities, there was a large TV, cupboard, work desk, tea-and-coffee making facilities and toiletries. A little more attention could have been paid here – we had milk sachets, but no sugar – shampoo, but no conditioner.

Overall, I loved the room and it is super comfortable for a long weekend or for the business traveller. Look how huge this sofa was! I loved curling up on it 🙂

thatgoangirl fern samali

THE FOOD

The food at the Fern Samali was lip-smacking! I checked in at around 3pm and hadn’t had lunch so we ordered some noodles and a club sandwich! They arrived pretty quick, which was good since we were ravenous!

fern samali food

Ratnagiri, being a coastal place, I couldn’t leave without trying the seafood and that’s what I sampled for dinner. The butter garlic prawns were juicy and tempting! I tried something different called the Vangyanch Bharit or stuffed brinjal and absolutely loved this saucy new way of eating boring brinjal. I wasn’t a fan of the tandoori sabz, though – the chunks of veggies were roasted with spices in the tandoor but the spices tasted overpowering and hard-hitting on the tastebuds and throat. Murg Malwani or chicken cooked in traditional Malwani spices paired with butter naan really hit the spot and for dessert, I had a cute dessert cup layered with gajar ka halwa and two other sweets that I fail to remember.

The next morning, I went out sightseeing and since it was so hot, I headed back to the room to cool down before heading for breakfast. The breakfast buffet was to close at 10 am, and just as I was about to leave for the restaurant at 9:45 or so, I receive a call from the restaurant saying that I could order my breakfast now and come over in 10-15 minutes when it’s ready. Again, the thoughtfulness was noticed here and the small gesture was appreciated. And the breakfast was absolutely yum!! Perfectly made tea with hot and crispy medhu wadas, aloo paratha and cheese omlette.

breakfast fern samali
AMENITIES

Taking a walk around the huge property sure is a work-out and I couldn’t help but notice how much pets would love sniffing curiously around the grassy patches.

fern aster rooms

Honestly, the amenities were a mix between ‘great’ and ‘definite work needed.’ I personally liked the spacious breezy restaurant which can accommodate around 80 people, but in the evening when we dropped by for a coffee, the light did attract all sorts of bugs – a part and parcel of being amidst nature, but definitely wouldn’t like them doing a backstroke in my coffee.

restaurant fern samali

From the restaurant, you can see the amphitheater where folk dances and skits are sometimes organized. A corporate group would definitely love this space for talks and seminars amidst nature. Additionally, there are two meeting venues and a banquet available too.

ampitheatre fern samali

I was disappointed that I couldn’t use the pool since it wasn’t clean on both days and since the weather was so hot, a swim would have been perfect! The also have a spa, Zion, offering a range of massages and therapies and the option to consult with an in-house doctor for guests who are concerned about issues that may interfere with indulging in a treatment. It would have been nice if this was a bit more polished and elegant in terms of the walls and linen. It seemed quite dated, which takes away from the ‘extravagant’ feel that a spa brings.

the pool fern samali

zion spa fern samali

In terms of activities, there is a set up to play court sports like volleyball and badminton. For group sports, if teams are falling short of people, the staff joins in which is quite nice! Table tennis, carom and air hockey set ups are available in the indoor games room along with a kids play area right next to it. The hotel curiously also has several colourful birds and turkeys chirping in roomy cages.  Lastly, a gift shop to take back items to make those who didn’t travel with you, jealous. *wink wink*

kids play area fern samali

Well that wraps up my review. Nature lovers and contentious travelers, take a trip here and let me know what you think. Although I was in Dapoli for just a day, I did manage to squeeze in a couple of tourist spots and I’ll tell you about them in my next post. In the meanwhile, if you have any questions, shoot!

thatgoangirl the fern samali

You can follow The Fern Dapoli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at @thatgoangirl on Facebook + Instagram and @ImGoanCrazy on Twitter.

Bye!

Ever since I got invited to review Poush, a restaurant serving Kashmiri food and Just Kerala, a south Indian one, I’ve had the song ‘Kashmir Tu Mein Kanyakumari’ stuck in my head. And apart from that one line, I don’t know the words to that song at all. Anyway!

There’s no denying that Mumbai is a mixed bag of cultures, traditions and religions. Naturally, restaurants serving authentic regional cuisine have to find space among new-age fusion restaurants to give people a taste of home, and give foodies a taste of what the country has to offer. Poush is one such place.

AMBIENCE

poush kurla

Comfortably located on the topmost floor of Phoenix Marketcity, Kurla, Poush is anything but inconspiculous. Through its arched wooden windows and intricate patterned curtains, you’ll notice that the interiors aren’t what you’d find in an ordinary restaurant. In fact, it has been designed to resemble a traditional, opulent shikara – or houseboat – on the Dal Lake in Kashmir.

poush mumbai

Both sides of the restauant feature ‘cubicles’ with drawn curtains wherein a thin matteress on which to sit cross legged on either sides of a low table are placed. The center of the restaurant has conventional tables and chairs. I picked the former seating arrangement and stretched my legs out under the table that seemed almost too big for two, but too small for four.

Instrumental sitar and tabla music played on in the background and our tummies began to rumble for a taste of Kashmir’s delectable cuisine.

SERVICE

The staff was quick to attend to patrons and suggest the specials among the vast dozen paged menu. The food came out surprisingly quickly for such lavishly cooked dishes. I couldn’t help but smile when, on requesting for the traditional Kashmiri Thaali comprising of 6-7 meaty dishes, the waiter raised his eyebrows, looked at me and said “madam, zyada padega aapke liye,” (that would be too much food for you). Can’t blame him or his good intentions – he doesn’t know who he’s dealing with 🙂

FOOD

I always read zomato reviews AFTER I visit a restaurant, so that the opinions of others don’t cloud my own judgement. I go without any preconcieved notions and apart from knowing what the menu is like, I don’t read what others have to say. So I was honestly surprised when I came home and read one negative review after another about Poush. My experience was by and large quite positive!

Alphonse and Love Story –  I wasn’t a fan of Alphonse which was made of mango juice, khus and cream. Since it was a mango-based drink, I thought it would be, well, mango-coloured and not green! True, it isn’t the season for fresh mango, but the overly-sweet, artificial taste of the juice was not just lingering, but strong. Love Story, on the other hand was great! I loved the tart pineapple, sweet mango and delicious flavour and scent of rose!

poush kashmiri restaurant

Poush Special Kebab – Rajma Masala is the quintessential comfort food for North Indians and a few of us in the south, too. I skipped the regular meaty kebabs and tried this vegetarian one simply because the name said it was a Poush special. It was a great start to the meal – crispy edges, soft inside and the taste of sauteed onions and herbs was present in every bite! Different from the creamy, satisfying rajma I’m used to.

poush special kebab

Kokur Seekh Kanti – Boneless chicken in a smoky tomato gravy is always bound to be a crowd pleaser. What would have made it much better was if the chicken wasn’t as hard and chewy as it was. I felt the presentation could have used a little work, too.

kokur seekh kanti poush mumbai

Trami – I had a fabulous introduction to Kashmiri cuisine through the Wazwan, a multi course feast prepared during Kashmiri weddings and served on a copper thali called a Trami. To call it a meal would be an understatement, it is nothing short of a meaty celebration. The ‘half-trami’ comprises of 5 starters and 5 main dishes that serve 2.

I was a little surprised on seeing 5 starter pieces served around a heap of rice. Nadier Palak Tikki was fenugreek cutlet of sorts, sort of like a dal wada or a dry cutlet. It was similar to a dal wada in looks and texture but the strong herbal taste of fenugreek was the prime differentiation.

trami wazwan poush mumbai

Fried chicken was yet another starter – it looked red hot but was mild in taste and, unlike the kokur seekh kanti, quite succulent. Next up, seekh kebab – melt-in-the-mouth minced mutton marinated and grilled on skewers over coal, keeping the delicate crunch of onions in the meat for texture.

The most interesting starter was the kabargah, which I learnt were ribs of a young lamb cooked in a special blend of milk and spices and then fried. It comes absolutely bone-dry and tastes as if it had been dried in the sun for days. I really got down and dirty eating this Kashmiri delicacy, with its crispy edges and sinewy meat that took quite a lot of effort to get off the bone. The best way to eat this is without any inhibitions!

Lastly, we sampled methi maaz which stood out for being the only gravy starter. This aromatic, spicy curry had tiny fatty chunks of mutton and generous amounts of fenugreek. The rice helped balance out the fiery spices here, but made us so full that we didn’t anticipate how to tackle the 5 mains.

that goan girl poush

Among the 5 main dishes I mopped up with tandoori roti, I loved the hearty Rogan Josh best! This signature bright red lamb dish had robust flavours and the softest meat soaked in rich, flavour-packed gravy. Goshtaba was another first for me. It was a dish of tough, tightly formed mutton balls cooked in a mildly tempered curd gravy. A tasty bowl of rajma was the only familiar dish I knew of. Nadier Palak added a whole new taste profile thanks to the lotus stem-spinach gravy and broke up the meat and spice overload. Lastly, Ruwangan Kokur also featured which was a chicken dish cooked in a tomato gravy with ample seasoning with kashmiri chillies.

trami kashmiri food

When we were too stuffed to breathe, the waiter bought out an elaborate spouted copper teapot with water and a vessel called a Tash Naer to wash our hands in and finally, dessert comprised of a simple Phirni in a clay dish.

phirni poush mumbai

No Kashmiri meal is complete without Kahwa, a strong, fragrant, absolutely delicious green tea. While I’m not a fan of green tea, the taste of cardamom, nuts, saffron and apples really cleansed my palate and was soul-warming to say the least. Loved every drop of it!

kahwa poush mumbai

That comes to the end of my elaborate, scrumptious meal at Poush in Kurla. If you’re based in the Western Suburbs or SoBo, it may seem like a tremendous task to travel all the way to Kurla, but for die-hard food lovers, it is worth the trip! Poush also delivers all across Mumbai within 1-4 hours, depending on where you’re based.

Address: S-25, Floor 2, Phoenix Market City, LBS Road, Kurla, Mumbai

Cost for 2 – Rs. 2000/-

Hope you enjoyed reading this! I’ll keep you posted on my latest food discoveries on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, too!

Note – I was invited to review Poush, and my meal was sponsored. However, views, as always, are my own.

What’s not to love about the southern state of Kerala? Perhaps India’s prettiest state, it’s tranquil backwaters, endless coconut groves, green-face-painted Kathakali dancers and seafood define the region.

In Chakala (Andheri), a restaurant with an unassuming appearance attempts to bring the flavours of Kerala into Amchi Mumbai. ‘Just Kerala’ is located close to the Bisleri Factory, inside Hotel Samraj and serves delectable, vibrant south Indian fare.

AMBIENCE
just kerala restaurant

While it doesn’t appear so at first glance, the hotel has valet parking with cordial staff out front. Once in the lobby, make your way to the restaurant on the 2nd floor. On entering, you’ll find that the restrained white décor is refreshingly different. Floor to ceiling windows with strategically placed potted palms give the place an instant bright appeal. The décor is coherrent – having a large, polished bar with a textured white finish and matching white chairs, table runners and ivory sofas. A traditional lamp somewhere in the centre is the only stand-alone object you will find.

SERVICE

I was very impressed with the service at Just Kerala. The waiters were knowledgable, courteous and well spoken. They recited complicated dish names like Lobia Ulathiyathu and mezhukkupuratti with ease, as I struggled to get the spelling right on my notepad. Food, not only on my table, but also on tables surrounding mine came promptly and they were attentive to even guests sitting in the corners of the restaurant.

FOOD

For me, an unfamiliar menu is great fun as I love to figure out what’s what. This one was well written and while the names of the dishes are long and complicated, the descriptions are well written providing enough explanation yet leaving a little for guesswork. Also, it is worth mentioning that this is the only restaurant serving Kerala cuisine and possessing a liquor license.

Parippu Vada

There’s nothing sadder than soggy vadas! And this one set the tone absolutely right for the rest of the meal! Super crunchy on the outside and soft + tasty on the inside, they are made with a coarse paste of soaked chana dal, onions, ginger-garlic and spices! These once used to be my morning snack before work, since there used to be a seller just outside my office – and I could never resist that rustic texture and hearty flavour, especially on rainy days!

parippu vada just kerala

Surmai Fish Fry

Being Goan, fried fish is something that swims in my blood. Surmai, being a flavourful fish doesn’t need much added to it to make it a knock-out side-dish. While in Goa, we like it crumb fried, Just Kerala fried it after coating it with some awesome traditional spices and chillies, ginger-garlic and showered it with ground pepper. The red masala infused right through the fish and it was deliciously tangy and delicate!

surmai fish fry just kerala

Chicken Malabar Curry

The thing about the coastal area is that even though all communities use the same ingredients, the style of cooking and spices used give it a while new dimension. This vivacious spicy chicken curry was finger-licking good and had that typical South Indian flavour thanks to the addition of luscious coconut milk and complex spice mix. I enjoyed it with some traditional rice chapatis, called appams!

malabar chicken curry just kerala

Coconut chicken

This was my favourite of the lot. I love coconut in everything and the coconut here was so strong that I just couldn’t stop eating it! It was a semi dry dish packed with spices that were softened with the gentle touch of coconut. It was a little too oily for my liking, and if it wasn’t for that, the dish would have been heavenly!

coconut chicken just kerala

Long pieces of fresh coconut was amply added in with small chunks of chicken. The meat was so juicy and coconut flavour was so intense, it made me feel like I was on a tropical vacation to Kerala! And the best part is that it wasn’t sweet – like most coconut based dishes are – but had the powerful backing of ground spices. Don’t miss this addictive dish for sure!

Thali /Sadhya

You can’t go to a Kerala restaurant and not order a traditional thali served on a banana leaf! The amount of food on these always leaves me overwhelmed – but it’s more to do with the variety than than the quantity. Just Kerala is the only restaurant to serve Sadhya and it is interesting to note that they even deliver Sadhya to offices nearby for lunch – however, not with all 13-15 items – but with 5.

Just kerala chakala andheri

You can opt for an unlimited vegetarian Sadhya or go for the non-veg one, which is basically the same thing substituted with chicken or fish curry instead of veg curry. A jaw-dropping amount of Kerala boiled rice was served with Sambar Rasam, a watery, tangy-sour curry of sorts made using tamarind, tomato and pieces of drumsticks.

sadhya thali just kerala

A Sadhya isn’t complete without the quintessential Kerala classic, avial, or mixed vegetable seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves. And apart from that, it also featured a veg dish made of suran (yams), Thoran (vegetable stir-fry), mezhukkupuratti (long beans), travancore chicken curry, a dish made of roasted black beans (lobia ulathiyathu), a delicious raw banana-curd side dish, ghee, banana chips, papad, pickle and buttermilk. A small bowl of vermicelli sevaiyan was served too. Like normal thalis, the items served differ everyday, however, the plethora of items, each with its own distinct taste, keeps it interesting.

To say this was filling would be an understatement. But Sadhya is an all-round healthy meal and although it leaves you stuffed at first, it gets digested pretty quickly and doesn’t leave you feeling sluggish.

Asda Payassam

The dessert menu comprised of a fair amount of Indian desserts such as Rasgulla and Gulab Jamun. In terms of authentic Kerala desserts, there were only Seviyan Payassam and Ada Payassam. I had already tried the former when it came as a part of the thali, so I ordered for the Ada Payassam – comprised of jaggery and flat rice in sweetened milk. I’m not a fan of jaggery so I wasn’t raving about this. I wish the menu had a bit more variety like maybe Unniyapam, Chatti Pathiri and Bonda.

asda payassam

Just Kerala so far hasn’t got the attention it deserves and except from the office-goes around it and the mallu community. If you’re wondering whether they serve the meat that must not be named, not exactly, but they do serve meat from other members of the bovine family.

Here’s where you can find them:

Address – Hotel Samraj, Chakala Road, Chakala, Mumbai

Cost for 2 – Rs. 900 for 2 (excluding drinks)

Get a true taste of God’s Own Country at Just Kerala and if you do happen to go, let me know what you think by dropping me a line on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Bye!

Note – I was invited to review Just Kerala, and my meal was sponsored. However, views, as always, are my own.

How are you doing, guys?

After a quiet monsoon season of catching up on work and building my marketing agency, I’ve suddenly found myself drowning in blog posts. Just two months ago, things seemed to have stagnated and this blog, That Goan Girl, seemed to have plateaued. But post my trip home to Goa, where I reviewed at least half a dozen restaurants, I’m back in Mumbai and it’s literally raining collaborations and feature requests again. While my pickiness about who I feature here and talk to you about does filter a lot of brands/restaurants out, there are quite a few that are worth talking about.

Pa Pa Ya is one of them! Casual, yet fine-dining, luxurious, yet edgy, Zorawar Kalra’s restaurant has been on my radar for the longest time. His other restaurants, Masala Library and Farzi Cafe are both mighty impressive, and employ the concept of molecular gastronomy, of which, he is the master.

pa pa ya ambience

AMBIENCE

I’ve peeked in at Pa Pa Ya’s Lower Parel outlet as I’ve walked past on many occasions and boy, does it ooze glamour! My review was held at the Colaba outlet and it was just as chic! This dimly lit modern Asian bistro had touches of crimson and an ample amount of their hexagon motifs everywhere. While downstairs is much more spacious, especially with the high ceiling, it is not quite the case upstairs.

pa pa ya ambience colaba

SERVICE

The service was quick, the staff was knowledgeable, but for the life of me, I couldn’t understand a word my waiter said. He literally spoke so fast that after a couple of dishes arrived, whenever I saw him approach with something new, I kept the menu ready for him to simply point out what the dish was. Anyway, I can’t deny that the knowledge was all there, because whenever I asked him what seasoning was used, he would rattle off without any hesitation.

FOOD

What makes Zorawar Kalra’s many restaurants stand out is that for the longest time, he’s been redefining what it means to cook ‘authentic’ food. Not quite traditional, not quite modern, most of the food plays with flavors from other cultures, creating an entirely new take on cuisines that have long remained the same. His brilliant knowledge of molecular gastronomy and one look at the menu confirms that here too, it’s all about experimentation. Here’s what I tried from the long and confusing 16-page menu.

Crispy Lotus Root – We were first brought the Amuse Bouche – a basil compressed watermelon in lemongrass and chilly foam served on a seashell with some smoking dry ice below. It popped like a bubble bursting in my mouth and released all its delicious flavour, making way for the Lotus Root that was brought quickly after.

crispy lotus roots

Sticky, sweet, slightly caramelized and just a slight hint of spice! The crispy lotus root from Pa Pa Ya is so crispy, you can break it with a satisfying *snap*

I’m so addicted to crispy starters, and this one was no exception! It came with a cool, creamy avocado dip for balance.

Sushi Tree – Sushi lovers like myself have often wished that this Japanese staple would grow on trees, and at Pa Pa Ya, they do! Various types of colourful nigiri are placed on the branches of this wooden tree and at the base are pickled ginger and wasabi. Apart from the traditional tuna and salmon sushi with caviar on top, there were two interesting nigiri as well. I particularly liked the ‘carbon sushi with rice balls’ which are coloured jet black with squid ink and had rice-crispy-balls on top for crunch. Another great ‘fruit’ of the tree was spicy tuna roll with seaweed that had a 7 powdered-spice mix coated on the sides. Loved every bite!

sushi tree pa pa ya colaba

sushi tree pa pa ya

Lamb and Mandarin Bee Hun – This looked like a piece of art! Translucent steamed potato and rice wrappers stuffed with mandarin flavoured lamb was cooked to perfection. It was served with a tiny bit of black bean sauce which worked wonders in elevating the dish.

lamb mandarin bee hun

Kale and Pakchoy Gaozi – This may be a hit with the vegetarians, but I wasn’t a fan. The delicate mushroom parcels were served with a crispy-starchy potato shell. Presentation wise it was quite messy – random splotches of sauce on the plate with microgreens strewn around carelessly. The waiter suggested rolling the mushroom in the papad-like coverings and while that added texture, it was pretty strange, I must admit.

Beet Infused Dim Sum – A colourful twist to dimsum, Pa Pa Ya kept it natural with bright pink beet infused wrappers stuffed with sautéed leeks, chestnuts, celery and spring onions. It was served with yuzu soya foam on top as garnish and looked refreshingly different. The flavours here seemed very Indian and it could be the use of spices. It was good, but not wow. What saved it for me was that texture wise, silken wrappers paired with the crispy filling was interesting.

beet infused dimsum pa pa ya

Pla Samrot Gung – I looove sweet-and-sour flavour profiles so the Pla Samrot Gung was a hit in my books. You may find the flavour here overlapping with many of the dishes on the menu though. Plump tiger prawns were coated in piquant Thai sauce, served on a bed of pea sauce with a beautiful dehydrated slice of pineapple for garnish which was dry and chewy at the same time. Ah-mazing!

pla samrot gung pa pa ya

Pork Belly Skewers – Again, mildly sweet but oh, how buttery!! This is Pa Pa Ya’s version of Japanese Pork Belly Skewers and it is glazed with mirin and soy sauce. Chargrilled, slightly sticky and utterly melt-in-your-mouth good, this was simply irresistible. Check out the presentation!

pork skewers papaya

pork skewers pa pa ya

Wasabi Rice – Not something I’d ordinarily order, but I’ve had some good luck going with the staff’s suggestions and once again, this one was a win! Don’t let the name scare you away, this dish won’t set your nostrils aflame. The rice is slightly sticky, fragrant and with an ever-so-slight tinge of wasabi. The tiny diced bell peppers added colour and bite to it.

wasabi rice pa pa ya

Lamb Rendang Curry – Its hard picking a favourite dish here, but this one came out tops. To call the meat ‘tender’ would be an understatement – it literally fell off the bone at the slightest touch. That gravy, guys!! Mind blowing! Infused with strong spices with a dash of coconut cream, it was irresistible I didn’t like the lachha paratha it was served with, but then I like my rotis fully cooked – so it comes down to personal taste on that front. Definitely don’t leave Pa Pa Ya without digging into this one.

lamb rendang pa pa ya

Pad Thai Noodles – Unlike the other items that were either sweet-ish or rich, this one was quite basic in comparison. Tossed noodles with scrambled egg, peanuts and capsicum and slightly on the oily side.

pad thai noodles pa pa ya

Braised Sliced Chicken in Chilly Sauce – As I write this, around a fortnight after visiting Pa Pa Ya, nothing about this dish stands out. I’d definitely skip this on the next visit because there are stellar items on the menu and this one doesn’t quite match up.

chicken chilly sauce pa pa ya

Flaming Chocolate Ball – Pa Pa Ya’s signature dessert has very ordinary elements put together to form a whimsical creation. Scoops of ice cream inside a chocolate ball, some cookie crumble, nuts, whipped cream, orange liqueur, chunks of chocolate brownie and a bit of chocolate ganache. It is set ablaze with 15 mls of alcohol and the blue flames slowly reveal the ice cream within. Taste-wise it wasn’t Pa Pa Ya worthy, but it did add some theatre! The video of its sapphire blue flames are on my Instagram page.

flaming chocolate ball pa pa ya

At Pa Pa Ya, the food speaks, and how! It is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. The restaurant takes any notions you have of Asian Food and turns it around, giving you an experience you’ll never forget.

Address: Hotel Diplomat, Whitehouse Building, 24-26, B. K. Boman Behram Marg, Apollo, Bund, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001

Cost for 2: Rs. 3000/-

See you next time! Until then, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and check out my last posts on The Oak Barrel and Caravela Cafe

xoxo

P.S.- I was invited to review Pa Pa Ya, and my meal was sponsored. However, views, as always, are my own.

Remote, outworldly, spellbinding!

The glistening ice-clad peaks and acres upon acres of white have has caused Antartica to be on the bucket list of scores of travellers. I’m sure that Antartica, even in my wildest imagination can’t compare to its actual beauty and the overwhelming power of nature in reality. A landscape dotted with adorable penguins, the sounds of bellowing elephant seals and the ice cracking as the ship sails ahead, the rush of ice-cold wind…

Seems ethereal, doesn’t it?

pexels-photo-258112

Antarctica is a land of inspiration and soul-awakening. In fact, ‘trip-of-a-lifetime’ somehow seems like a lame cliché to describe it, but it’s the closest we’ll ever get. Cruises have made it possible, and even comfortable for visitors to experience the sheer size and grandeur of Antarctica, and while there are many of these, the Q seems to stand out.

Through The Q Experiences a luxury cruise, Le Soleal will be transporting 200 Indians to answer the mysterious call of the South. Departing from Ushuaia, the city at the edge of the world, on the 9th of December, this 11-day cruise will take guests through the Drake Passage, named after the first daring voyager to venture into these waters.

Two days into the journey, visitors will feast their eyes on the South Pole in the distance, growing larger as they approach and on Day 4, they will get to experience Neko Bay. On Day 5 and 6, they venture to land again, in the unforgiving cold. Weather permitting, they will visit Pleneau Island, an ice-covered, desolate place that is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Day 7 takes visitors to Deception Island, which is steeped in history, being a port that has served as a base for seal hunters, but is also a whaling station and a research centre.

They begin sailing away on Day 8 and slowly, traces of Antarctica begin to fade on Day 9 and 10. On day 11, the air feels different as they make their way back to Argentina from where, if guests wish, they can stay back and visit other breath-taking sights on their own – Machu Pichu, the Amazon, the Galapagos Islands and the Andes.

All through the journey, a team of chefs will be hard at work to ensure guests dine on food worthy of a luxury cruise. Chef Atul Kochhar, a 2 star Michelin Chef will oversee Indian food alongside his counterparts catering to other cuisines. I recently got the chance to have a chat with him and his excitement was contagious! He is also thrilled to be going to work alongside Chef Allain Ducasse, the godfather of French cuisine.

soya kheema kulcha the q experiences

“For the French,” Chef Atul says, “Indian food is just curry. I want to showcase how extensive our palate is.” He adds, “every journey teaches me something and I want to see what this one teaches me.”

food thewhitecontinent.com

Chef Atul tells me that preparations are already underway for the mammoth journey and his dry ingredients have been dispatched to South America. The fresh produce will be bought before boarding the ship and will last him 3-4 days. Then, as fresh produce stocks deplete, he will be challenged to satisfy the demands of the passengers with dry ingredients. He laughingly says that as produce depletes, that’s when Indian cravings start kicking in – and people crave some dal and rice, vada pao or butter chicken. And he looks forward to meeting these demands in the most creative way possible.

atul kochhar the q antactica

Some of the dishes I sampled included Soya Kheema Kulcha, Lapeth Thoka, Rajma Chawal Tikki, Coronation Chicken, Carrot Baklava and White Chocolate Brownie.
dessert luxury cruise antarctica

While sailing to the white continent with Q Experiences seems unlikely at this time, at least my taste buds got to travel to the white continent!

Oh well, maybe someday!

If you’d like to know more, check out the White Continent website

Bye!!

Whew!

I’ve finally come to the end of my string of restaurant reviews in Goa. From Tio Tillys to Yaki Zushi, Marriott to Grand Hyatt, Caravela Cafe to Cluck Tales – this trip sure had me piling on the kilos.

the oak barrel

However, I was certain that I left the best for last when I checked out The Oak Barrel in Miramar with my brother one evening. Situated a few minutes before the Miramar Circle, the restaurant is fairly new and hard to miss as you drive past.

oak barrel goa interiors

The Oak Barrel caters to the older generation. On the day we visited, multiple tables had, what looked like 30-year-classmate-reunions happening. The energy, laughter and merriment was truly contagious.

AMBIENCE

The two-level restaurant has warm, tasteful interiors with a very relaxed ‘lounge’ feel to it. Downstairs the tables have high-stools, whereas upstairs the seating options vary between long couches for large groups and very low chairs for parties of twos and threes. The chairs aren’t the comfiest in the world, especially for tall folks like we are.

oak barrel restaurant

A glitzy bar greets you as you enter and as you make your way upstairs, you’ll find a waist-high glass-paneled cubicle in the center from where one could stand and look down over the bar. This area had beautiful paper lanterns in all shapes and sizes and added some romance and colour to the otherwise earthy space. Lovely!!

the oak barrel panjim goa

There were live crooners, Adrian and Dylan, the day I visited and they belted out one nostalgic hit after the other. Literally every table was singing along to MLTR songs. It almost seemed like one big jam-up session.

oak barrel goa live music

SERVICE

Kudos to the service staff! They were so prompt, attentive and experienced. I have to mention the young restaurant manager, Nathan, who handled the entire restaurant seamlessly, while finding time to mingle with each table and even serve patrons their meals. Complete hands-on attitude.

FOOD

Being a Pan Asian Restaurant, the menu is a mix of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese food and the like. Nathan tells me that the food here doesn’t promise to be authentic, but it does promise to deliver on taste without compromising on the quality of ingredients. So while you won’t find “bland soupy” South East Asian fare in all its authenticity, you can sample some Indo-style twists that are more suited to the Indian palate.

Go Green + Passion Hunter – The cocktails were turned into mocktails for us teetotallers. I tried the Green Apple, a drink made with cucumber and green apple. Clean flavours, very hydrating and you could feel the coolness with every sip. My brother picked the Passion Hunter which was basically a mojito with passion fruit extract. Again, it was quite refreshing and tropical and we kept sipping each other’s drinks throughout.

Prawn Har Ghao – How good do these look? Prawn Har Gao are also known as crystal shrimp dumplings because the chunks of shrimp can be seen through the translucent wrapping. Being minimally spiced, you can taste all the fresh, juicy flavours. If you like momos, you’ll love these!

prawn hargao oak barrel goa

Exotic Veg Dimsum – Emerald green in colour and with such a gorgeous sheen! These were the first green dimsums I’ve seen and they taste as appetizing as they look. Just like the prawn har ghao, these were super juicy, yet firm. I couldn’t help but notice that even though I picked one up so many times to get that perfect photograph, it didn’t break apart like most do.

exotic veg dimsum oak barrel goa

Got to mention those sauces though – the dimsum was served with three sauces that were just spectacular! It’s hard to choose a favourite but the honey-pepper sauce had just a little more edge. I could drink that bowl of dipping sauce and I’m not even kidding!

Tossed Mushroom Trio – Every bite holds something new because this dish has so many textures. I bet I probably had a quizzical expression when I tried the Tossed Mushroom Trio because it just kept me guessing throughout. Succulent, buttery button mushroom, chewy Shittake, jelly-like-yet-crunchy black fungus mushroom, spongy-looking yet unusually crispy white fungus mushroom and smooth straw mushrooms all tossed in mild spices. It’s a party in your mouth!

Home style Pork – This one would pair well with drinks for sure. It was dry and just the right amount of salty to make it a perfect dish for a rainy day! Don’t think too much about ordering this one, it would make a good side dish for just about any rice-curry dish you order.

home style pork the oak barrel goa

Laksa – More like Khao Suey than Laksa, but there is a fine line between the two. This one-pot-wonder will strike every single tastebud with its vibrant flavour. Thick, luscious coconut-milk-based gravy with just a tinge of an elaborate spice mix loaded with noodles, veggies, chicken cubes and egg, garnished with tofu. I’ve always said that if something could be called a bowl of happiness, this would be it!

laksa the oak barrel goa

Massaman Curry and Jasmine Rice – The flavours slightly overlapped with the Laksa, but then again, this was a coconut-milk based gravy dish too. I’ve saved the best for last here and still thank my stars that Nathan recommended the Massaman Curry to us. This one deserves an Oscar! The lamb was meltingly tender, the curry was luxurious, complex, flavourful and we just couldn’t stop eating it, even after being so stuffed. Paired with some sticky jasmine rice, this was divine!

Coconut Caramel Custard – I didn’t think that the quintessential caramel custard could get any better, but the delicious hint and smell of coconut made it downright irresistible. We couldn’t stop digging in!

coconut caranel custard theioakbarrel

Homemade Ice Cream – We tried two flavours, cinnamon and coconut-jaggery and hands-down vote for the coconut! Dense, not too sweet and the taste takes centre stage.

Such a gem, this place! We left so pleased and satisfied! If you’re in Goa, definitely check them out and thank me later!

Address: The Oak Barrel. Near the Times Building. Dayanand Bandodkar Marg, Miramar, Panjim, Goa 

Cost for 2: Rs. 1,200/-

Got any restaurants or hotels you think I should feature on That Goan Girl? Drop me a comment or holla on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and I’ll be glad to drop by!

xoxo

Jade

P.S. My meal was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own

If you’re wondering where Caravela Café is, you’d be surprised to know that you’ve most definitely driven past it as you enter Panjim. I have too! We’ve passed it countless times, and a split second glance into one of the lanes would have led you to this gem of a place that’s hidden from plain sight and known for serving all-day English breakfasts. A few surrounding landmarks include Marc Brown Café and the small, unavoidable petrol pump besides the Mandovi, from where you go straight towards Kala Academy or turn left to get into the main city.

caravela cafe panjim goa

The Caravela Café began to provide the guests residing at Caravela Home Stay, a few seconds away, a place to dine. Even today, guests come to the café to avail of their complimentary buffet breakfast but the tiny café also caters to walk-ins.

Whether you’re looking for a quick breakfast spot on a harried Monday morning or prepping to enjoy a Sunday brunch feast, Caravela Café has something for every mood and occasion, without compromising on quality.

cafe caravela goa

AMBIENCE

This small, cosy all-day café is quite charming in its shades of yellow and brown with innumerable knick-knacks, curios and teacups on shelves that look just like those your grandmother used to have. Various posters quip their love for coffee in witty one-liners, providing for some amusing reading material as you sip your brew. The building itself has one of those old Portuguese style exteriors but the distinct vintage charm is maintained inside in small details like the striped tablecloth and furniture.

caravela cafe coffee

4 tables compactly fit in the outer room whereas the inner room is a little larger and spaced out. The juxtaposition of old and new is present here, the new being the sleek coffee machines brewing fresh coffee.

coffee at caravela goa

SERVICE

The owner of the restaurant, Carlos, and his father were around when I visited and offered suggestions on what to order. While I was there, another two tables filled up, and I noticed that as each new customer arrived, they found the food on a nearby diner’s table interesting, thus ordering the same. There seem to be a few crowd favourites at Café Caravela and dishes come to the table quickly.

FOOD

The café has a wide selection of brekkie items, the most popular being the all-day breakfasts. You can also choose from among cornflakes, soups served with pao, Snacks (Goan sausage bread, croquettes, potato chops), Sandwiches (BLT, tuna and cheese, ham, etc), salads, pasta, pizza, Goan specials such as Pork Balchao, Chicken Cafreal, Xacuti and Fejoida. Juices and teas were available. Coffee lovers are in for a treat as Caravela Café has a separate menu for coffees, featuring various kinds of beans and blends so you can personalize the depth and flavour of your drink.

While desserts were on the menu, they didn’t have the Serra Durra I asked for, hence continuing my streak of bad luck with desserts in Goa this time around.

The All-Day Breakfast

English Breakfasts have stood the test of time, and for me, is synonymous with a holiday. We can’t indulge in them every day, because, they aren’t the healthiest thing in the world – so when you do have one, make sure it’s amazing! The English breakfast features bacon, sausage, a hash brown, baked beans, tomato, sliced bread and eggs, your way. Wash it all down with a glass of juice and a hot beverage which is included. It all comes together to make a breakfast that’s better than the sum of its delicious parts!

all day english breakfast caravela cafe

Prawn Rissois – Have you even lived if you haven’t tried Prawn Ressois? They are YUM… no, really, they’re YUM!! Addictive, actually! After nice, crispy beef patties, this is my favourite Goan snack (and sometimes the only reason I go to Café Xavier in Mapusa *confession*). So thrilled that I found them in Panjim, too, and they were just as great. This delicate breaded pastry are bite-sized, slightly crunchy on the outside and filled with a delicious melt-in-your-mouth prawn filling inside.

rissois caravela cafe

P.S. Anyone know where I can get these in Mumbai?

Nutella and Banana Pancakes

While pancakes aren’t written on Café Caravela’s menu, there are signboards indicating that they are served with a couple of topping options. I was tempted to try the Banana and Nutella pancake and was quite liked them – warm, fluffy, tasted homemade and had those nice crispy edges I like.

I got a small bowl full of nutella on the side – always a good thing, however I wished that it would have been slightly warm so that it would have been easier to drizzle it on top. I’d order it again at brunch, tea-time, or whenever those sugar cravings hit.

WHAT I LIKED

Value for money – Compared to a lot of breakfast places, these prices were super reasonable! 4 croquettes/rissois at Rs. 50, Soups and omletes below Rs. 100, cold coffee at Rs. 50 (what!), the All Day Caravela breakfast at Rs. 325 – steals, right? Fingers crossed it stays that way!

The range of coffees – Parama, Sattva and Aromatique are three choices of single-estate artisan, freshly ground coffees available and they are quite good!

The idyllic vibe!

WHAT COULD BE BETTER

Desserts – C’mon people, are you conspiring to get me off desserts? Third restaurant in a row to not have them!

Some healthier options – such as oats, porridge and salad bowls. Since they have Goan items on the menu, some omlete ros would be great too! … and waffles!

 

Address: 27, 31st January Road, Panaji, Goa

Cost for two: Rs 500 approx

 

That wraps up my tiny tasting session at Café Caravela! Stay tuned to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts for more delicious pictures!

Until next time!

P.S. My meal was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own