Heading to north Goa for a fix of winter sun? When you fancy a break from Indian and Goan food, there are some great restaurants serving up top-notch European and Chinese dishes. Check these out...
I live to eat. It’s as simple as that. If I and Mr Right Indeedy ever won the lottery, half the year would be spent flying around the world to eat our favourite dishes. I kid you not.
Most tourists hear the word ‘Goa’ and think beautiful beaches, quite rightly so, quickly followed by curry. Great chefs like Keith Floyd and Rick Stein have featured Goa in their cookery programmes on Indian and Goan food (the two are quite different by the way), and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, North Goa has yet to earn the reputation it so richly deserves for good food that isn’t Goan or Indian, served in good restaurants at incredibly low prices.
I can say that with some authority because I’m lucky enough to live in Goa all year round and get the opportunity to eat in more places than your average tourist ever would, even if they visited a different one for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of their vacation. If eating very cheaply in a none-too-clean restaurant floats your boat, this review is not for you. But if you like to dine somewhere that’s cheap and a little bit special, then read on.
Roma Italian Restaurant
The wood-fired oven, ably assisted by an Italian chef, produces fantastic (and I do mean fantastic) pizzas and lasagne plus all your usual favourites. As the two of us have eaten most of the menu, I can recommend just about everything apart from the antipasto (good quality hams and salamis are not available in Goa). The restaurant is set in an attractive garden, although the tables are a little close together, and is the only place where I can savour my favourite Italian dish, frittura - squid and prawns lightly battered, served with a green salad, followed by chocolate soufflé (allow 20 minutes' cooking time). Oh God, I could eat it right now! The restaurant only opens in the season, from October to April. They open for lunch, too, but with a reduced menu (no wood oven).
In Calangute: take the Calangute Beach Rd and turn left next to the art gallery.
This small but pretty courtyard restaurant opened its doors during the monsoon of 2008 and never fails to offer an inventive menu for both lunchtime and evenings. Food is always beautifully cooked, always beautifully presented, and the owner and her staff ensure you are given a warm welcome and good service. When I just have to have a good fillet steak, and the monsoon is on, this is the place. Try butterflied king prawns in tempura batter with a chilli and lime dip, oven-roasted aubergine with tomatoes and mozzarella, cauliflower and blue cheese soup – it’s all divine! The chef is from one of the top hotel chains in India, and it shows. Open all year round.
On the main road, opposite the ice factory, on the border with Candolim/Calangute.
La Fenice Italian Restaurant
Run by a charming Italian couple, this lovely little first-floor restaurant has quirky little tables, with wooden gazebos overhead, giving a terraced effect, yet under the stars. The menu is selective and just sublime. Choose anything you like - it’s all good, but the chocolate mousse is just... well, I don’t have the words to describe it. The 'lady’ of the restaurant makes her own bread rolls, which are brought to the table warm. Simply delicious! This is a wonderful dining experience for any time, but particularly for a special occasion. Open October to April.
Take the lane next to Travelbar, and it's 75m along on the left - don’t forget to look up.
Presi di Goa
This old house has been turned into a beautiful boutique hotel, with a small circular restaurant set in the garden. The menu offers some Indian and Goan dishes but concentrates mainly on European food, particularly eastern Mediterranean. Bourek (feta cheese and spinach wrapped in filo pastry parcels), tomato and pomegranate salad, aubergine fritters with a yoghurt dip, lamb kebabs, carpaccio of beef... need I say more? Just go and try it. It's the perfect setting for a romantic dinner, as well as a great place for gathering with friends. Thankfully, Presi de Goa only closes during June.
About 20 minutes by taxi from Calangute: take the Mapusa Rd and turn sharp right at the crossroads. The hotel is about 250m along on the right-hand side.
Set on a terrace by the side of the river, the Hibiscus has one of the loveliest locations. Combine that with an interesting and varied menu, and you have a Chinese restaurant that takes some beating. There are too many good dishes for me to mention them all here, but three are outstanding: ribs in honey and chilli dressing; duck pancakes with hoi-sin sauce (Hibiscus serves the best duck, no contest); and date crisps with vanilla ice cream. Don’t worry if you don’t like dates - these taste nothing like any dates you’ve ever eaten in your life, I promise.
Baga Bridge, Baga (tell your taxi driver to take you to the new Baga Bridge).
Restaurant 42 and Bar Selona
Last but certainly not least, this is one of the few restaurants that has a separate bar area, and lovely it is, too. It’s nice to be able to sit in a comfy chair, kick off your shoes and just have a glass of decent wine, or a well-presented gin and tonic. As this place only opened last season, we heard about it via word of mouth, and we weren’t the slightest bit disappointed. It's set in a beautiful and peaceful tropical garden. The English chef offers too many good dishes to mention, but I must single these out: chicken liver pâté with brandy (just a hint!), plain fillet steak (let the beef do the talking) and pan-fried dorado (a local fish that most restaurants here don’t serve; God knows why - it’s divine). For Mr Right Indeedy, it has to be black pudding on a potato and onion cake with bacon and apple sauce or lamb’s liver with onion gravy. And leave room for dessert: their marquise au chocolat served with cream I truly swear was wafted here from heaven. Open October to April.
In Candolim: head towards the Taj Hotel and take the little lane on the left by the side of JJ’s Guest House, opposite Ruffles Beach Resort; and it's 50 yards along on the left.
Do you know, it’s incredibly cheap and easy to produce good Goan and Indian food; it just takes the passion to do it. Unfortunately, too many restaurants here don’t have that passion. However, it’s unbelievably hard to produce good European and Chinese food in Goa - that takes incredible passion and dedication. Gentlemen (I think all the chefs at the above restaurants are male), I salute you!