This post is a part of the What’s On My Plate series
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
The ‘Tuna Truffle Nigiri’, which has intense flavour and is made with absolutely fabulous produce
At the turn of the millennium (a term I like using because it sounds like the opening to a great sci-fi movie), I used to frequent Goa Marriott Resort and Spa…A LOT. It got to that point where memberships were made, several days would be staying there (despite living only 34 kilometeres away), and what not. Then, after a period of some years, came a period of great decline at the property; and that saddened me deeply, as it seemed to me that no one really cared about how things were playing out. This spell would go to last for quite a while, until a new team of back-end staff members would steer the ship out of turbulent waters; one of whom is the property’s very driven Executive Chef, Pavan Chennam, who took over at the end of 2017.
To put his drive into perspective, let me sum things up thus – ‘Goa Marriott Resort and Spa’ has three restaurants on the property: ‘Simply Grills’, ‘Waterfront Terrace and Bar’ and ‘Wan Hao’. For as long as I can remember, ‘Simply Grills’ had never had a facelift, was formerly known as ‘Simply Fish’, and when I had once dined there the service staff had told me that they had run out of fish…enough said. However, at the time of Pavan taking over, it was re-launched to introduce new concepts. ‘Waterfront Terrace and Bar’, to the best of my memory, has only ever had minor work undertaken, but it’s the property’s all-day dining restaurant, which makes things understandable at the very least. Last on the list is ‘Wan Hao’, which with reference to this piece is perhaps the most important of the lot. The interiors of this place were so dated that it looked like an 80s time-warp, where you went back in time to oriental restaurants from 30 years ago, the moment you entered. However, its newer avatar is definitely something else. I don’t bring all these points up to bash the property in any way, but rather to highlight and salute all the passion that has gone into turning things around and bringing it on par with its dining counterparts across the board…finally…because ‘Goa Marriott Resort and Spa’ has all the potential to be a preferred dining outlet for locals and tourists alike.
The new-look ‘Wan Hao’ is more outdoor-focused, and I love the new setup, reminiscent of a terrace-based restaurant. It’s no longer stuffy and dingy as it used to be (though that section still exists); but much rather airy, elegant and –with just a handful of tables for outdoor seating – exclusive. Another important point to be noted is that with the segment’s growing popularity in the local market, ‘Goa Marriott Resort and Spa’ has also gotten aboard the sushi train, but more on that in a minute, when we discuss how the meal progressed.
We started off our meal with the ‘Braised Seafood Soup’, which is an amalgamation of prawn, fish, crabmeat, egg drop, shitake mushroom and soya. What I loved about the soup was the fact that there wasn’t any cheating. The elements were all there in generous amounts. There was no scarcity of anything. The only downside for me, was that the flavours were extremely potent, which can sometimes be a lot for someone with a more delicate palate to handle.
From there on, it was time to sample a little of what the dim sum menu had to offer. We began with the ‘Crystal Prawn and Asparagus Dumpling’, with shrimp mince, ginger and coriander, which was light, flavourful and seemingly appropriate for that riverside/seaside setting that the revamped ‘Wan Hao’ offers. Soon thereafter, the next dish on our plate was the ‘Jiaozi Dumpling’, stuffed with assorted vegetables, chestnut, glass noodle and truffle. Jiaozi is one of the most commonly consumed foods in China’s northern provinces, especially during the Chinese New Year; easily understandable, given its simplicity and portability, which are paramount to Chinese dining.
The sushi on the new menu is also interesting, because it incorporates ideas both old and new, including popular rolls like a ‘Spicy Salmon Uramaki’, made with salmon filet, cucumber and spicy Japanese mayo; ‘Dragon Roll’, with prawn tempura, avocado, carrot, Japanese mayo and sesame; and ‘Mushroom Maki’, which has mushroom tempura and sriracha mayo. The menu also has many interesting variants of old favourites, including a gorgeous ‘Tuna Truffle Nigiri’, which was possibly my favourite of them all, for its intense flavours and the fabulous produce used to make it. I could have done with a little less wasabi though, which proved to be a tad too strong in mine.
We continued sharing plates with some of the other starters, the first of which was the ‘Thai Pla Prik’, made with a crispy red snapper, doused with home-made basil, tamarind and roasted chilli sauce. To fully comprehend this dish, one needs to dig into the background of the concept of Nam Phrik, which refers to the spicy, chilli-based, hot sauces typical of Thai cuisine, usually comprising fresh or dry chillies, garlic, shallots, lime juice and often some kind of fish or shrimp paste. These have traditionally been pounded together using a mortar and pestle, with either salt or fish sauce added to taste. One offshoot of this is the ‘phat phrik khing’ or ‘pad prik king’, which is drier than others, as it is fried in oil and does not contain liquid coconut milk. That’s exactly what we had on our plate, and it was certainly nothing like I had eaten before, and I mean that in a good way.
We moved on to the ‘Schezwan Pepper Chicken’, cooked with garlic, scallions, a light sprinkling of soya and chilli. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this dish is ‘movie night’. Give me a bottomless bowl of this, some 'Dr Pepper', a good movie, and I’m never leaving my living room again. It’s lightly seasoned, snacky and a perfect meal opener.
The first of our main courses arrived in the form of an ‘Indonesian Massamam Curry’ with lamb, peanut and potato. So here’s a fun fact. While this dish is generally attributed to Thailand, massaman or matsaman is not a native Thai word, and is generally thought to refer to the Muslims, with earlier writers from the mid-19th century calling the dish ‘Mussulman Curry’; mussulman being an archaic form of the word Muslim. It is believed to have originated in 17th century Central Thailand at the cosmopolitan court of Ayutthaya, through the Persian merchant, Sheik Ahmad Qomi from whom the Thai noble family of Bunnag descends. I think that this dish could almost pass off as Goan, with many places, especially in the south making a xacuti that incorporates similar spices and potato too. This was a super recommendation from the chef, and I can steadfastly vouch for the fact that local audiences will love it.
Next up, was a dish that is used to celebrate the most festive occasions, traditional ceremonies, wedding feasts and Hari Raya (Eid al-Fitr) amongst Indonesian and Malay communities: rendang. The ‘Beef Rendang’, with water chestnut and kaffir lime, on our plate was spectacular. The thinly sliced beef was complimented perfectly, especially by the tartness of the lime, and while the combination seems rather left of field, it really works. It’s no wonder, really, that in 2011, an online poll of 35,000 people by CNN International chose rendang as the number one dish of their ‘World's 50 Most Delicious Foods (Readers' Pick)’ list.
My favourite main though, was the ‘Korean Bibimbap’ with shrimp, served on a bed of rice with sesame and gochujang (chilli pepper paste). Literally meaning mixed rice, bibimbap is conventionally served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables). In some parts of the world, the gochujang is often replaced with doenjang (a fermented soybean paste). I adored the combination of all the elements on my bowl, and if I’m being fair, what brought it all together, in perfect harmony, was the addition of a runny egg on top, which for me can seal any deal.
For dessert, I will admittedly make a confession. When it comes to ‘Date Pancakes’, which are crisp fried and served with vanilla ice cream, I have a weakness; one which results in ordering them no matter what else may be on the menu. I loved the date filling of what I ate, though I would have liked the pancakes to have been a tad less oily. That being said though, I will shamefacedly admit to probably ordering them again, in the future.
Our meal came to a close on perhaps a very appropriate note, with a ‘Thai Thapthim Krop’, possibly one of the most iconic Thai desserts. Translating to ‘crisp rubies’, because of its appearance, the dish is made up of sweetened fresh, cold coconut milk and water-chestnuts, and that’s it. Yes, it sounds simple, but at times, simplicity is underrated. It’s a great way to cool down after a meal which by its sheer profile of flavours is hot, and there’s a certain air of elegance about those pomegranate jewel-like water chestnuts.
‘Goa Marriott Resort and Spa’ is definitely resurgent. They have, after many years, a great marketing team, that is putting the stellar work of Chef Pavan Chennam and his team out there. Keep your ear to the ground on what’s happening, and you’ll probably be in the mix of all kinds of food-related fun. Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen the new ‘Wan Hao’, now’s a good time to stop reading and head there.
The new look and feel is perfect for any kind of occasion, but isn't suited to host large numbers. It's more intimate in nature.
The new menu really shows ambition, and its not just on paper either; the food speaks volumes.
The average cost of a meal for two (minus the libations) would be an approximate of ₹3,000 (at the time of publishing this review).
How to get there
Miramar, Panjim, Goa 403001
Food is a huge part of any culture and for me, chancing upon a good meal is synonymous with having a great day. The What’s On My Plate series of posts is where I discuss food, great places to eat, and anything gastronomically moving. This could be anything from a great place to eat, to an obscure kind of food, to an origin story. After all, there is no love like the love of eating.