What’s cooking down south?

February 7, 2016

This post is a part of the What’s On My Plate series

Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

Braised pork belly, with star anise, caramelised gastric onions, roasted pumpkin purée and pork reduction



So ever so often, I get asked a reasonable question; why don’t you review places further down south? To be fair, the south does have a fair number of restaurants that serve decent fare. However, to be perfectly honest, the establishment is sometimes found wanting. There will be areas where it may score 10/10, and in contrast, there will be areas where it may score 1; a disparity that I find less jarring in the northern half of the state. A conversation with a friend a while ago led us to discuss one of Margao’s more popular haunts, and said friend (who works in the highest echelons of the hospitality trade, mind you) pointed out that while the food in itself wasn’t bad, it was the quality of the furniture, tableware and the service that was enough to attribute a negative score.


My belief is that the south has better home cooks, better street food, certainly better taverns that cook wondrous local cuisine and most importantly, greater character. But by and large, if you’re looking at an impressive evening out, with a significant other, you aren’t really spoilt for choice. Last weekend, I discovered one establishment that contradicts that theory: Bistro at Alila Diwa Goa. Now I would like to offer my very own disclaimer at this juncture. I am not a fan of the food at Alila Diwa Goa, by and large. While their restaurant, Spice Studio, churns out some amazing food, they function only at night, so the lunch service is restricted to other restaurants which are average at best. However, cue Bistro’s entrance as it swoops in to quite possibly be the highlight of the property.



Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

Amuse-bouche of compressed watermelon, with feta toffee, on a bed of edible sand



This fateful day, I entered a part of the property that I had not seen before, and was introduced to a stellar luncheon, courtesy Chef Mrunal Dhamaskar. Humble, yet possessing a near child-like sense of wonder, this local boy from Mapusa has come good, beyond measure. The end product that he puts on a plate is food that is good enough to be mixing it up with the best of them. But enough of singing his praises. Let us get on to the food.


As he let us settle in, he first sent out an amuse-bouche comprising compressed watermelon, with a feta toffee, on a bed of edible sand. As we watched in wonder, before even contemplating eating what lay before us (which turned out to be very interesting, as the last flavour that anyone ever associates with feta, is sweet) he had reappeared with our first course.


He first brought with him country style farm fresh mushroom bruschetta, with pomegranate mint chutney. To be honest, while delivering exactly what you would expect from a bruschetta: elegant rusticity, this dish paled in comparison, when placed alongside its companions; not because it was disappointing in itself, but because the others were so much better. I love salmon. And when someone says that they are about to serve you local lemongrass-cured Atlantic salmon, with some cucumber, radish and lemon zest cream, you can’t help but feel happy about it. This dish honestly reminds me of something I once heard about scallops, something to the effect of how you can literally taste the sea in every mouthful, because that is what this dish delivers; little bits of the Atlantic. However, as a part of the course, this was still pale in comparison to what was my favourite dish of the afternoon, the duck liver parfait, with pear chutney, pickled cornichons, white wine jelly and melba toast. Perhaps it’s just that I like liver paté, but there is something about the marriage between the white wine jelly and the flavour of the liver that blends perfectly with the chutney and the cornichons. It is to die for.



Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva

The decadent fresh berries mille-feuille



And before there was even any room to breathe, Mrunal had returned yet again, this time with tulsi-rubbed fish saltimbocca, with organic new potato. While the dish is great in itself, and you can’t beat a surf and turf combination with fish wrapped in bacon, I think that perhaps the dish would be better represented by a fish other than what appeared to be bassa. But then again, bassa too has its fans, and apart from that, the dish is stellar. Glancing through the menu, I quickly realised that the chef loves working with flavours that are close to home, and fish is something that appears to be close to his heart. The pan fried snapper, with beetroot puree, braised fennel, baby onions and parsley oil is testament to that, and if you like the lingering taste of sweetness coupled with salt, this dish is a must, as both the heroes on it, the beetroot as well as the snapper, vie for equal attention. Last but not least on the main course segment, is the one dish that could perhaps have rivalled my attention when it came to the duck parfait: the braised pork belly, with star anise, caramelised gastric onions, roasted garlic pumpkin purée and pork reduction. This dish should be a property signature, marketed to all and sundry, it’s that good, simply put. Applesauce has proven over time, that pork works well with sweetness but the elements on this dish take it to a completely different level.


When it comes to dessert, trust me, ditch the myriad options on the menu, and order with absolute faith and confidence, the fresh berries mille-feuille. With crisp layered pastry that are interspersed with a near Chantilly-like cream and a berry sorbet on the side, this offering is decadent and opulent, all at once.


The bottom line is, Bistro is the one-stop shop, if you’re looking at the fine-dining segment in the south. If you have any qualms as to what the accuracy of that statement is, go in, order any of the above, and call me afterwards, if you can still quibble.



Fernando's Findings

Bistro is Alila Diwa Goa's best kept secret, and yet their star attraction all at once.

Perhaps it is a recent turnaround, with the arrival of the 'super-star' Sous Chef, Mrunal Dhamaskar, but the food is to die for.

The average cost of a meal for two (minus the libations) would be an approximate of ₹3,500 (at the time of publishing this review).




How to get there

The address

48/10, Village Majorda, Adao Waddo, Salcette, Goa 403713

The directions




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.



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© 2015 by Fernando Monte da Silva