A chef with varied interests adds flavour to the menu at Goa Niwas

I was pottering around, doing this and that, when I suddenly got a text message from a friend who is a serious foodie. “Been to Goa Niwas,” she asked. I hadn't. I had been to Goa Sadan on Amrita Shergill Marg, of course, and partaken of an excellent Goan meal there many years ago. But Goa Niwas needed to be investigated, I told myself. The foodie friend's views on food are not to be trifled with.

Goa Niwas, as it turned out, is a glitzy new Goa Bhavan on Bir Tikendrajit Marg in Chanakyapuri. And what's great is that it has an excellent Goan restaurant there — called Viva o Viva — run by Chef Patrick Barretto.

The first time I went there some weeks ago I learnt that the chef had gone off on a pressing engagement — he was watching a boxing match at the Commonwealth Games. That pleased me, for I have always seen that a chef who has other abiding interests is interestingly creative. I wasn't mistaken. The second time I went to Viva o Viva, I had an excellent meal.

There were two of us, and we tucked in quite a bit between us. We had a whole pomfret curry, a thick pork curry, prawn piri and chicken xacuti. Then we rounded this up with a platter of sweets — which included a custard pudding, pancakes with jaggery and bebinca, the much loved multi-layered Goan cake.

My friend wasn't mistaken — the food, indeed, was superb. The ingredients were fresh, the spices were aromatic, the coconut milk was smooth, and the prices were extremely reasonable. Our meal, for instance, came to Rs.670, without counting the dessert which was on the house. Most of the dishes are for Rs.140 or 150. Prawns are for Rs.250 and crab for 300. There is also lobster on the menu (for Rs.450).

The pork, which he does on order, was excellent, cooked as it had been with ground spices and cocum. It was tangy and succulent, with juicy bits of fat attached to the meat that melted in the mouth. The prawn was superb — tender and sweet — and the sauce was hot and sour, with a little sweet touch to it. The chicken was spicy and tasty, but I loved the fish, which was lightly cooked in a gravy flavoured with coconut milk.

I enjoyed my meal, mixing the pork with the rice, while the chef told me about how he grew up in Delhi in a family of musicians. He made a name when he started catering for film units from Britain who were shooting in India. Those were the days of the Jewel in the Crown and other Raj memorabilia. Since then, Chef Barretto has not looked back.

The restaurant is nicely done up. Goan music plays in the background, and the décor is in shades of green. The mats have cartoonist Mario's sketches of Goa, and the restaurant has a pleasant laidback ambience that you tend to associate with Goa. I could almost hear the cries of the fishermen out at sea!

The friends keep going there, and let me know when there is a consignment of fresh crab. You could call the chef (number: 9810132664) and find out what's cooking. But just ensure that there's no boxing that day.

Keywords: Goa Niwas