When fine dining isn’t such a fine experience in Goa

Exorbitant restaurant prices, lack of knowledge and scarcity of ingredients leave Goa’s culinary scene with much to be desired
Goa's culinary landscape is being reshaped by the constant emergence of new restaurants and cafes.
Goa's culinary landscape is being reshaped by the constant emergence of new restaurants and cafes. Photo: Gomantak Times

MAYA ROSE FERNANDES

Goa’s culinary scene is undergoing one of the most rapid transformations ever seen before, marked by the pop-up of many new restaurants and cafes.

However, even a superficial look beneath the surface of this seemingly exciting gastronomic evolution lies a growing concern – in the guise of sophistication lies a deep pretentiousness and an utter lack of soul.

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A friend and I decided to try out one of the many new places that have come up in recent months. This one had an Italian theme. The entrance revealed a beautifully set décor, and then, we were led up to the first floor. 

It had a great open kitchen and an aesthetic mismatch of thoughtlessly put together décor that was in sharp contrast to what we’d seen on the ground floor. They offered mulled wine (in an Italian restaurant?) at an exorbitant price.

I sipped from my friend’s glass and made a face – all we could taste was strong cinnamon bark. I made better at home.

They had fine cutlery and dishware set on the tables, but served bits of blue cheese in a small tapas bowl. I glanced around to find larger tapas bowls stocked in their cupboard.

What’s going on with the post-Pandemic Goan dining-out scene?

Thankfully, the pasta was a nice al dente, but after we paid the bill, plus tax, we both couldn’t help wondering – what’s going on with the Goan dining-out scene?

One friend who has a refined, global palate said, “The prices keep getting higher, but the quality is often disappointing. No one is talking about how this affects local culture, affordability and even tourism.”

While eating out with another friend who was visiting Goa after four years, she remarked, “The prices here are the same as I’d pay in Sydney. What’s going on in post-Pandemic Goa?”

While eating out with another friend who was visiting Goa after four years, she remarked, “The prices here are the same as I’d pay in Sydney. What’s going on in post-Pandemic Goa?”

Unfortunately, the Italian place wasn’t my first experience of dining at a place that was trying too hard to be something it wasn’t, and then getting me to over-pay for the experience.

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If I think about the proliferation of new cafes and restaurants in Panjim alone, I’m wondering what all of these Spanish, Italian, Japanese etc. places think they’re providing if it’s not authentic cuisine, drink and décor, but are, nevertheless, charging us for the luxury of it?

The pretentiousness I mentioned earlier is a particular insult when it pairs itself with exorbitant menu prices, and a conspicuous lack of understanding about the cuisine one is trying to present.

The lack of knowledge of those presenting the food, let alone knowing how to provide restaurant service in general, is depressing, leaving patrons with an underwhelming feeling.

The lack of knowledge of those presenting the food, let alone knowing how to provide restaurant service in general, is depressing, leaving patrons with an underwhelming feeling.

There’s the presentation of dishes where it’s obvious that the ingredients required aren’t easily or affordably available in bulk.

And so, the dishes offered are poorer versions of the original, but then, restauranteurs seem to have found a way around this by calling it ‘fusion’ of some sort or the other.

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This just adds to the multiplicity of ‘cop-outs.’ On questioning any of the staff about the food preparation methods or ingredients, one is more often than not met with blank stares.

Ironically, food prepared in a Goan taverna will have more information about its preparation readily available on request, than in a fine dining establishment in Goa today.

Who are these restaurants actually catering to? They’re focused on being instagrammable than on the quality of food or service, with an overemphasized leaning on aesthetics to the point where it falls short.

Who are these restaurants actually catering to? They’re focused on being instagrammable than on the quality of food or service, with an overemphasized leaning on aesthetics to the point where it falls short.

In addition, please don’t fall for the foodie influencers posting instragrammable pictures of food that is ‘delectable’ and ‘refreshing’ and ‘mouth-wateringly’ good, just to name a few cliches.

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The reality is that the better fine dining places in Goa manage to get only 50% of their menu right.

The rest of them are hit-and-miss affairs, depending on whether you arrived on a day when the chef was in a good mood, or how many staff had quit that day. 

Don’t get me wrong. Competition is a good thing. Remember when it was just a handful of Goan and Chinese fusion places in Panjim, where one could get anything close to a fine dining experience?

Thankfully, most of these establishments are still going strong, possibly because they have to compete with poor, soul-less cousins.

Competition is a good thing. Remember when it was just a handful of Goan and Chinese fusion places in Panjim, where one could get anything close to a fine dining experience?

On average, I eat out four times a month, but lately, find myself visiting places only once after being unimpressed by the promise of fine dining only to be disappointed by the lack of quality.

I can count on one hand the restaurants I visit regularly, not least because the food quality is consistently excellent, but also because the service is as well. This makes it worth the price.

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It also makes the hidden gems that cherish authenticity in their menu, décor and delivery infintely more valuable and attractive. 

I also have to throw in a word or two here for a handful of up-and-coming places that are trending because of the gluten-free, vegan, plant-based or various sustainable food options that they provide, sometimes from farm to table.

It’s just a shame that they are still too few and far between, and they cost the earth, too.

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And finally, you know things are getting desperate when every restaurant has a DJ or music gig, to the point where I seek out only places where I can hear my dinner companion in conversation. 

No wonder I’ve taken to socialising more at home this Christmas season!

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