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Part beach shack and full hippy

Lady Baga is a colourful, boozy and flavourful tribute to Goa says Joanna Lobo

It was love at first sight. The object of my adoration is a round pudding, with a dark caramel top and bathed in a light boozy sauce, wobbling seductively in its plate. The pudding version of a decadent Christmas cake, it is filled with a buttery centre and stuffed with dried fruits and nuts soaked in rum. The simply named Gram’s Bread & Butter Pudding (₹250) isn’t much to look at but is packed with creamy, buttery, caramel flavours and a boozy kick.

At the newly launched Lady Baga, appearances certainly do deceive.

I walk into the infamous and chaotic Kamala Mills to find a makeshift ‘beach’ – a patch of sand, with a shack, a surfboard and lots of plants. The outside wall of the restaurant is painted blue and has the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Going to California’. It is not just the girl outside who has flowers in her hair; flower power is all over the interiors. Olive Group’s Lady Baga, which opened in Delhi in 2016, followed by Bengaluru last year and then Mumbai – considers itself to be part beach shack and full hippy. The owners have certainly tried to make customers forget that they’re in the middle of an overcrowded concrete jungle.

The interiors are a riotous and colourful mix of coloured walls, fairy lights and stars, hammocks, dream catchers, bead curtains, brocade cholis and bags, tie-dye cushions on bamboo chairs. To give that feel of sitting in a shack, one entire wall features a projection showing sands and rolling waves. The music — a mix of Boney M, Abba and reggae numbers, helps tone down the over the top and brightness of it all.

The food and drinks play their part too. Manning the bar is Eric Lobo, a bartender with a passion for cooking who has worked his way through the city’s finest restaurants before finding a home for his experiments at Lady Baga. At the back of the kitchen is his ‘lab’ where he is “working on creating my own version of cashew feni — a cashew, and coconut vodka; and plum, and amla wine”. At present, his offerings include the heavy-on-scotch The Ginger Man (₹350), with the sharp notes of ginger combining with tangy tamarind and the Acid Test, a palate cleanser containing two small bottles of kala khatta, and an infused vodka with spicy notes of green chillies and bell peppers. Lobo’s best work though is the Bloody Mariana (₹350) or what he calls the Chorizo Mary, which replaces Tabasco with the vinegary taste of balchao, and spicy Goan sausage-infused vodka. Though served as a shot, this drink is meant to be savoured slowly, reveling in the strong flavours of each sip.

The drinks set me up for what ends up being the heartiest Goan meal I’ve eaten in Mumbai, outside of home. The Rissóis Prawns (₹250) are lightly crusted D-shaped croquettes stuffed with tangy shrimp. Chicken Guisado (₹300) is more of a roast chicken than a stew with a lovely crunch of curry leaves and sweet roasted onions. D’Souza Family Chops (₹500) are well cooked and have the familiar taste of green xacuti masala.

The fish dishes are the stars in my main course. I’m served a platter of Mackerals stuffed with vindaloo masala, which though tasty makes me miss the smoother and spicier recheado. Chef Aloo’s Prawn Curry (₹450) is a classic worthy of seconds. It is served like a thali — accompanied with a tangy tendli pickle, the coconut and dried shrimp salad kismur, fried whitebait, and local red unpolished rice.

As most Goans would do when eating out, I stick to everything non-vegetarian. Chef Aloysius Dsilva (aka Chef Aloo) will have none of it. He is very proud of his vegetarian dishes and insists on feeding them to me. His vegetarian version of the Pork Amsol (a simple dish made with bindi sol or kokum), the Kokum & Chilli Pumpkin (₹200) has red pumpkin replacing the pork and tasting as good. Although a fan of rice, I leave some space for the poee (₹25) — that Goan staple bread, crusty on the outside and light and hollow inside. Chef Aloo’s version comes very close to the Goan version but is just a bit too crusty. It pairs well with Santan’s Chicken Curry (₹350), helping to mop up the smooth but slightly sweetish coconut-laden gravy.

For dessert, barring the pudding (it’s a festive special), there’s also a decadent and creamy Serradura (₹190), a heavy dish with its layers of biscuit crumble, condensed milk and whipped cream.

Lady Baga’s food may be comforting and familiar, but it is the service that stands out. The servers are friendly, and chef Aloo makes repeated trips from the kitchen, stopping at every table to recommend a dish, suggest alternatives and get feedback. D’silva, the man behind the charming (now shuttered) Villa Vandre, has spent months doing research and perfecting his recipes. “I had to charm my way in letting these Goan aunties teach me how to make traditional dishes,” he says.

Though an East Indian, his grasp of Goan flavours and ingredients — many of which are brought from Goa – is commendable. “I want people to get a taste of good, home-style Goan food,” he says. He certainly reminded me of home.

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