By Kuheli Battacharya Rane
We are firmly in the Goan tourist season, and the foodscape is changing across the state. Shacks and eateries are opening up everywhere. Some well loved places have shut down, some fun and funky new ones have opened up. There is little time then to mourn the restaurants, which didn’t make it this season, because new ones beckon. One very promising name amongst the “freshers” this year is Cohiba in Sinquerim. It’s on the lighthouse road, near Taj Fort Aguada.
AMBIENCE: This Cuban-inspired restaurant is owned by Amit and Gautam Bakhale, Gregg Furtado and Himanshu Arora. A terraced kind of seating with many different landings, you can opt to sit out in the open or at the bar or in the main seating area. There is a choice of high bar stool type seating or the more conventional chairs with back rests. There is a Cuban inspired corner with posters of Cuban revolution as well as the famed Cuban cigars. I loved the concept of changing barrels into tables. These add woodsy warmth along with the burnished orange upholstery and muted lighting.
FOOD: The Cuban theme does not carry on to the menu, unfortunately. Chef Vivek Salunkhe explains the simple homely concept behind his creations. A small menu, but some very interesting combinations made the dishes truly stand out. We tried the squid aioli, beef chilli, paneer three way and pork chilli garlic for starters.
The beef chilli was delicious. It was served with juicy mushrooms, garlic and chilli flakes. The flavourful dish was aptly served with a Goan poi. The squid aioli is the house special. Unlike the rings of batter fried calamari elsewhere, here the squids were tender ringlets of chewy but non-rubbery fritters. They were not as crisp as I would have like them, but that’s because they had a very light cover of batter, which made the dish feel healthier than the options at other places. It was served with the freshly made aioli and smooth creamy dip. Aioli originates from the southern French region and contains pounded garlic cloves in a blend of lemon juice, egg yolk and olive oil. It is much like the omnipresent mayonnaise, except that mayo doesn’t contain garlic and has a more neutral tasting oil than olive oil. The vegetarian option, the mushroom aioli, is also on offer. If you are partial towards mushrooms like me then this is a fun dish.
The chicken sliders were a little bigger than the sliders at most places and that’s because they are served in the local Goan wheat bread, poi. The chicken sliders, with a side of fries and a succulent chicken patty in warm poi, are both familiar as well as innovative.
For the main course we had the prawn pulao, fluffy basmati rice interspersed with masala and spicy prawns. Both filling as well as fulfilling. I like a hint of sweetness in my be it raisins or cinnamon sticks or pomegranate. I wish I had a bit of sweetness to offset the spices in the pulao, but that’s a personal preference.
Next we were torn between choosing either the saagwala chicken crepes or the butter chicken lasagne. The Patiala meets Paris combo or the Amritsar meats Italy fusion fare? We chose the butter chicken Lasagne finally. Butter chicken with its classic combination of tomatoes and cream would be an apt substitute for the tomato and cheese base of the traditional Lasagne, a clever adaptation indeed. The dish was a tug of war between the lasagne and the butter chicken; the butter chicken won. The pasta itself could have been a little less dense and chewy. The butter chicken could have been a milder and creamier. Nevertheless, it’s a dish with a lot of promise and given that these guys are just three months old I’d say the butter chicken lasagne is something to look out for.
We ended the meal with the chefs take on bread butter pudding. Not just your average comfort dish, this one had ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce making it a decadent delight indeed. The bar is well stocked at Cohiba. We tried the Cohiba green summer, a fresh and fragrant green apple vodka-based cocktail. The watermelon basil martini was a perfusion of pink and equally tasty.
Cohiba is slated as a good time hangout for locals and tourists alike. They are open from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Live gigs, karaoke nights, and ladies nights are some of the attractions to look forward to.
SHORTCOMINGS: A lot of things on the cocktail list as well as the main menu were not available.
GO HERE FOR: Beef chilli, chicken sliders, bread and butter pudding
Ambience: 3.5 plates
Food: 3.5 plates
Service: 3.5 plates