Whenever I am in the car, I keep an eye out for newly opened, or as yet undiscovered, restaurants. It was on one such drive that I noticed Casa de Goa in a strange cottage-like house in Dulwich Hill. It was even more strangely decorated inside, but I get ahead of myself...
One of the reasons this particular restaurant was interesting to me was the cuisine itself. You see Goa is a coastal part of India, which was under Portuguese control for about four hundred and fifty years. So as you can imagine the cuisine combines elements of both Indian and Portuguese cuisine, plus influences from other Portuguese colonies (from South America, Africa and Asia)
This particular restaurant is housed in a building that used to be an Amsterdam Hotel - so expect pebble-crete ceilings, lots of wood, and a European meets Swiss Alpine Hotel type feel inside architecturally. On the walls you'll see beach scenes, all recently photographed in Goa. So consider yourself forewarned that the décor’s bizarre but the welcome is very warm, and the staff love to talk about and promote Goa! In fact the chef says: ‘I’m not doing it to make money; I’m doing it to promote Goan food.’ Stylistically it is a great ethnic restaurant that showcases the traditional Goan cuisine the chef's mother cooked - the food served in Goan homes, and in huts on the beach.
As with many more expensive restaurants, they give each patron an complimentary appetite stimulant - in this case a chicken soup which contained an olive and a lump of cheese. Quite unusual. The great thing is though, this practice is not reflective of a high price tag here - in fact, the prices are incredibly affordable; the serves are large; and the spicing is superb (they sell their spices too). Before the restaurant, they did stalls at food markets, and the popularity of these dishes, and customer requests to have them more often led to the recent opening of this restaurant.
Now if you can cope with heat, the Chicken Peri Peri ($7.99) is the way to go. It's a rich, complex, hot and sweet marinate which you could also have on prawns. It came with a lovely little contrasting salsa-style salad with orange pieces in it - a nice break from the heat.
Less intense on the heat scale were the unique Stuffed Pappadums ($9.99) - I was amazed that you could stuff a pappadum - but these were great, a really enjoyable dish.
One entree we tried that felt more Portuguese was the Sardines ($7.99) which were served crumbed, and had no spicy heat to them.
For mains, a whopping 22 spices in the Chicken Xacuti ($13.99) made it one of the most balanced curries around. Since they overfed us ridiculously (see my next photo of our heaving table of food), we actually got take-home packs, and this curry came up a treat the next day on toast. I was really impressed. For those who prefer their curries mild rather than wild, this particular curry wasn't overly chili hot.
Being that it is curry on the beach, seafood is well represented on the menu which contains a whopping forty-four mains. Apparently this is also a Goan trait (the menus being large, that is). The Mixed Seafood Xec Xec ($21.99), the most expensive dish on the menu, was great value for money with crab, scallops, fish, prawns, mussels, pipis and more in a mild curry. I thought all the seafood was nice except the mussels which were not to my taste - though I found it hard to work out if it was a produce problem (that is, perhaps they were canned) or a flavouring problem (as the flavours were all so complex and new to me).
I enjoyed the novelty of eating curry with Sannas ($5.00) or steamed rice buns, that are made by being fermented in coconut milk. I had enjoyed these before at Viva Goa in Pyrmont, but the ones here are even better.
If the novelty of sannas doesn't interest you, their Yellow Rice ($3.00) we had impressed with gentle spicing from things like cinnamon bark, cloves and cardamom pods.
The final curry we tried was Pork Sorpotel ($15.99) which is a dish usually made for festivals. You are eating a spicy combination of pork along with the liver, the heart and the kidney of the pig. The taste improves from day to day, and by the time you eat it, it has been cooked at least seven times - the first two or there times are in the initial making process, and the following four days, it is raised to a boil each day to develop the flavours. The result was a deeply complex taste I have no hope of describing - it's a try for yourself one, if you dare.
Do not forgo the traditional Goan dessert of Bebinca ($5.99) even if you're full. It's an amazing layered cake made up of pancake like layers which have been each individually browned on one side giving the stripes you can see. It was palate soothing and just plain good!
I enjoyed the evening, and felt like I learned about Goa and Goan cuisine from the eager to please staff who were only to happy to make what felt like their home into our home for the evening. I even grew to like the quaint Dutch cottage feel - and was surprised to see how large the restaurant actually was (it is laid out into rooms, where more private dining for groups is certainly possible)!
The wine list is cheap (all under $29.90) but not overly inspiring, so we opted for Miguel's Special Sangria ($3.50/glass, $7/half carafe, $14/carafe) which was refreshing with the spicy food. If you feel particularly alcoholically daring, try the Caju Feni ($4.50). It's an overproof distilled spirit made from cashew fruit (the fruit around the cashew nut). I suspect that straight it is an acquired taste - it was not so hard to drink combined with ice and lemonade.
Casa de Goa
153 Old Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill
Ph: (02) 9560 3368