The region of Goa is often described as a pocket of paradise. As India’s smallest state, it’s got every ingredient for an idyllic life of laid-back sunny beaches blended with spirituality – yoga and meditation retreats a plenty! The allure of the Goa is woven with influences that also include historical ties to the Portuguese and other cultures who were captivated by the spices and vibe of the area. And the influences are reflected in the region’s cuisine. This is what is so fascinating about the dishes in this part of the world and has drawn us to experience Hemant Bhagwani’s newest restaurant, GOA Indian Farm Kitchen, at Bayview Village.
What’s becoming a mecca for food lovers, this uptown mall is drawing attention not just from locals but others across the city. Once considered a bedroom community of retired folks in leisure suits doing their morning exercises, things are evolving and the restaurants like GOA are waking up the neighbourhood. According to chef and restauranteur Bhagwani (Kolkata Club, Amaya, Indian Street Food, Good Karma) the locals are ready, curious and willing to try something different.
Bhagwani visited Goa when he was writing his cookbook and tells us he has a real passion for bringing the complexities of the regional cuisine to the forefront. Something he says that Toronto hasn’t really seen much of outside of the suburban areas like Brampton. Sure, many of us have fallen in love Indian food but GOA takes us on a next level culinary journey. Butter chicken is not the butter chicken as we’re familiar with — the flavours and the cooking techniques are tweaked and completely worth ordering that extra naan to absorb all the saucy-goodness!
Listening to Bhagwani’s travel tales makes us want to pack our bags and head for the spice markets there. He shared a heartfelt moment about one of his experiences while in Goa cooking for four generations. He made a prawn curry for a great grandmother, grandmother, mother and daughter. He could see the joy of sharing his experience and his own take on a popular dish with the family. Something he says was unforgettable. Bhagwani also talks about the how the food in the area continues to evolve. With the influx of Russians, Persians and Northern Indian vacationing in the region means an introduction of new spices and flavours that are naturally blending with the cuisine in Goa. He spoke about how exciting it was to be exploring and eating on his trip and how he was inspired by what he had experienced.
Is GOA authentic? Bhagwani tells us that indeed the flavours of the region are authentic but, of course, he took the best from what he’s experienced to create his own signature on the dishes.
Why Bayview Village Shopping Mall? Bhagwani had been approached several times with different spaces and was cautiously keeping an eye on the demographic within the area. Finally, he decided it was the right time and the right place.
“Goan food is normally very spicy,” Bhagwani explains. “At the beginning I toned down the spices to see what the reaction would be but quickly people were asking to turn up the heat. Then I realized indeed, the people were ready for hot food.”Bhagwani was trained in traditional French culinary techniques and applied that learning with Indian cuisine – explaining that he’s blend the two doing Indian food the way he’s always wanted to while continuing to work with the freshest local ingredients possible. Having said that, he’s also incorporating dry spices that he’s personally hauled back from Goa. Bhagwani has elevated Indian food. “I’ve personally never been more excited about opening a restaurant like this. It’s been fun,” said Bhagwani.
They also love the decor. When you peek inside the restaurant from the mall entrance your eyes are immediately drawn to there richness of the space. Unlike anything you’ve seen for a mall restaurant. Chandeliers hang from the ceilings. The rich jewel tones that reflect in the mirrored walls and the images (taken by Bhagwani himself) displayed visually tells the story of history, traditions, and culture.
GOA Indian Farm Kitchen is located at Bayview Village Shopping Centre (2901 Bayview Avenue). Open daily for lunch and dinner.