India’s coastline is vast and encompasses a variety of subtle nuances that make it an adventure in gastronomy. Whether it’s Mumbai’s allspice, Goa’s Portuguese inspired fare, the infusion of coconut in Keralite cuisine, or even the liberal use of mustard in Bengal, a trip through India’s coastal towns is a journey of constant discovery. It’s this very coastline that has inspired the latest entrant to Goa’s evolving fine-dining sector – Mahe (stylised Mahé) by Parth Timbadia and Chef Sandeep Sreedharan, a confluence of flavors and textures creating modern coastal cuisine from where the rivers meet the sea.
Set across the sprawling lawns and into the expansive halls of an old Portuguese house in the heart of Anjuna, Mahe – Modern Coastal Cuisine sets the tone for fusion with your first step into its massive property. The house itself used to be a studio and creative space, and now with the help of the award-winning Office of Cognitive Design (OCD), a Bangalore based interior design company, that positive creative energy has been amplified. The marble floors reflect the dim lighting that welcomes you into the main house area. Though the ceiling is high, the beautiful paper chandeliers designed by Kassa create a visual deception that adds warmth and character. In fact, Kassa’s design follows through into their own designer boutique that has taken up residency at Mahe, with a variety of bags, wallets, jewelry, and other accessories available in leather and eco-friendly, indestructible paper.
Over on the right is the indoor dining hall, Jade, and the main highlight for staying indoors, a splendidly appointed bar called Blush. Blush houses Mahe’s incredible cocktail programme designed by Abhishek George of the Spiffy Dapper in Singapore – more on that later. Walking through the halls, you will find that the concept of ‘confluence’ (symbolically represented in Mahe’s logo) flows into all the decor and design elements. Minimalist French pastel highlights, Scandinavian inspired details, and modern Indian digital art bring out a fresh, modern lightness that envelops you in a sense of opulence that feels right at home. The real star, however, is the al-fresco dining area where guests can partake of a dining experience in a large garden space that brings out the quintessential Goa experience with white pebbles and lush, varied foliage.
The river meeting the sea is more than just phenomena, it’s an integral part of the menu as well. The same confluence that defines the interiors also makes its way onto the plate. With a menu that is clearly bifurcated into modern and rustic, you will often see overlaps of the two – something that former management consultant turned owner and chef Sandeep Sreedharan strives to accomplish in every dish. Sandeep may be a self-taught chef, but this is precisely why his passion for cooking translates on the plate. Drawing from personal experiences like playing in his aunt’s backyard in Ooty, collecting plums while she cooked mackerel, is transformed into the Slow Cooked Mackerel with Plums, while his trips through coastal Kerala have taken up residence on the menu in the form of a no-nonsense Beef Fry. Small plates such as the Preserved Aubergine Rechado scream monsoon Goa, and others such as the crisp Tapioca Bravas with a rich and creamy shallot aioli are the perfect calling card for the southern states. The Roast Beef with Kombu Jus, the Pickled Mussels with Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, and the Amaranth in a light phyllo pastry served with a beetroot chutney display a mastery of technique deserving of a Michelin star.
Closer to home are the more rustic large plate dishes such as the Sri Lankan Mutton Curry or the Mahe Prawn Curry. This is just honest cooking that is guilty of only one sin, making you feel homesick. Served with a choice of dosas, ghee rice, or the light and fluffy idiyappam (string hopper), the overwhelming flavors are served in spades, even in something as simple as the Green Moong Dal with accompanying green beans. Rounding off your meal is a choice of two desserts, the Plantain Coconut Ice Cream served on a bed of jaggeried coconut and garnished with mint, or the house favourite, the Pradhaman Panna Cotta; a deceptively rich fusion of Payasam and coconut milk, but made of pureed moong dal instead of rice – an instant classic.
Like the Kaveri meeting the Bay of Bengal, the cocktail program at Mahe is eclectic and inspired. The entire menu has been designed by master mixologist Abhishek George of the Spiffy Dapper in Singapore. In fact, a few of the Spiffy Dapper signature cocktails such as the Sheikh on the Level – black tea gin, cardamom, fresh lemon, brown sugar and egg whites, the Glad Rags Sheela made with straight bourbon, apple and cinnamon, and the Ossified Mrs. Grundy – a mix of cherry tomato vodka, house spiced bitters and fresh lemon, have found themselves a new home in Goa.
But the highlights of the menu remain The Classics. The Old Fashioned and the Manhattan to the Gimlet and Margarita is made with love and attentive little touches like the in-house lemon juice created from a proprietary blend of indigenous citrus fruits. In fact, even the clear ice blocks served with drinks such as the Negroni de Goa – where chiretta leaves are infused into campari and served along with cashew feni and house-made vermouth, are carefully crafted over a week. Inspired by the South Indian regions, are offerings like the Mahua Spritz – kokum shrub made with coconut feni, artisanal coconut vinegar, and kokum, and the Mallu Mai Tai made with chili spiced rum, house velvet falernum, Malabar tamarind tincture, orgeat, fresh lime, and pineapple.
Decades of experience have gone into the making of Mahe. Sandeep started cooking when he was in the fifth grade and has not looked back. After opening successful ventures in Mumbai, Mahe is now the culmination of a vision to bring his travels across India’s coastal belt into one menu. Although he has plans to open his next experience in an international location, for now, he and Parth are looking forward to seeing how this new seed is going to grow – and you are invited to be a part of the journey. With an amazing culinary adventure encompassed in a warm and inviting ambiance priced at roughly Rs. 2500 per couple, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take the opportunity to tour South India from the comfort of your plate.