It’s not just in Britain that young people full of energy and vision are launching cafes and restaurants to excite the palate and provide social hubs buzzing with interest. I found one in Goa.
Chris Agha Bee, half Iranian and half Goan, has created an oasis in the middle of a culinary desert in North Goa with “Sublime”.
In this land of agricultural diversity, fertile soil and benign climate, with fruit and vegetables heaped in abundant jewel-coloured piles in local markets- avocado, custard apple, chikoo, pineapple, papaya, lime, red spinach, peppers, tiny bananas and a myriad others including every fragrant spice under the sun, unfamiliar herbs and berries- all I see on restaurant menus is battered fish, potato and pea curry, paneer (in any case a North Indian cheese), toasted sandwiches and other boringly bland items. The prawns are gi-normous, the fish straight from the sea, and yet searching for something authentic, tasty and maybe even inspired, is elusive as the proverbial needle.
Chris, who got his initial training at a branch of the New York Culinary School, started as a bus-boy clearing tables- and went on to work at “Sage and Onion” in Santa Barbara. He is now based mainly at “Sunset Ashram” in Ibiza but comes to Goa for three or four months and is preparing to open his third restaurant in Mapusa (see my first post on Goa written a few days ago). Not expecting a great deal from “Sublime”, I was almost in shock to find myself enjoying a delicious pungent, fragrant rice and stir fry vegetable dish alongside as a few calamari fritters, light as air , coated in tempura batter. Oonagh, whom I met at Montego Bay, had mille feuille stuffed with vegetables, which I tasted and thought excellent.
Our waiter was Arun, a dreamy-eyed young Sri-Lankan, is studying to become a Sanyasi in a nearby ashram. He had an ineffable aura and was efficient and charming as well.
Chris Agha Bee, internationalist, eclectic, cool and very determined, has battled with local intrigue and horrendous building crises to hang on to his belief in celebrating life through good food for everyone- hippies, locals, the smart Bombay-Delhi set. He looks after his staff and thinks of them as family and stands by them whenever they face a personal crisis.
His signature dishes are Balsamic medallions of beef, and Kaffir lime and sundried tomato risotto.
It is a good idea to book ahead as “Sublime” is nearly always full.