Where does a consultant of IIM Bangalore, who flies down for a day and then dines here, a chef from The Savoy(London), who visits the restaurant five times while holidaying in Goa and Ian Botham’s (the legendary cricketer’s) daughter, who has been told about the restaurant in her hometown, eat? A medley of tourists, and if one has to see the recent statistics of Tourists arriving in Goa, they are an assortment. A Chef has to be flexible to cater to their tastes, and as my grandmother aptly put it, the best way to man’s, and now even a woman’s heart is through his/her stomach. They call it ‘Fine Dining.’
Down chapel lane, in Candolim is, as listed on the ‘lonely planet’, ‘footprint’, the restaurant After Seven. The Restaurant is jointly run by Leo and Chef Soumyen, and their card staes that ‘the restaurant has changed the dinner time and name from After Eight to After Seven…..same place, same team. Opens one hour earlier…’
A Unique introduction, so we decided to check it out. Looking at the duo, while tasting their delicately designed appetizers of Chicken Liver Pate and Crab with apple and walnuts, (actually the whole lot of starters looked tempting, especially the Prawns in Rum, but one cannot have everything at one go). So taking my mind off the menu, I ask them about the card. ‘Is it a marketing strategy?’. ‘No, no, not at all,’ was the prompt reply, ‘we do not use any marketing strategy at all!’ Looking at the ninety cover restaurant, and that too on a weekday packed to capacity, I raise my eyebrows in disbelief.
‘The reason that we changed the name,’ explains Leo, ‘is because the chocolate company Nestle, feared that the patrons would confuse the restaurant with the product.’
‘So tell me something about your cuisine,’ I asked Chef Soumyen, sitting quietly at the table, ‘is it fusion?’ A look of disbelief crossed his face. ‘No fusion,’ he reiterated, ‘it’s the authentic innovative continental cuisine.’
I look at the items listed on the menu…Starters from Ceasars Salad, Trio of mushrooms with spring onions and chilli flakes…to main course, Seafood ranging from Tuna, mackerel, King prawns, as well as Pasta’s all napped with delicate sauces…and then of course the desserts…the butterscotch brulee, and the chocolate mousse.
I look at the ‘open kitchen’, with a quizzical look and remark, ‘you must be needing a lot of storage space.’ ‘Not at all,’ comes the prompt reply from Chef Soumyen, ‘everything is prepares ‘a la minute’ ’…simply put, once the order is taken.
I look at the assortment of sauces prepared for the dishes…cheddar cream sauce, mustard cheese sauce, flavoured meat sauce, curry sauce, Anglo Indian sauce…my interest in this quiet retiring person in front of me increases.
‘So how do you go about cooking these dishes,’ I ask him. Leo Laughs. ‘He just puts the ingredients in front of him and uses the seven methods of cooking.’ ‘Seriously,’ I insist, looking at the restaurant, handling ninety covers per sitting is not a joke, ‘is anything purchased pre prepared?’
Chef Soumyen shakes his head. All items, he states, except the raw materials are prepared in the kitchen. Looking at the range of raw ingredients, rosemary, thyme, balsam, oregano, cheddar cheese (they make an excellent cheddar cheese soufflé), I am informed that they are one of the few restaurants on this belt to have a foreign exchange license. Despite this the prices for Starters are Rs 175, Soups Rs 90/-, the Main Course ranges around Rs 275/-, while the Desserts are around Rs 160/-
Experimenting with ingredients, is one of the qualities of a great chef. Chef Soumyen, after finishing his Diploma in Hotel management (Mumbai), worked for the Taj Mumbai in one of their prestigious restaurants ..the Menage a trios, today called the Souk. He then worked on the P & O cruise liner, before deciding to put his skills to use in Goa.
‘So you are only open ‘after Seven’,’ I remark, looking forward to the dessert. Joe warningly reminds me of the calories, but I am past caring. The butterscotch brulee was on my mind.
‘We do take private parties for lunch, but one should call to make a prior booking,’ says Leo.
‘Can you give me the recipe for the Prawns with rum,’ I cajole. The butterscotch brulee was ‘awesome.’ No hesitation in the Chef’s demeanor. During our interview, both he and Leo, would excuse themselves, to bid goodnight to the departing guests. This could be one of the reasons that one of their many regulars, James and Mary, who have their own restaurant in Ireland, come in at the same time every night, sitting at the same table. They have been doing so right from the 2nd of January 2007.
I take out my pad and pen poised for an elaborate method of preparation. My eyebrows rise as I pen down the recipe.
PRAWNS IN RUM
Ingredients for four portions
King Prawns 16 nos
Dark Rum 12 ml
Lemon Juice 1 ½ Tbsp
Finely chopped garlic 2 flakes
Butter for frying
Chopped coriander for garnish
Salt to taste
Method : Wash and clean the prawns before marinating them in the lemon juice, rum, chopped garlic, and chopped coriander leaves. Keep aside for 20 minutes.
In a skillet, melt butter, and stir fry the prawns till they are slightly pink. Remove from fire and place on the plate. Now reduce the marinate on the skillet, before lightly napping the prawns with this reduced sauce.
Garnish with a slice of lemon.
Someone, once told me, in my sojourn at the Catering College, never kill the taste of the fish with a heavy sauce. Savoring the taste of the petite chocolates which are served complimentary after every meal, I now realize why many tourists have found their way down the twisting chapel lane, to partake in Chef Soumyens fare.