True, Goan food isn’t one of the most ubiquitous cuisines in restaurants in this part of the country. True, too, that most North Indians are completely clueless about Goan food. But there are a couple of Goan restaurants in Delhi, and we’ve mostly enjoyed eating at them. When someone mentioned that Bernardo’s, in Gurgaon, serves the best Goan food this side of Goa, we decided we had to check it out.
The address we’d been given for Bernardo’s was B-242, at the DLF Super Mart-1; this, however, has now changed—the restaurant has shifted to another location, just a minute’s walk away, to A-236. Bernardo’s a tiny place, with glass windows looking out on small potted palms. Inside, the place is reminiscent of the beachside shacks that are so popular in Goa as restaurants. The walls are covered with a matting of what looked like coconut fibre. There are lots of framed black and white photographs of Goans: on the beach, at a wedding, outside a church, etc. The chairs (15 of them) are cane, the tables covered with pastel yellow and green tablecloths. The music is straight out of Goa—a wonderfully peppy style that inspired a number of popular Hindi film songs back in the 70s.
The menu, which explains that Bernardo’s was named after the father of the brother and sister who own and run the place, is brief but very enticing. We spent a good time trying to figure out what we wanted to have, and finally settled on a shared appetiser (figado de galinha), and, for the main course, vindalho de porco, prawn sukhem, and plain rice. "Would you like plain white rice or red rice?" asked the gentleman (who takes the orders and draws up the bill). Red, we decided, since that’s not something we encounter in Delhi—my husband, in fact, hasn’t ever eaten red rice before.
We also ordered two fresh lemonades, and these were brought to our table within a couple of minutes of our ordering them. The kitchen is upstairs, and even as we sat chatting and sipping at our drinks, the waiter came downstairs with our figado de galinha, in a small glass plate shaped like a fish.
Figado de galinha is a dish of chicken livers, fried with a chopped onions and spices. It looked pretty fiery: a deep brownish-red that seemed to hint at lots of chillies. This, it turned out, was deceptive. The figado de galinha was spicy, but well within tolerable limits. The chicken livers were perfectly cooked (not something too many Indian restaurants manage to get right; most overcook them). These were soft, tender, and simply delicious.
The appetiser got full marks from both of us. Then, after a short gap while the waiter cleared the table and brought us the main course, we got down to the business of tasting the prawns, the pork, and the red rice. The vindalho de porco was, like the chicken livers, rather scary at first sight: a very deep red that indicated the presence of much chilli. The pork in it was very fatty—an almost 1" thick layer of fat, with rind—a phenomenon that’s pretty representative of the few Indian regional cuisines that do use pork. My first reaction (unuttered) was, How are we going to get this down our throats?
Much to our surprise, the vindalho turned out to be delicious—the meat was beautifully cooked, and the curry just spicy and vinegar sour enough to take the fattiness off the fat. The fiery redness of the gravy was mere eyewash; especially eaten with the rice, it wasn’t too hot at all.
Even if it had been, the prawn sukhem would’ve been the perfect foil. This consisted of six large, fat, juicy prawns (again, like the pork, cooked to just the right degree). Instead of a gravy, these were in a thick, dry mash-like mix of cooked onions, grated coconut, and very little spice. The comparative lack of spice meant that the prawns could be tasted in all their fresh, succulent glory. Perfect.
By the time we finished our main course, we were feeling very full (the portions are quite generous here, and red rice, I know, tends to fill you up more than does white rice). We decided, therefore, that we’d share a dessert rather than order one each, even though Bernardo’s do offer four Goan desserts, plus a range of Western cakes and desserts. We settled on a wedge of bebinca, a very popular Goan ‘cake’, which is made by layering pancakes made of rice flour, coconut milk and palm sugar. I’ve had what I thought was good bebinca on several previous occasions. Bernardo’s bebinca, moist and light and with a mild, not-too-sweet flavour, outdid them all—by a long shot.
We ended up paying Rs about Rs 1,200 (taxes and a tip included) for our meal. Fantastic value for money, and definitely the most authentic and delicious Goan food I’ve eaten anywhere in north India.