Is Goa At The Heart Of Fine Dining Revolution In India?

From price agnostic holidaymakers to curious local gourmand, Goa is where some of the biggest modern restaurant trends take form. India’s biggest restaurateurs tell us what’s driving this trend.

April 25, 2024

The extraordinary growth of the food and restaurant business in Goa is a phenomenon. While Thalassa and Antares were the top-of-mind posh dining destinations in the sunny state for more than a decade, the last five years have seen an escalation in the dining trajectory. Eateries like Hosa, Titlie, Fireback, Mahe, Jamun, Izumi, Cavatina, Ida and others have made Goa a gourmand’s wonderland. 

Those in the know knew that Goa was always the place to find some unlikely but authentic flavours, whether it was baked goodies at the cosy Babka in Anjuna, Burmese or Asian cuisine at Chef Patron Bawmra Jap’s Bomras in Anjuna or finger-licking regional south Indian fare at Gunpowder, Assagao. A mix of old and new favourites are the quintessential Goan haunts that epitomised the state’s regional and hyperlocal fare including Martin’s Corner, Souza Lobo and more recently Maka Zai and Cavatina. It was never as though there was a dearth of good dining experience but Goa presented a pocket of opportunity that other cosmopolitan and Tier 1 cities didn’t—affordable set-up cost, affordable local produce as well as easy access to imported material, willing holiday clientele that did not worry about the price points and the ability to push the envelope of culinary creativity without severe financial repercussions. 

It’s Fun-dine Over Fine Dine 

Interiors of Jamun Goa. Image Credit: Pass Code Hospitality

However, it is important to note that going with the sunny state’s relaxed ‘susegad’ sentiment restaurants prefer to steer clear of the ‘fine dining’ tag that comes with formality, stuffy and starchy dining and service. Phraseology such as ‘premium casual’ and ‘fun-dine’ are rather preferred. Rakshay Dhariwal of Pass Code Hospitality who runs Jamun, Saz On The Beach and Ping’s Bia Hoi in Goa explains, “Fine dining today prioritizes the quality and source of ingredients, culinary innovation, and fun elements that make the diner’s experience come to life. Diners now seek personalised experiences, storytelling through food, and a focus on sustainability and wellness. Fine dining has become more approachable and experiential with chefs playing a pivotal role in crafting unique dining journeys.” 

The COVID-19 global pandemic was a pivotal point for Goa. After a year-long stringent country-wide lockdown, Goa was the first state to open its doors to domestic tourists. “The year 2021 was a vintage year for Goa, one that will never happen again,” says chef-entrepreneur Tarun Sibal who opened the gorgeous beach facing restaurant Titlie in 2019 and Barfly, a agave bar, in 2023, and Taupe by Titlie in April 2024 in Goa. He says since international travel was restricted Indians didn’t hesitate to swarm Goa whenever an opportunity presented. “Goa became an anytime destination.” The pandemic has accelerated trends like outdoor dining, local sourcing, and health-conscious menus, which Goa has embraced wholeheartedly. Moreover, Goa’s bar scene has also evolved considerably. 

Homemade Ricotta & Shrimp and Plum Salad at Titlie, Goa. Image Credit: Titlie, Goa

Now, two years later, in 2024, the tourism business has corrected itself with Southeast Asian nations offering great value propositions. And while the culinary and restaurant landscape in Goa has evolved, restaurateurs continue to find it lucrative to set up outposts—the most recent being The Sanctuary Bar & Kitchen headlined by chef Sarah Todd. As many opportunities prevail, the competition is equally tough, but the restaurant business has fared better than expected. “Goa has emerged as a resilient and vibrant fine dining hotspot in India. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the state’s dining scene has thrived, with establishments like ours adapting to the new normal and prioritising guest safety and comfort,” says Atul Chopra, Co-Founder, Yazu, a pan-Asian restaurant brand in Goa and Mumbai. 

Goa: A Melting Pot Of Tourists 

The buzzing bar at Barfly Goa. Image Credit: Barfly Goa

At the same time, diners or tourists who come to Goa have also evolved. It’s not just about exceptional food, but also a unique ambience, and impeccable service. Diners in Goa look for an immersive experience that combines exceptional food, innovative presentation, and an ambience that resonates with the Goan spirit. To this Sibal adds, “People who travel to Goa travel for different experiences. Some travel for the sunset and sights, some go to Goa for the parties. Then there are those for whom Goa is a culinary adventure. Goa means different things to different people, and this is what needs to be considered.” 

We spoke to Roxanne Bamboat, a Mumbai-based food and travel content creator about her food experiences in Goa. “I’ve had some fantastic experiences with new restaurants in Goa I’ve also had some lackluster ones. I also think sometimes one has to manage their expectations so I try to go in with none to let the restaurant wow me. But at the same time I would willingly plan a food trip to Goa. In fact I’ve been trying to do one with my sister for a while where we just pick a bunch of restaurants that have a great pedigree, be it new fancy ones or local haunts, Hopefully we will make it happen some day soon,” she said.

The Goan restaurant space has become competitive and a fair bit cluttered, but restaurateurs assure that it is the service and the food that will ensure the best will stay ahead. “We too were late to this but honestly, it’s always better late than never especially with a brand like Bawri that is timeless in terms of the food we have to offer. I wouldn’t personally be able to comment on the state however there are a handful of brands that are currently doing very well, and I’m extremely proud that Bawri is one of them,” believes Chef Amninder Sandhu who heads Bawri in Goa and Mumbai. 

Lavish spread at Bawri Goa. Image Credit: Bawri

The future of Goa’s restaurants, fine dining or not, will depend on how food businesses cater to different audiences. Sibal breaks down the audience in Goa as tourists, locals and non-locals who have settled in Goa. Each of these segments look for different experiences in Goa. Local Goans are opening up new dining experiences; “A lot of the new and experimental restaurants are actually helmed by Goans themselves, and aimed at Goans,” says Dhariwal. 

Tourists, on the other hand, are always gung-ho to check out the newest ‘it’ place in Goa. The non-local inhabitants of Goa are an interesting segment according to Sibal. “They are eclectic and open to try offbeat experiences. They do not want to go down the dusty tourist spots but want comfort yet a great experience at par with international standards,” he adds. 

Goa, for the moment, continues to be the incubator of new concepts and ideas for restaurateurs, which based on feedback and success will become the benchmark for restaurants in other parts of the country. At the same time, it has solidified its standing as a gastronomy hotspot for India.