At Elaa Goa, an earth-based café & bar in Anjuna, Chef Sandeep Sreedharan serves ingredient-driven dishes rustled up coastal style.
The radiant red firecracker flowers were the first to catch my attention as I stepped on stone blocks leading into Elaa Goa Café & Bar. The sun was blistering hot, but the wanton red flowers interspersed with white triumphed over my silly idea of driving 14 kilometres on a hot May forenoon. Up the tiny steps lies the two-month-old Elaa with a veneered driftwood hanging as the centrepiece from the ceiling. The 40-cover café has wooden chairs with a hint of monstera leaf pattern on the backs, the cushions borrow from the three-leaf logo of Elaa and a ruby-red coffee machine whirrs in Ruby’s Coffee Bar that occupies a larger corner of the café that has no doors, no windows. And, ah! There was a fresh breeze sweeping over my skin. That rare pristine breeze tousling my hair and I wasn’t even complaining.
I was waiting for Sandeep Sreedharan, the man behind Elaa, and noticed the lime-green hammock. It had to so fittingly be there. Elaa is housed in Anjuna’s The Hammock, a boutique resort. I had heard of Sreedharan through the good words about Mahe restaurant (Anjuna) that describes itself as the purveyor of Modern Coastal Cuisine. Waiting, I ran through the menu that’s as unfussy as it can be — the design, that is. Four sheets of stapled A4 printed paper. All that’s listed is essentially ingredient driven. Millets, sorghum, cashew nuts, forest honey, cashew cheese, local grey mullet, alsande beans, Goan rice, Rajamudi red rice, tapioca, moringa — all rustled coastal style.
Then, walked in Sreedharan — in a man bun, a pair of black spectacles, a black tee and marl-grey track pants. “Because we are 70 percent plant-based, everyone thinks it is a vegan restaurant. We are not vegan, we are vegan-friendly. No meat is served but there’s fish on the table. There’s minimal consumption of dairy, but if you want cow’s milk in your coffee, we’ll happily add that for you. I want food to be inclusive and not crunched into rigid categories,” says the former management consultant who quit his day job to pursue a love for cooking.
Let’s get this out in the world: Elaa is not plant-based, it is earth-based. Sreedharan proclaims. And as an addendum he hastily clarified that Elaa is ingredient-driven, a notch different from Mahe that is also coastal but more progressive and rustic.
Sreedharan talks animatedly about responsible sourcing and the responsibilities of running an eatery. No meat is served in Elaa because he is unsure about the source of meat and how the animal is raised. The little seafood that makes it to the menu is all responsibly sourced. The Seafood salad is a mix of local seafood with greens, Creamy rissois come with a generous filling of prawns, Grilled local grey mullet (Shevtto) lies on bite-sized portions of pav, Pan-seared Lepo (Indian Sole) is slathered in local citrus & coconut milk served with greens. In Elaa, cashew nuts are amply used, as are millets, sorghum, beans, and local greens. And the acid is local — coconut toddy vinegar.
The ingredients get a fascinating makeover: Millet upma (Rs 240); Wheat crepe, A2 ghee, jaggery (Rs 250), White sorghum poha (Rs 240); Foxtail millet laksa (Rs 420); Doodhi with dal broth (Rs 200); Roasted pumpkin puree, fried idli & herb oil (Rs 350). There’s spiced jackfruit, Xacuti potato peas croquettes, sweet potato chips, mushroom toast and open sandwiches too.
At Elaa, food walks the coastal path, a choice that comes from Sreedharan’s childhood in Mahe. “I grew up with coastal food but now I meld the traditional ingredients with modern techniques to cater to varied palates,” adds the chef who has helmed several pop-ups around the world and is getting ready for one in Berlin.
There’s a bar, too, where the standard pour measure in 30 ml and the Bar Bites are available only between 7 pm and 10 pm.
Talking of wastage in the food industry, Sreedharan calls himself ‘the gatekeeper of responsibility’. “We should know more, learn more and amend our notions of food source, supply chain and what we can do to stave off the food scarcity that is staring at us,” says the chef who is not formally trained in culinary art but did work with Michelin-star chefs in England and Germany to broaden his palate and pick up the techniques of good cooking.
Before the jowar crepes topped with alsande beans, onion and tomato drizzled with cashew nut cream could be laid on my table, names were swirling in my head. I am always curious about the reasoning behind any christening. Elaa. Ruby. Mahe. Sreedharan was prompt with explanations. Elaa means Earth in Sanskrit and Leaf in Malayalam; Mahe, the petite French town in North Kerala is Sreedharan’s hometown (I later learnt that Mahe is often called the Eyebrow of the Arabian Sea); Ruby stems from Ruby’s Coffee Bar that Sreedharan has joined hands with for responsibly-sourced and freshly-brewed coffee.
Taking the job of being ‘the gatekeeper of responsibility’ further, Sreedharan will soon fence a patch in Elaa to grow and propagate herbs and greens. He has mango, love apple, jamun and banana burdening the garden boughs but that herb garden would be a logical step for an earth-based café & bar. While we were talking, Sreedharan requested his men to plant the pandanus and Vietnamese mint that I had brought along from my garden. As I stood up to leave, the chef with a man-bun took a knife, snipped a few stems of the multi-vitamin plant (Chakramuni) and said I should cook the leaves with dal and stick the stems into the soil to grow a new plant.
I did not know much about the medium-sized vitamin shrub that packs all vitamins except Vitamin D. So, if I live up to 100, I’ll owe my longevity to the multi-vitamin plant from Elaa Goa. Just saying!
Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
Vibe: Subtly beautiful & cheerfully breezy & green.
One dish we loved: Jowar crepes topped with tangy alsande beans
One thing that didn’t work for us: There is nothing to not like at Elaa.
Good to know:
Address: The Hammock resort, H. No. 1069, Gawaddi, Anjuna
Timing: 9.30am-10pm. Closed on Mondays