Saké, Assagao’s newest restaurant, wants to show people that Asian food can be fun, and affordable.
Assagao today is a mini-city. One of blinding lights, music at different corners, thriving nightlife and an unabated buzz. It’s a place that is on most tourists’ radar, one that is frequented by people seeking to party or drink and dine. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a preferred destination for people seeking to open a new restaurant in Goa.
One of the newest is Saké – The Asian Lounge, which resides in the space once occupied by Squirrel Bar. Saké is the newest restaurant from the stable of the people that have given the state Soro – The Village Pub, SinQ Nightclub and Soho.
Saké launched without much fanfare — unusual for an Assagao restaurant — in May. Their aim was to reach people via word of mouth. And, they have. On the day we visit, many of the tables are occupied by (Goan) families; there’s even a minister occupying a private dining area.
The restaurant has two levels, a short mezzanine one and a larger downstairs space with the private dining spaces shielded by rattan sliding doors. The first thing that catches the eye are circular lights that tower over the bar, which runs down the centre of the room. The décor is simple, with grey, brown and gold tones and minus the stereotypical ‘Asian’ elements.
The bar menu has been presided over by Rohan Barbosa, and accordingly has some interesting cocktails, a selection of sake, and keeping with the growing market, a selection of gins. The most theatrical of the cocktail offerings is Saké Mahō, which pairs the fermented rice drink with vodka, green apple and vanilla and a bubble which dissolves into smoke at the spritz of a sake spray. It’s a red, bubbly and too-sweet drink. Another visually appealing drink is You Give Me Butterflies, a gin cocktail decorated with edible butterflies. It’s also on the sweeter side but the cucumber and lime help to tone it down. The Ume Negroni is a decent pandan and plum twist to the classic cocktail. Our pick is the Un-Fig-Gettable Old Fashioned, which smartly uses fig to bring out the bitterness and smokiness of the whisky.
The drinks come fast, as does the food. Saké’s menu is extensive, with rolls, salads, nigiri, gyoza, wontons, baos, and soup besides your regular mains. Chef Harsh Dixit was brought on as a consultant and has helped curate a menu that is familiar, but with some surprises. This is evident in our favourite dish of the night: Sushi on Crack. Here, sushi finds an edible companion in rice and seaweed crackers. The salmon sushi gets that extra texture from the crackers, with wasabi mayo adding some bite. Another cracker dish is Truffle Broccoli Mousse, which serves up that contentious vegetable in an innovative form, with sesame crackers by the side. There’s a nice play on textures in the Aburi Chirashi small plate, a layered dish of rice, salmon and tuna topped with crispy fish skin.
It is possible to have a filling meal with just the appetisers and small plates — the portion sizes are enough for two. We fill up on herby and delicately translucent Spinach Rolls with Shrimp, and a warming Prawn Cheung Fun.
For the mains, we keep things simple. The Crispy Beef with Raw Mango is fried too much, and the coating completely masks the protein within. Our second favourite dish of the night is the Prawn and Xo Fried Rice, which is all you would want from a fried rice: filling, comforting, delicious and saucy.
As expected, the dessert menu is short, just four items. The surprise is Kaya Toast, which is a take on that favourite Singaporean breakfast — the bread here could do with more toasting. Mango Nigiri is an interesting idea and fully honours the deliciousness of Goan mangoes but it needs some work to make it a cohesive dish. Nama Chocolate will appeal to those who like an overload of chocolate.
Saké aims to convert into a lounge late evening, with a nearby DJ console prepped and ready to welcome party-goers. It is a good place to try familiar Asian fare, especially if you stick to the small plates and sushi/sashimi/nigiri. The drinks are pretty, though we found them slightly sweet. The desserts need some work. Soon, you will also be able to try Goa’s newest gin, Satiwa (from the same founders), at the restaurant. Till that happens, break out your chopsticks and order some crack.
Saké – The Asian Lounge is open 7pm to 1am. Call 8805002432/8459975292 for reservations.
Drinks (where applicable): 7/10
One dish we loved: Sushi on Crack
One dish that didn’t work for us: Crispy Beef
Goa’s newest gin promises a happy high