The Village Bistro: From Europe, with love

Local chef Gracian de Souza’s new restaurant, The Village Bistro, serves classic bistro fare with some Goan elements.

It was Goan food that first brought Chef Gracian de Souza into the limelight. It was Mumbai of 2018. The bustling suburb of Juhu saw the launch of a Goan restaurant, Porto & Poie, helmed by de Souza and serving choris pao, rissois, tondak and other Goan staples. 

Chef gracian de souza focusses on european techniques at the village bistro.
Chef Gracian de Souza focusses on European techniques at The Village Bistro.

It was the first time I had eaten Goan food with that slight twist: think salted tongue drizzled with olive oil. I was impressed but cautious: I wasn’t used to experiments with Goan food. Soon, I learned that this was de Souza’s forte: taking his homegrown cuisine and infusing it with European techniques he had learned while training in UK and Portugal. The Mumbai-born and raised chef moved to Goa a few years back. This year, de Souza managed to realise one of his food dreams: to launch his own restaurant in Goa. Initially brought in as a consultant, he soon joined as chef-partner and helped launch The Village Bistro in Arpora in April. Though the food isn’t Goan or modern Goan, there are influences in the restaurant and in the beautifully plated dishes that come out of the kitchen. 

The restaurant does what de Souza calls ‘modern interpretations of European classics’. “I wanted to bring back European classics but done my way.” It’s a small menu but it covers dishes like Waldorf Salad, Fish ‘n’ Chips, Chicken Velouté and Chicken a la Kiev.

The exterior of the village bistro.
The exterior of The Village Bistro.

The Goan touches come in the form of lacto-fermented bimbli in the Prawn Cocktail, local katre bread (picked every evening from a poder nearby) in the Two-way Mushroom on Toast or the unddo served with Chicken Velouté, or the balchao that accompanies the Arroz de Marisco (seafood rice). The restaurant’s signature Crispy Mackeral and Creamy Waldorf honours the humble mackerel — the use of tirphal dust doesn’t just add interesting texture but harks back to the typical pairing of mackerel and the spice in Goan curries. “It’s about using Goan elements smartly,” he adds.

Delectable fare at the village bistro.
Delectable fare at The Village Bistro.

De Souza was sure he didn’t want his restaurant to ‘look like a Bombay or Delhi restaurant in Goa’. Accordingly, the interiors have small elements: terracotta tiles and woven cane chairs, IPS stone flooring and even the deep red mud tint that’s common to many Goan homes. The bar area has black and white photographs by Vince Costa (whose photos also found space at Porto & Poie), which speak about the restaurant’s ethos: juxtaposing European and Goan cuisines — depicted in photographs that showcase the similarities between both places.

The restaurant has an unusual location, with fields on both sides. The bistro is split into two levels: the bar and grill downstairs, and a dedicated wine bar upstairs. During the day, sunshine streams in from all sides and at night, it is softly lit. The 10-seater, Y-shaped table upstairs is meant for wine evenings. On Wednesdays, The Village Bistro turns into a classic wine bar, offering over 25 labels of wines from across the world, accompanied by charcuterie and cheeses.

Guests at the village bistro.
Guests at The Village Bistro.

The bar downstairs isn’t a cocktail bar, adds de Souza. “Our bar programme is designed to ensure we are doing drinks and [classic] cocktails right. The aim is to keep things simple.” Besides the classics, there will be two seasonal cocktails, with the focus on craft beer. On the weekends, de Souza wants to turn the downstairs area into a high-energy space where people gather together to talk about food and wine, while listening to soul and funk, jazz, and 80s music. Coming soon there will be a Made in Goa page, which will detail all the liquor made here. “We are proud of what Goa produces. We are trying to support as many locals as we can.”

De Souza sources most of his produce in Goa; the feni and urrak come from a farm nearby. Though there are challenges with starting a restaurant in Goa, like logistics, he is intent on ensuring that.

The tranquil interiors of the village bistro.
The tranquil interiors of The Village Bistro.

The pandemic has been a busy time for Goa’s hospitality industry, with bars and restaurants mushrooming all over. De Souza is cautiously optimistic about the future of this industry in Goa. “I do not see enough market share for everybody. I like the value that some brands are bringing here…it helps to put Goa on the culinary map. People do feel free to open up their palates and be more experimental. It gives young entrepreneurs and chefs like us the opportunity to experiment.”

And how does he feel about this increased competition? “After 22 years in the industry, I have nothing more to prove,” he says. “I am just having fun.”

The Village Bistro, Orchard Villas, Porba Vaddo, Arpora, Goa. Timings: 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm. Instagram: @thevillagebistrogoa

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