By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
Brits tend to approach Subcontinent cuisine with a degree of apprehension. Unlike other food imports the number of variables at play when perusing the menu surpass the basic ‘will I have that with chips’ and thus render us completely dumbfounded. Will it be too hot? How will my innocent palate react to unfamiliar spices? This apprehension has led to a new, British Indian cuisine consisting of Korma, the Glaswegian Tikka Masala, Rogan Josh, Jalfrezi and Vindalo for those who like to be physically punished for eating. Some restaurants do it well, some not so well, but regardless we’ve been left with the same menu, different place.
If there was ever a cautious curry eater my girlfriend would be it. She has her food order prepared before she’s picked up a menu in a restaurant and uses Ctrl + F to get to her order on Just Eat, so you can imagine the look of disbelief that crept across her face when she was presented with a menu that was refreshingly devoid of the British stalwarts when we visited Ma Goa in Putney. The restaurant is sat amongst a smattering of other eateries on Upper Richmond Road, a short walk from Putney train station and East Putney tube station. Unlike most London-based Indian joints it is a restaurant first and take away second, with plenty of seating to accommodate the many returning customers and a nice disconnect between the kitchen, bar and service areas.
Ma Goa is a portmanteau of the restaurant manager’s mother and her Goan heritage, specialising in family recipes passed down the generations. The menu takes inspiration from the beautiful palm fringed region of Goa which is recognised for its seafood cuisine cooked with coconut milk, rice, and local spices which are notably flavoursome and intense. The most noteworthy element is the lack of cream in their dishes. As the waiter explained to my somewhat disillusioned girlfriend, the kitchen at Ma Goa doesn’t have a single pot of cream, which means the British staples simply ain’t on there.
There is a clear impetus on letting the ingredients speak for themselves. The fresh, traditional dishes are accompanied by terms such as (shock horror) ‘of the day’ and ‘regional classic’ which is a real treat in Britain. Served with breads filled with coriander and red onion rather than cheap minced meat the entire meal shouts locality. Basmati rice with coconut, pot roasted lamb shank, traditional Goan pork chorizo; it’s all tremendously appealing. But my recommendation would be to go for the fish. Fresh fish of the day, prawns, Caldin, Malabar or if you really want to treat yourself the Ma Goa classic; Saffron Basmati rice topped with flaked salmon, prawns, squid and mussels cooked in gentle South-Indian spices, a bargain really, at £15.75.
The wine selection is similarly impressive. The house red is a Languedoc that would partner many of the dishes very well indeed, the white wine list is hand-picked from Marlborough to Piemonte, but I would advise selecting something Portuguese from the list. Goan cuisine is heavily influenced by 400 years of Portuguese colonialism and the strength of Portuguese wines today makes it a no brainer. Sample a wine from the Iberian Peninsula if you’ve selected a meat-based dish or the Lisboa white for fish. If you’re struggling to decide then ask the staff, they’re tremendously knowledgeable.
Ma Goa is a refreshing take on Indian cuisine in Britain. Rather than cater to the local palate it unapologetically serves Goan dishes and is all the more genuine for it. There’s no Tikka Masala, not even a pot of crème, but isn’t it about time we move on anyway?