Take a Goan out of Goa and they will start craving home food.
In Mumbai, this craving isn’t satiated by the spicy generic fish curries found at coastal restaurants or the meat patties at Bandra bakeries. We want the simple and familiar tastes of home. The fragrance of a yellow prawn pulao; tearing into hot fluffy poee, digging through a coating of coconut masala to reach the meaty part of clams; the punch of local garam masala in a vegetable usal; biting into a crisp, rava coated chonak (barramundi) fry; and the vinegary bite from prawn balchao.
It is this taste of his home that Goan chef Rohan D’souza wants to offer Mumbai at The Coconut Boy. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time…offer a taste of Goa to people in the city,” says the chef. Coconut Boy comes from the trio of D’Souza, Hitesh Keswani, and Praveena D'souza who, between them, run Silver Beach Cafe, Opa, Akina and Estella in Mumbai; Pisco by the Beach, Lazy Goose, Toro Toro and Blue Turtle in Goa.
The city’s newest restaurant occupies what used to be Silver Beach Café in Bandra. A bright green door leads me into a space that’s a riot of colour. “Most of my other restaurants have contemporary interiors. I wanted a vibrant and colourful space for this one,” he says. The vibe is tropical with big leafy plants, some (unnecessary) fake ones, and trees in the murals and upholstery. There are photos of Goan life, and one wall has a collection of starfish the chef carried back with him from a holiday in Vietnam's Phú Quốc. Above are bamboo chandeliers, big and wide, which remind me of the straw hats worn by tourists in Goa. The crockery follows a blue and white theme, but the serving dishes remind me of my mother’s special collection, reserved only for special occasions.
There are coconuts everywhere! They hang from a corner of the bar. A small cart at the entrance serves me chilled coconut water. Drinks come in coconut-shaped mugs. Even dessert comes in a hollowed-out coconut.
The Coconut Boy has certain small touches that delight my Goan heart. The blue and white patterned tiles down the bar front remind me of azulejos (Portuguese painted tiles). The arched portion behind the bar is reminiscent of doorways in old homes in Goa. There’s even a mention of Bancal sauce, the dark sauce (like a Worcestershire) that is the ‘secret’ ingredient adding flavour to beef roasts and steaks in Goan cuisine. They make their own poee, and sannas (with toddy). And, there’s feni in the bar.
The beverage menu leans heavily on ingredients like coconut, with kokum and tamarind making an appearance. I skip the feni cocktail and try Vitamin Sea, which is a decent effort at a kokum-washed bourbon drink.
Already full on coconut water, I turn my attention to the food. The menu has the expected vindaloos, aamsol, patties, rissois, chops, xacuti and sorpotel. D’souza wants to offer familiar tastes of Goa, with some twists. He is ably supported by fellow Goan chefs Vincy Rebello and Sandesh Sawant.
On their recommendation, I start with beef cutlets. The meat in my Buff Cutlets is tender and well-spiced but has a heavy rava batter. A Prawn Stuffed Pappad is the ideal snack for the live music evenings that will be part of the restaurant’s entertainment.
Vegetarians can take heart. Their options may be limited (they are working on expanding it) but there are some highlights. The Mixed Vegetable Usal, unique to the Hindu community is Goa, is packed with flavour, heavy on the coconut and garam masala. The Goan-Portuguese style Mushroom Formenhas have a cheesy, earthy note. The Mapusa Market Toast is their take on chilli cheese toast, with toast from Mapusa market, topped with a thin layer of mango pickle and cheese. The pickle is an inspired addition and adds an unexpected layer of depth to the dish.
The Masala Fried Chonak in the Mains is exactly what I would expect from a thali place in Goa: fresh, crisp and with a batter that’s thin and provides just enough coating to the fish. A Kingfish Ambotik does justice to the complex, spicy and sour curry. The coconut curries — Clams Slowcooked with Masala and Mutton Xacuti — while flavourful, feel like mellowed down versions of their Goan counterparts. The accompanying prawn pulao is light and flavourful. The soft and fluffy poee is dusted with bran.
D’souza joins me to eat fish-curry-rice. As is wont when Goans get together, we talk about home. Conversation veers from the hospitality industry in Goa, to Goan restaurants (past and existing) in Mumbai, to Goans in Nairobi, and Goan bands (some of who, like Music Fever, will perform at the restaurant in the future).
There’s pasteis de nata for dessert, sized like a tart and too heavy on the custard. Luckily, the Coconut Ice Cream is delicious, with shavings of coconut and small nibs of chocolate for extra texture.
The Coconut Boy is a much-needed restaurant in Mumbai, offering people a taste of Goa’s complex cuisine. The food feels toned down in parts (especially some of the masalas) but it is backed by good produce and many familiar Goan flavours.
At the end of the meal, the waiters and staff get together to sing a little toast and we toast to The Coconut Boy. Vive re Viva (Long live/ long life to) to another Goan restaurant in the city.
A meal for 2 (non alcoholic) will be approximately ₹ 2,200. Open from 12.30 to 4; 7pm to 1 am.
Joanna Lobo is a Goa-based journalist.