Not surprisingly, I’ve had years of disappointment in the UK, not being able to find a Goan restaurant that met my expectation. I wasn’t fool enough to try and look for one in the traditional Bangladeshi, often Sylheti, establishment that people call “Indian”. After all, none of them serves pork. And a vindaloo without pork is not a vindaloo. Pork. Garlic. Wine or wine vinegar. Onions. A little ginger. Chillies, cumin, turmeric. Marinated overnight. A Portuguese dish Indianised over centuries, owing much to Vasco da Gama.
So when I heard that there was a place in Putney that served “proper” vindaloo, I wanted to go there. But I needed an excuse.
That excuse came when a friend of mine, Joao Barros of Veniam, planned a trip to London and we were to have lunch; it turned out he had a Goan grandfather, and I needed no further prompting.
Off we went to Ma Goa. A tiny restaurant, nothing to look at, tucked away off the beaten track in Putney.
We weren’t disappointed. The vindaloo was magnificent.
I’ve been trying to find words to describe the taste and texture, and failing. But then serendipity struck. I was looking for a recipe to link to in this post, and in that recipe was the precise descriptor I was looking for.
A pickle. A familiar, much-loved, tangy pickle. That’s what a good vindaloo tastes like. Fiery without making your ears pop. A sauce with subtle bits and bumps and odds and sods, reminding you there’s vinegar, garlic and chillies there, but not making an announcement of the fact. Meat that is chewy yet soft enough to pull apart with your tongue, imbued with the taste of the sauce via the marinade.
Joao and I both loved it. The rest of the food was pretty good as well: fresh mango lassi that went down a treat; an unusual starter, a fusion of masala dosa and pappadom (the pappadom was moistened prior to frying, filled with masala potato, folded like a filo pastry and then quick-fried); a pista kulfi where you could feel the bits of pistachio on your teeth and on your tongue. All in all, a brilliant meal, ridiculously cheap for what it represented.
And then came another surprise. When the bill came, I wasn’t given the opportunity to leave a tip. So I asked.
If you liked it, say so on TripAdvisor. That’s the best tip we can have.
It wasn’t the first time this happened to me; earlier this year, when vacationing in Eleuthera, I wanted to thank the staff for the service, which had been superb. And their unanimous answer was to direct me to TripAdvisor. And there’d been a few instances last year, but the feeling I get is that the momentum is growing. People don’t want to be thanked in cash, when you could recommend them to others. That’s what matters to them more than the cash. And the only way they can earn the recommendation is the hard way: by providing something exceptional. Which Ma Goa did.
Now that’s what I call a Tipping Point.