Set in Asagao, Goa under the expansive shady branch of a two-hundred-year-old tree is this unique Asian kitchen, The Banyan and thus so aptly named. The original 100-year-old Goan house that existed here has been given a face-lift and the surrounding gardens brought back to life.
As you step in through grand intricately carved wooden doors of The Banyan you notice a wonderful amalgamation of Indonesian, Thai with a hint of the Goan architecture. The eclectic yet uniquely harmonized collaboration of styles was the brain child of local architect Chirstopher Gonsalves that we found out. The house itself is painted in hues of Grey and White with wooden accents. The Rattan furniture, true to its Balinese form has been lifted with colourful cushions, low tables and sofas to create a relaxed and casual dining atmosphere. They are open for lunch but it is at night that this place truly comes to life with its subtle lighting and a Budha right in the center of the restaurant. There is a small but quaint waterfall in the corner next to the private dining area for groups, and if you are willing, then do go and look for the resident terrapin named – Lotus.
The bar area is perfect for those gathering with friends for drinks and snacks with its high tables but the pièce de résistance must be the back wall with a collage of wooden carved boxes with hidden writing on them, if you can find it. One feels like running around the inside of the bar and wanting to open all the latches to see what is inside the boxes. The owner Tejpal Gandhi the tells us that he hand carried the unique rot iron lanterns and other knick-knacks from Bali to help complete the look of the restaurant, boy his excess luggage must have been a lot. These lanterns are of different sizes a and what we really loved was the unique little mosquito coil holders and the bill boxes (which are little steam boxes for individual dim sum) painted orange, such fun elements to have around.
The menu at The Banyan covers an array of dishes from various parts of the Asia. From their small plates comprising of such items as Stir Fried Lotus Stems (Bhein or Kamal Kakri in Hindi), a north Indian favorite are perfectly stir fried in black bean sauce has just the right amount of crunch and tang. For someone generally doesn’t like Tofu the Tofu Tangsuyuk heralding form Korea surprising delicious with a sweet and sour sauce. The Konjee Kirspy Lamb is now a new favorite among our table, succulent strips of Lamb fried and tossed in Hoisin sauce are just finger licking good. We then went onto try the Chili Jam Pork one can but say wow with such unique flavor of chili and cashew.
A signature dish we are were informed were Son in Law Eggs, a funny name for a dish but this is the favorite amongst our table too. Boiled eggs are fried until golden brown and served with sweet and sour sauce of Tamarind with its humble routes from Thailand and must try here if you like eggs. All the sauces are made fresh using ingredients from The Banyan’s wall mounted kitchen garden, beware the Sambal unless you can handle heat but if you can then it is very moreish and the Sambal Baby Potatoes and crunch and soft all at the same time.
However, what is not to be missed is the vast array of Dim Sum on the menu, with three different types of skins made in-house and with their own dipping sauces, the Soy Garlic and Sweet Chili are so tasty that you often forget to dip your Dim Sum or end up combining a few in the little dishes provide for that real kick. For those who don’t know what Dim Sum are, these are a style of Chinese cuisine (particularly Cantonese) prepared as small bite-sized portions of food served in small steamer baskets or on small plates, perfect for those who are a diet or being healthy. There is something for everyone here from Spring Vegetables with Garlic & Coriander and Zucchini Leek & Shitake Mushroom. For one who love sea food we had to try all that was there the Prawn & Cilantro Har Gow or the other Prawn and Chicken Sui Mai, but what was different was the Prawn Pearls. The Pearls, I had forgotten how incredible these Asian dumplings are and sometimes served as a first course at banquets in Beijing. For these Asian dumplings, a fragrant prawn mixture is shaped into balls, then coated in soaked sticky rice (a.k.a. glutinous / sweet rice) and then steamed…just delicious. There are lot of choices here with lots of choice of different fillings and meats, from Chicken and Water Chestnut to Spicy Black Bean Beef Dumplings but to name a few. Another table favorite, was the Pork and Shitake Mushroom Sui Mai that we had to order it twice as one round of 4 dumplings just wasn’t enough for us, perfect with the soy and garlic dip.
One must try a baozi or simply known as “Bao”, which is a type of steamed filled, bun or bread-like item in various Chinese cuisines, as there is much variation as to the fillings and the preparations. At The Banyan we had a choice of two types you can choose to have it stuffed or open, either way the dough was so soft and just perfect for every filling one tried probably the best we has ever had in Goa for sure. One of the signature of the restaurant is the Roast Duck Baos, which is open and served with onion, tomato with sweet and spicy sauce topped with jalapeno to give it just the right kick. If you like other meats, then the Adobo (Pork Adobo topped with Lettuce) or Garlic Beef (Beef Tenders sautéed with burnt garlic & coriander topped with mint mayo) are worth a shot. In the stuffed variety of this The Banyan has introduced some local flavours such as the Goan Sausage which surprises one but very tasty, or you can just go for the Pulled Pork if you this is your meat of choice.
In the large plates, there is a lot to choose from. Tempura – is a Japanese dish is made with seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. A light batter is made of cold water (sometimes sparkling water is used to keep the batter light) and soft wheat flour, over mixing the batter will result in activation of wheat gluten, which causes the flour mixture to become soft and dough-like when fried. The Tempura Prawn we had were huge and perfectly crisp on the outside as the batter was made and then fried just right. Well worth the price we paid for it.
One is surprised to see Cha Gio or the Vietnamese Spring Rolls on the menu as most places don’t know how to make them well and yet again one is delighted to see that The Banyan has gone the extra step with the menu. At this point one was getting rather full and so the discussion was made to order one other thing from the large plates, the Beef Negimaki , Rolled Sliced Beef with Scallions in Teriyaki sauce just hit the spot without filling one up too much.
If this doesn’t fill you up one can move on the Soups. The Slow Boat to Thailand is the unique signature dish here – It is a steaming pot of aromatic spice laced broth served with exotic vegetables, meats or seafood and dumpling. The idea behind this is to be ones own chef where one simply dips, cooks and east and sips it the way one wants. The Banyan is the very first restaurant to introduce this to Goa as one was informed. For those who prefer a light meal then there are the salads for those hot and humid days in Goa, Larb Gai or Yum Nuar Yang but to name a few.
Another new introduction to Goa is the bowls – a meal in one. One can order from Thai Firsher’s Noodles, Chilli Ramen with choice of veg or non-veg to The Banyan’s own version of the Burmese Khow Suey served very differently. The Khow suey is a one-dish soup meal made of egg noodles and curried beef or chicken with coconut milk, served with a variety of contrasting condiments usually, a squeeze of lemon also adds tanginess, unlike the other places in Goa The Banyan servers it in one bowl all heaped in the middle with the sumptuous broth around it. So is one is expecting it to be a lot of small dishes then be prepared and this is probably nothing like one has tasted before.
No Asian restaurant would be complete without a choice of curries, Jungle Curry, Sambal Seafood or Chicken, but the Beef Rendang is a must try signature here if one are looking for something different from the regular Massaman or Thai curries. Rendang is usually a spicy meat dish which originated from the Minangkabau ethnic group of Indonesia and is now commonly served across the country. Although culinary experts often describe Rendang as a curry, it is usually not considered a curry in Indonesia since it is richer and contains less liquid than is normal for Indonesian curries
Moving on to the main plates you are again greeted with a large choice from all around Asia, Phat Phat Phak Ruam, or Pal Sam Tot (Steamed Fish topped with stir fried mushroom, zucchini, chili peppers in a tamarind sauce) or something as simple but flavorful as Stir Fried Chinese Green. Unlike most other restaurants there is also an epically designed kid’s menu with plenty of choice of smaller portions.
Last by not least there is the desserts, traditional deserts done with a twist such as Khao Tom Mad (sticky rice cooked in coconut milk wrapped in Bana leaf and teamed) or Thap Thim Krop (Water Chestnuts rubies served in chilled coconut milk) or their signature Sweet Dim Sums with an assortment of fillings just the perfect thing to finish off your meal.