After a sojourn to the Big Apple, where he opened Goa New York in the Tribeca neighbourhood, Indo-Canadian restaurateur Hemant Bhagwani has come home again, opening Bar Goa in Toronto’s Financial District. The widely celebrated chef’s latest restaurant—his third inspired by the Indian state of Goa and its Portuguese-tinged cuisine, following Goa New York and Bayview Village’s Goa Indian Farm Kitchen—offers Toronto diners a high-end Indian dining experience heretofore lacking in the city.
Located at the corner of Toronto and Adelaide, Bar Goa’s small space, with its entrance located in the building’s mezzanine, might easily be overlooked by unobservant passersby. Upon entering the main dining room via an extended archway, guests are greeted by a large, lively bar that faces the narrow space lit by large north- and east-facing picture windows. The sleek, white-tablecloth feel of the neutral-toned interiors is accented by azure tiles and seemingly enlarged by golden-framed mirrors.
With two set menus—one vegetarian and one not—and à la carte options, Bar Goa offers several ways to enjoy its quietly modern takes on classic dishes. The small plates introduce diners to the diversity of flavours and styles in Goan and, indeed, Indian cuisine. The chaat—the immensely popular Indian street-food family based around fried dough—is given a sweet and savoury twist thanks to Bar Goa’s berry and passionfruit-laden paani puri topped with myriad sauces and dried chilies.
However, as refreshing as Bar Goa’s small plates are, the test of almost any full-service Indian restaurant lies in its curries. With Goa being a maritime state, the branzino moilee and Goan prawn curries are no doubt tempting for the purists, but that shouldn’t stop diners from experiencing Bar Goa’s versions of the classics. Staple curries such as laal gosht (a Hydrabadi oxtail dish), palak paneer, and goat shank are levelled up at Bar Goa. The butter chicken in particular is far from the tired curry-house fallback it has become outside of India.
Like many well-spiced cuisines, Goan food is difficult to pair with beverages. Red and full-bodied white wines come across as bitter when swilled over spicy curries, and classic cocktails such as martinis and negronis are either completely overwhelmed by the food’s flavour or their own herbal qualities unpleasingly fight with those in the food. A certified sommelier himself, Bhagwani developed the well-focused wine list, which smartly features light and bright whites as well as spicy reds prominently. Standout cocktails include a lightly spiced cardamom martini served tableside and a Kashmiri chili-infused mirchi negroni.