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Because sometimes, happiness really is homemade

The south seems to be the place to be, where food is concerned, in more recent times. My latest exploits took me to an interestingly named venture – ‘House No. 2’. The brainchild of Orson Dias and Lineker Furtado, ‘House No. 2’ is quite the establishment. The house where the restaurant sits is the ancestral home of the Antao family that once resided in Ambora, and was only the second-ever to be built in the village. As a result, the boys stayed true to the roots of the address when christening the project that they put together. For those less in the geographical know, Ambora is the tiniest of villages, nestled between its bigger siblings, Raia and Loutolim. However, it is also home to a rather large landmark in itself, Jila Bakery, which has served the Goan landscape for decades.
What I love about the venture is the little things that it comprises. Apparently, the devil is in the details, or so I’m told, whenever anyone has the chance to use that phrase. ‘House No. 2’ only has seating in the balcony bit of the premises (for now). That basically means that if you’re dining there, you get to experience village life to the fullest, just like the luckiest of local homeowners do – sitting in their balcão, watching the world go by at that tantalising pace that only the village offers. If you’re fortunate, as I was, you will get to see sights like a man attempting to tow a small tree using only his scooter, and swearing at said tree in the vernacular, after every failed attempt. Another lovely little touch is the intentional lack of music at the venue, which again exposes you to the true sounds of the village. The poder (baker) on his cycle, the church bells tolling, the rain against the rooftop, are all dining companions here.
But there’s more to ‘House No. 2’ than just the setting. The food too is of remarkable quality, and perhaps the more churlish of us would say that it’s ‘more’ than they would expect from a small restaurant set amidst a village. But then, that’s the loss of the churls. Our starters consisted of ‘Jamaican Jerk Chicken’ and ‘Mushroom Tocas with Hot Garlic Sauce’. The former is said to be a speciality of the chef. Now ‘jerk’ is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a spice mixture called ‘Jamaican Jerk Spice’, principally relying upon two main items: allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers. Whether these two items are in the mix or not remains unclear. What has no room for doubt though is the fact that the end dish is great. It works as a pre-main appetiser or even as a lazy snack as one watches the world go by in the verandah mentioned above. The second starter is another take on stuffed mushroom caps, which are a personal favourite of mine. The brief is met at this restaurant, with the presentation here involving two caps skewered on a toothpick, while facing each other.
The first part consisted of ‘Cajun Blackened Fish’, which was marinated with Caribbean herbs and served with steamed rice and assorted vegetables; while the second part involved a ‘Spiced Pork Chop’ which was served with sweet potato mash and vegetables. Much like the ‘Jamaican Jerk Chicken’, the ‘Cajun Blackened Fish’ too is a chef’s signature dish. The fish (which varies on the basis of availability in the local market) in my case, was a black Pomfret served whole. I don’t know why, but I’m personally a fan of the black Pomfret over the white, as I find that it has more flavour; and with the spice mix that was used to give this dish more flavour, my feelings were completely justified. The cook on the fish was perfect, with a crisp exterior and still steaming, moist flesh under. The pork chop I’m still debating, as I find that though well-seasoned, it still needs a little something to give it an additional lift, in terms of flavour…but that mash, that can work as a dish on its own, to be honest. Maybe I just have a weakness for sweet potato mash?
The dessert course has long since been one of my favourites, and regular readers will know that I have often stated that the entire spectrum of human emotion that I dedicate to a given place could hinge on whether I loved or hated the dessert there. Needless to say, I loved what I ate at ‘House No. 2’, which came in the form of a ‘Deconstructed Cheesecake with Strawberry Compote’. There seems to be a perfect marriage between the whip that represents the cheesecake, and the sweet-tartness of the compote, with the crumble working to add texture to the combination of flavours.There are a few teething issues that the restaurant faces at the moment, given they have only been operational since last Sunday. However, it’s a completely new experience that is a great throwback to my childhood, where I spent much time growing up in a village, and I don’t think you can put a premium on that, just like you can’t buy experiences; simply because sometimes, like the tag-line at ‘House No. 2’ says, ‘happiness is homemade’. [H]

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