I recall a conversation with a client over a year ago. The client was in Goa and looking for a good place to dine. I recommended two or three restaurants in South Goa. Martin’s Corner wasn’t one of them. Typically, because I felt it suffered from over-visit. Every tourist has been there at least once or maybe more. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the client and his colleagues ended up at Martin’s.
Martin’s reputation definitely precedes it, within and outside Goa. I’ve visited this place a few times; the first time over a decade ago and at least twice or thrice pre-lockdown. Ten years ago, I was blown away by it. In recent years, not so much. Perhaps, it has got something to do with the fact that similar restaurants have mushroomed all over the place.
Today, we retrace our steps of a year ago, to Martin’s corner, Betalbatim. Food shared is Happiness multiplied. I’m mulling over this as we drive past freshly washed fields, with the mulchy whiff of monsoon in the air. A favourite part of Goa, my favourite season, en route to a restaurant where I’ll be dining with my favourite person. That’s my idea of happiness. I couldn’t be merrier.
We are the first customers and are greeted with some measure of excitement. Gratifyingly, masks adorn the faces of the staff and an automated sanitiser stands at the entrance. We take our seats and the menu is sent to us via a link on our phones. So far, so safe.
The seating is comfortable enough, the bar looks interesting, but there’s not much to rave about when it comes to the interiors. However, the place’s friendliness is infectious and as the tables begin to fill up gradually, even more so. And you can tick off brick walls, lightbulbs, Goan murals mimicking everyday life and a photo-wall featuring celebrity diners. Intriguing? Maybe. Exceptional? Not at all.
We started with a Mojito and Sangria. A sip or two of the rich Sangria, many more of the fresh mint Mojito and the world seemed a happier place.
Chicken malai kebab and Prawns in Recheade masala were our choice of starters. The prawns came first. Red hot, fiery, fierce and drenched to glory in recheade masala. I somehow prefer the rawa fried variety. There was only so much heat my palate would take, before I put my fork down. Meat eaters can revel in luscious hunks of chicken kebab, the meat collapsing under the fork, with the green chutney giving it a bit of a kick. We placed our next orders even before we cleared these.
The next and final entrant was Thai red curry with steamed rice. It was earnestly prepared and nicely muted in flavour, much to our relief. It was definitely what we needed to balance out the super-hot rechead prawns. We would have loved to round off with the caramel pudding, but sadly our bellies could take no more.
Moreover, the afternoon was getting sultrier by the minute. The outer area lacks ventilation, and the heat made us decidedly uncomfortable. At the risk of sounding churlish, all we wanted to do at that point was take comfort in the confines of an air-conditioned room.
Martin’s layering of successive generations of cooks, customers and Goan sensibilities is one source of its lingering charm to locals and tourists. Tradition anchors it, but also makes it vulnerable. Because with great heritage comes great expectation. And I’m not sure that it lived up to that today.
I’m equally confused about taste and quality. I’ve heard food critics and patrons rave about authenticity. For me, the dishes ranged from amazing to so-so.
A quick glimpse of their instagram shows litters of pictures of drool-worthy dishes. So, maybe its legacy does live on. Even if it’s mostly on its social media pages.
For me, I’d pick taste over tradition and night over day for a visit here. Nevertheless, the crowd that still throngs Martin’s Corner makes me suspect that it will continue to hang around for at least another couple of generations. Especially for those who still live in Goa’s nostalgic past and want to taste it too.