Tributes to beloved traditions are tricky: it’s easy to tip over into commodification. That’s why this writer has a bad romance with restaurateur AD Singh’s last big Delhi hit Sodabottleopenerwala, with its too-carefully packaged Irani café references and overcooked eccentricity. Will Lady Baga, his tribute to the beach shacks of 1970s hippie Goa, go platinum? Or will it, like its ersatz Parsi sibling, hit a nerve that’s ra-ra-raw-raw-raw?
A Trippy Beach Shack
Lady Baga passes the acid test. The chic-shack decor is so over-the-top that it feels like silly fun: trippy floral prints, floor-to-ceiling projections of waves, sand at our feet, giant dream catchers, and lamps made of mirror-work blouses. True trippiness, however, lies in watching Delhi’s finest winterwear and knee-high boots cavort on this make-believe beach. The music, steadily loud, alternates between classic 70s rock-and roll and campy 90s dance music. Lady Baga, alas, plays no Lady Gaga.
The true trippiness of Lady Baga lies in watching Delhi’s finest winterwear and knee-high boots cavort on this make-believe beach.
What it does do is nail the Goan flavour in its service, warm and unhurried. First to wash ashore, at leisure, is a dish of crispy-fried bombil titled From Bombay, With Love; we return the love at first bite. This semolina-crusted fish fry, though crisper than Bombayites might be accustomed to, stands on the edge of glory; a sharper accompaniment than coconut chutney would have elevated it to greatness. Prawn Lonche tastes like it came straight from a Konkani home; the rustic prawn pickle isn’t as good as our fried bombil but is still delicious.
Our appetisers are more Malvani than Goan, and we know the true test of a Goan kitchen is how it turns out chorizo. Fittingly, the Goan On Pot, chorizo sausages tossed with rice and potatoes, is a high point of the meal, thanks to fresh, well-seasoned (and very spicy) pork. Lady Baga’s Fingers, coconut-fried okra which goes well with pao, shines as much as a vegetarian dish can on a menu like this: spicy grated coconut distinguishes this semi-dry curry from a North Indian kurkuri bhindi, but not by much. (Do order it if you’re a Bombayite nostalgic for AD Singh’s home-style Bandra diner, Soul Fry.)
For dessert, we pick Sticky Fingers with ice-cream, a date and toffee pudding hard to keep our digits off of; three of our four dishes have been hot like Mexico and this sweet treat is a welcome respite. Drinks help, too: Baga Bong is a fruity and unexceptional Long Island Iced Tea, but the combination of white and dark rums – aided by cointreau, lime and grapefruit – leaves heads swimming pleasantly in no time. Fisherman’s Tonic, featuring gin, kokum and soda, is a much better catch.
Next time, all we’d change is the location – Lady Baga’s lowkey rooftop deck is a shade quieter, and makes us feel less silly about our winter clothing. Excellent Goan food, kokum cocktails (or a pint of beer) and sand under our toes – sea la vie.
Getting there: Lady Baga, P-3/90, Connaught Circus, Connaught Place, New Delhi. A meal for three with a round of cocktails will cost approximately Rs 4000.
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