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Jamavar Goa

Leela Palace Hotel, Cavelossim Village, Goa, Mobor, 403731, India

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At its best, the Jamavar serves some of the best Indian food I have ever eaten. Just off the main lobby of the Leela Palace Hotel in Goa, the dining room has a display kitchen section where you can watch the chefs preparing the tandoori food.  You can sit in the dining room or (finally after years of my suggesting it) on the terrace.  With evening temperatures around 21 - 24C in January, eating out is an attractive option; I notice that the western diners tend to eat outside, the Indian diners inside. Tables are very generously spaced and the service is very attentive, but it is the food that is key here.

Eat anything from the tandoor, which is clearly the pinnacle of the cooking here. Chicken tikka malai has been marinated for so long that the chicken melts in the mouth (17/20), while sesame tiger prawns feature huge prawns that are remarkably tender and are suffused with the flavours of the marinade and a hint of the charcoal from the tandoor (16/20). Only in a top Michelin starred restaurant have I tasted prawns as tender as this. Similarly, perfectly tender lobster tikka (18/20) and tandoori spring chicken are also superb. The lobster was some of the best I have eaten in any type of restaurant; there is not a hint of chewiness that lobster so often gets even in serious French restaurants.  

Perhaps least good are the normal curries, though these are still fine e.g. chicken xacuti (14/20), prawn curry (15/20). The vegetarian dishes are generally good: cauliflower with ginger (13/20), mushroom masala (12/20), aloo jeera (15/20), bhindi masala (15/20) and the superb makhani dal (14/20). The prawn biriani is no longer cooked in a pot sealed with pastry, which it used to be, and this dish for me has deteriorated over the years (13/20 when at one time I would have rated it 16/20).  I am not sure why the sauces here often seem disappointing e.g. Bengali tiger prawns were cooked beautifully, yet the sauce with it had little taste and, made with coconut, looked anaemic as well.  I don't know whether they are toning down the spices for a mostly western hotel clientele or not, but the curry sauces seem to me the weak link in this kitchen.

I was very impressed with sorpotel, a Goan pork dish that is not on the menu but they were happy to make for me.  This had lovely, complex taste, with a pleasing sharp sourness balanced out by sufficient in the dish, the pork tender, the liver adding an extra taste dimension, with a rich, complex sauce (15/20). Now if they can make this dish so well, why not other main course curries?

Breads are a revelation: roti, naan and the usual breads are good, while the paratha left me stunned – normally paratha in the UK is either a greasy heavy affair to be avoided or over-dry and crumbly, but here it has the lightest texture with just a hint of moistness (15/20). Ramali roti is very thin bread tossed in the air and cooked over a dome shaped iron heater for just a few seconds, and is also delicious (15/20).  Missi roti is made from a mix of gramflour and refined flour and has a yellow colour, but tastes like a roti. Bhatura and chapatis are also very good. The garlic naans on my most recent visit here were especially good, and better than I recall them. They are best when just out of the oven, so we ended up ordering one, and then another as the main course arrived; the second one, prepared and served immediately, was always better than the first one of the pair.

Popadoms are superior here, not just regular ones but ones flavoured with garlic and also with (mild) chilli. These are served with excellent home-made sweet mango chutney, and each evening a different second chutney e.g. a tomato chutney with ginger was particularly good. I rarely made it to dessert, but a kulfi was pretty but rather watery, while halwa was merely pleasant (12/20).

There was a decent wine list but wine is quite expensive in India, and I am not sure about the wine storage here.  Prices are generally about three times retail price in the UK, though there are a couple of oddities in the list that differ from this. There was also a fine wine section, and they apparently have actually sold two bottles of Petrus here! Kingfisher beer is the natural accompaniment. I would be cautious about the "specials" that they do on some evenings e.g. the night we arrived there was a platter of tandoori food as an advertised ,special yet this was not a patch on the a la carte; dishes had clearly been prepared in some bulk earlier and then reheated, resulting in drying out of the meat. The contrast between a sad, dry tandoori quail than night and a succulent, moist one that I ordered a la carte a few nights later was immense. Similarly a Goan thali was pleasant but no more than that. Service is extremely attentive, and there is nothing that is too much trouble e.g. if you want something off-menu like an aloo gobi, as we fancied one night, they will happily oblige. 

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  • R Gatha

    I just returned from a trip to Goa where the highlight was our meal at Jamavar. I have to agree with Andy that this was the best Indian food I have ever eaten. The highlights were the Tandoori King Prawn and the Chicken Biryani. The mixed bread basket was amazingly good as was the Gulab Jaman dessert. It is almost worth a trip to Goa just to eat here.