Pune’s cult pub Elephant & Co aspires to be Goa’s next favourite neighbourhood bar
Set amidst Anjuna’s paddy fields, Elephant & Co is serving Pune’s bestsellers with newbies to suit Goa’s pallate.
Friday February 03, 2023,
8 min Read
Our favourite restaurants and bars from the cities are now making their way to the country’s emerging gastronomical capital–Goa. The sunshine state’s food scene has expanded beyond beach shacks, local bars, and how!
Following the suit is Elephant & Co. After its humongous success in Pune, and the most recent feather to its crown–the People’s Choice Best Bar 2022 award at the 30 Best Bars India 2022 finale, the gastropub has landed in Goa in an attempt to become the city’s next favourite neighbourhood bar.
“Goa is the food and beverage hub at the moment. You are next to the best and best of the country,” says Karan Khilnani, Founder of Elephant & Co (or ECO). While yet to visit the much talked about ECO in Pune, YS Life was recently at ECO Goa to check what the fuss was all about.
Speaking from personal experience, the best time to visit Goa is during the monsoons. The roads are lined with lush green wild trees, the sea is in its best form, and the falls brim with fresh water. There is, however, a downside to visiting the beach paradise in the monsoons.
Usually considered an ‘off-season,’ it is between mid-June and September that the beach-front restaurants and shacks temporarily shut shop. It is probably keeping this in mind that ECO set up its gastropub in the middle of Anjuna’s paddy fields–and that’s what makes it all the more unique. If you have experienced enough beach-side sundowners, ECO provides a perfect alternative to it.
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Located in the middle of paddy fields, with nothing but the birds to distract, one can walk into ECO for a quiet afternoon, or late in the evening to groove to some techno music. A fellow diner tells me that one can spot peacocks from the bar on most afternoons.
ECO’s decor goes well with its surroundings. The property is open from all sides, complementing the openness of the fields; the furniture is mostly in earthy colours, and the floor has no fancy marbles–just grey pebbles and cement. The only colours in the gastropub come from the origami elephants that hang over the bar that forms the centrepiece of the pub. “Nothing over-the-top, we knew it (the decor) had to be very easy-going for a place like Goa,” Karan says. In fact, Karan also reveals that owing to its openness, the temperature at ECO is always three degrees cooler than the rest of Anjuna’s temperature!
Out of curiosity, I asked Karan ‘Why ‘Elephant & Co?’
“I am a hardcore Taj-boy…So the value system of ‘Guest is God’ is instilled in me. And in Indian mythology, elephants represent royalty–that’s how we want each person who walks into ECO to feel,” he explains.
ECO is positioning itself as the neighbourhood bar where one can bump into their old friends, while making a new one in each of their visits. And I could get that community feel during my visit to the bar–diners would walk in and meet a friend here, share a smoke with an acquaintance there, and as the night progressed, everyone gathered next to the bar, where the DJ performed.
The food scene in India is pretty intense at the moment. Diners here have travelled across continents, tasted global cuisines, and they want to experiment with their food and drinks. Indian restaurants and bars, thus, have been forced to move out of their comfort zones by evolving their menus beyond North-Indian and Indo-Chinese cuisines. Karan believes: “The only way one can sustain a good business model is by keeping up with whatever’s new.”
The ECO menu has the world in its plate–there are innovative salads, Mediterranean large plates, Goan specialities, Vietnamese rice pancakes, Egypt’s flatbread, a section dedicated to Asian fare, and a lot more under fusion dishes.
While the owners have brought in the bestseller of Pune’s ECO, they have evolved the menu to suit Goa’s palette. Naturally, there are more options on seafood, and veganism–a trend that has been gradually picking up in the state.
In an attempt to get a flavour of every cuisine that ECO has tried to crack, I decided to experiment with the bar nibbles and small plates.
I started with the house-made crisps served with hummus. Basic as it is, the hummus impressed me and I asked for another portion of the chips. Pork lovers can order the choriz hummus as well. Next on the table was the salt and pepper water chestnut. Ideally, I am not one to order vegetarian dishes when the menu flaunts multiple non-vegetarian options. But I did not regret this one. The garlic soy-sauce had the right balance of sweetness and spices, and the chestnuts retained their crunch under the sauce–a hit for me! For vegetarians, the server also suggested the spiced baby aubergines.
Next up were the chicken ghee roast tacos–soft shell tacos loaded with spicy chicken ghee roast. The tacos were topped with mayonnaise, shoestring fries, and butterfly pea flowers to balance the spice. The Bangalorean in me was impressed.
The teriyaki chicken skewers were pretty basic, but what really stole the show were the chilli lime fish cakes. Fresh boneless kingfish cakes served with a thai sweet chilli sauce, and topped with marigold and micro-greens, made up the perfect munchie for my drink on a Goan evening.
Skipping the flatbreads, I jumped right into the Asian section of the menu and ordered the edamame dimsum. Soft and sticky, the dimsum was stuffed with moist edamame, scented with truffle oil and cream cheese, with two dips on the side. Despite not being a fan of edamame, I really enjoyed the dumpling and was full by the time I finished the second dumpling, and decided to skip the large plates altogether.
The main course has some interesting options to try from–Coq au Vin (wine poached chicken with potato mash, sauteed veggies, and red wine jus) and prawn chettinad with dosa podi waffle for meat and seafood lovers; and mediterranean charred zucchini and vegetable stew with podi waffle for vegetarians.
Fizzy and spicy
ECO has on-boarded F&B consultancy Countertop India to get a deeper understanding of the skills behind the bar, and the new cocktail trends and techniques. And this was evident the moment I took a look at the bar menu. Founders Pankaj Balachandran and Arijit Bose have a unique style–milk clarified cocktails and house-blend spirits.
Like my food, I decided to go wild with the cocktails. A hard-core gin fan, I decided to start the night with the unusual–a tequila cocktail. Picante, as suggested by my server, was a tequila-based cocktail consisting of jalapeno and homemade pickle juice, topped with quinine. As someone who likes a dessert in a glass, the Picante was too salty and spicy for my taste. It almost tasted like liquid-pickle. Although a bestseller at ECO, I struggled to finish my glass of Picante.
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Next came in the Tropical Starf*cks (expect a whole lot of wordplay in the cocktail menu). The house blend rum mixed with pineapple, grapefruit, gin float, and milk clarified was my absolute favourite order of the night. It was easy and kept making me want for more. The Tropical Starf*cks almost immediately reminded me of Bar Tesouro's cult favourite Midnight Brekkie, also a product of Pankaj Balachandran.
My fellow diner ordered Old Noir and Forbidden Fruit. The former is a classic old fashioned but with a twist. Aged in oak wood for 30 days, the Old Noir is topped with cacao infused sweet vermouth. Forbidden Fruit, on the other end, consists of walnut, apple, bourbon, caramel, vermouth, lime acids and spiced rum float. The caramel notes were distinct and one can taste the apple in the very first sip. Between the two, the Old Noir stole the show.
The cocktail menu was as distinct as the food menu and there were many that I wanted to try, probably the next time. The must-try cocktails include Feni-gron–a Goan twist to the classic negroni; the High Tea–vodka with watermelon, earl gray tea and sparkling wine; and ECO in Goa, the classic gin, grapefruit and tonic cocktail.
They say there’s always some space for dessert, and to end my visit at ECO, I ordered their churros with dark chocolate. The warm Spanish fried dough felt like a hug at the end of a long day, and almost made me forget the spice from the Pincate!
Timings: 12 PM to 12 AM
Cost for two: Rs 2,500/-
Edited by Megha Reddy