Things have come full circle for Rohit Khattar, founder chairman of EHV International, the company behind Indian Accent and Comorin. “In 1999, we opened Oriental Octopus at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi; it was perhaps the country’s first pan-Asian restaurant and we served predominantly Chinese and Thai cuisine along with a bit of Vietnamese and Singaporean. But I always wanted to do a pure Thai restaurant,” he says as we chat over dinner at his newest opening. For EHV International, 2023 has been a banner year — after bringing Indian Accent to Mumbai and opening Hosa in Goa, Khattar ends the year with a bang with Fireback.
Named after the Siamese Fireback (Thailand’s national bird), the restaurant sits pretty at the back of Hosa in Siolim, North Goa. Its 90 covers are split between an elegant glasshouse and a foliage-lined al fresco section by the Anjuna River with a view of the white-washed St. Anthony Church across the road. Designed by London-based Russell Sage Studio, Fireback’s décor steers clear of the usual trappings of Thai restaurants; instead, it’s all clean lines and understated colours, brown wood and slate greys with terrazzo flooring. A piece of wall-mounted driftwood that Khattar picked up in Thailand is the only ornamentation in the glasshouse. The entire focus is on the open kitchen with its Josper grill as a centrepiece; after all, fire-grilled cooking forms the backbone of many dishes on the menu. Like the turmeric chicken satay that comes to our table, succulent and juicy, with a little bowl of peanut sauce that I could have licked clean (I didn’t). “We can do the peanut sauce without peanuts for people with allergies; we use jackfruit seeds instead,” says Khattar.
On the menu
Unlike Indian Accent, Fireback is not conceived as a fine-dine restaurant, rather a modern, unfussy casual restaurant serving up authentic Thai fare — that is to say, not the coconut milk-heavy dishes that pass off as Thai in most restaurants. To ensure the flavours are spot on, Khattar brought on board multi award-winning chef David Thompson as the culinary director. Sydney-born and raised Thompson has been cooking Thai food since the late 1980s and is recognised as a world authority in it. He runs a string of Thai restaurants around the world, including two Michelin-starred ones — Aaham in Hong Kong and Aksorn in Bangkok. Led by brand chef Swatantra Gautam, Fireback’s seven-member team travelled to Thailand to train with Thompson and immerse themselves in local flavours.
This culinary deep dive clearly shows in the menu, which is a tight curation of small plates, grills, and curries, including some dishes that you don’t normally find in Thai restaurants in India. Case in point is the steamed scallops in a delicately flavoured red curry custard (kind of like Japanese chawanmushi) or the sour orange curry with river prawns, a perfectly balanced sweet-sour curry that goes well with steamed jasmine rice. Even familiar dishes will blow you away with their flavours — the classic tom yum soup where charred tomatoes bring added complexity and the meaty massaman lamb curry with pumpkin and potatoes.
Salad fans should get the pomelo salad, which comes wrapped in betel leaf (a tad sharp tasting) and if you eat seafood, the scallop salad with grated coconut is an absolute winner. Another favourite at our table is the fried pork belly, which comes with charred cabbage as a wrap and a tart tamarind dip to go with it — a perfect amalgamation of flavours and textures that will have you reaching for more.
From the bar
The beverage programme by mixologist Varun Sharma ably complements the menu with cocktails inspired by Thai ingredients, like the refreshing tequila-based lemongrass cocktail or the gin-based rose cocktail (with an entire frozen rose in the glass).
In a nutshell
For me, the litmus test of any Thai restaurant is their Pad Thai, a dish that many Thai restaurants in India fumble with, rarely achieving that critical sweet-sour-salty balance. Needless to say, Fireback passes with flying colours. The dessert menu has two traditional Thai desserts — Tub Tim Grob or red rubies (water chestnut) in coconut milk and Kluay Tub or grilled bananas with creamy coconut caramel sauce — both well-executed and delicious.
With Fireback, Khattar’s aim is to build a scalable modern Thai restaurant model. “We want to do a very honest, authentic Thai restaurant with a great menu of standardised recipes that we can replicate in different cities. But first, we must make Fireback Goa a success,” he adds. Judging by my meal, I would say he’s on the right track.
Address: Fireback, at Irada Home, House No. 60/1 A1, Near St. Anthony's Church, Vaddy, Siolim - Bardez, North Goa.
Price for two: INR 2,500 plus taxes (without alcohol)