The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The city is known for its old alleys. One such is shot by Atanu Pal.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The new menu introduction at Cha Bar, Oxford Bookstore

I was curious about this place inside the Oxford Bookstore at Park Street for a long time but never happened to be here. So when Indrajit, a blogger friend, said they were launching a new menu and asked whether I would be interested to join as they would like to meet some bloggers in this regard, I had no reason to think over it.

So we met up at this Sunday afternoon last month. Apart from Indrajit there were Soumya, Manikuntala, Sammya Brata and Preeti (Met all the latter three for the first time, though the first two among these are Facebook friends for some time). This is a spacious L-shaped café on the mezzanine floor overlooking the bookstore, tastefully decorated with innovative wall art which has a lot of tea trivia. The longest wall is  intricately done up with art decor and it clearly sets it apart from other cafes. There are stools and chairs (two and four-seater) to sit, and wooden seats attached to the wall. It is a nice place for a relaxed chat with friends/ colleagues/ business contacts. One can carry a book from the shelves and browse it here over tea and snacks instead of standing near the bookshelves. 

We were soon joined by Nitin Warikoo, the national Head of Cha Bar and Business Development. He shared with us how he sees Cha Bar going forward. It was a free-flowing, interactive discussion.

Cha Bar has seven outlets across India, all inside Oxford Bookstore. After tasting success under the umbrella of the famous bookstore, it wishes to expand and go solo in small steps. Right now the menu is going through a change in phases to enhance the customer experience. Nitin told about their Delhi outlet which is more of a restaurant, offering a wide range of food, including thin crust pizza- a specialty. Menu engineering has been done to optimize the offering. The response to this outlet has prompted the management to think of expansion.

 Nitin (extreme left) with the bloggers (Soumya, Indrajit, Manikuntala- second from left to right)

I asked Nitin about the tea trivia on the wall, and he said they chose the form as they wanted to educate customers about tea in a fun way.

The menu is dominated by a wide range of tea, as expected, including Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri. The Darjeeling and Assam varieties come from their (Apeejay group’s) own tea estates. The menu covers practically all conceivable varieties of tea over thirteen pages, including organic, decaf, herbal, green, fruit fusion, Ayurvedic, Chinese teas and an uncommon Indian variety like oolong tea which has a small production).

A special one page menu was made for our meet and presented to each one of us, comprising seventeen handpicked varieties of tea, some veg and non-veg snacks, cakes and muffins.

Nitin strongly recommended the hot new entrant in the menu- Fish n Chips- and claimed that they’ve taken enough care to ensure that it is the best in town. Apart from that we ordered Bollywood Mix Masala Cha, Arabic Spice tea, Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich, Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich and Cheese and Tomato Sandwich. I ordered an iced tea as I wasn’t feeling like having a hot beverage. The waiter was smartly dressed in their black t-shirt and white brimless cap.

The sugar pouch case

Food arrived in a while as we kept chatting with Nitin. The food comes from The Park, which is in the Apeejay group that owns Oxford Bookstore. I loved the Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich. The chicken was tender and the mayo was generous. At Rs 110, it’s not expensive given the quality. I am fond of the chicken and egg sandwich at Just Baked which has mustard in it. Mustard, mixed with boiled egg in the right measure, can bring out a different taste of the bland egg. The Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich was good too though I felt it could be better if the egg was uniformly cut into tiny pieces.

Roast Chicken and Mayo Sandwich

Squished Egg and Kasundi Mustard sandwich

Enter the Fish n Chips, piping hot. Succulent, flaky fish encased in a thin crust. It was delicious and surely compares with the best in town, I felt. It vanished from the plate in no time and we asked for a repeat. Two longer and one short piece of fried fish with tartar sauce and finger chips at just Rs 130 is a killer deal! They use basa fish (which has become a common substitute for bekti in the Kolkata F&B circuit) as for them it is easy to get a consistent quality compared to bekti.

A word on Bollywood Mix Masala Cha- it is your regular masala tea served in a kettle decorated with Pakistani-style truck art of Hindi film stars. The tea is poured in glass (as it is with cutting chai of Mumbai). Indrajit is the virtual brand ambassador of masala tea and he liked it.

If you like the kettle, you can even buy one off the shelves near the counter. 

 The kettle up for grabs

Indrajit pouring Arabic Spice tea

As I understood, they offer tea and good food at a reasonably cheaper price than comparable joints so that it compliments the bookstore experience well. The tea starts at just Rs 34! It should also appeal to those who just look for good food in a good ambience. The value seekers may like this place more than Flury’s and Au Bon Pain which are good but definitely overpriced. Cha Bar is also very particular about how a beverage or a food item is served and love to innovate on it. Learnt that they are going to introduce pasta this winter. Pasta lovers may note.

The muffins on the upper rack

Out chat and banter and food photography went on for some time before we bid adieu. The kettle of the masala tea got great attention form those among us with a passion for photography (Sammya, Preeti and Soumya).  It was a Sunday afternoon well spent in a relaxed way. Would like to come back especially for the Fish n Chips.

The kettle photo session in progress

View of bookstore from Cha Bar

#ChaBar #ChaBarKolkata #OxfordBookstore #FishnChips

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