The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
The bridge, the river and kids' play. Brilliantly captured by Sujay Kumar Das.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Iftaari at The Lalit Great Eastern

Eid Mubarak!

It was a long-standing wish to be invited to an iftar party. So when The Lalit Great Eastern invited to Iftaari- its special iftar dinner buffet, I was happy that the wish was finally going to be fulfilled in style.

It was a dinner hosted every Friday during Ramadan which concluded yesterday. The venue was Alfresco, the all day multicuisine restaurant at lobby level. What makes the long-shaped Alfresco stand out among other five star restaurants in Kolkata is its ceiling made of glass, which makes for a comfortable seating in a daylit environment. It was a bloggers’ only invitation, and as usual I saw Indrajit Lahiri had turned up first.

An extensive spread was laid out in a long U-shape. It had welcome drink (Rooh Afza Thandai and Malaidar Mango Lassi), dry fruits, assortment of sprout, cut fruits, salads (including Fattoush Salad, Aragula and Feta with Citrus Dressing, Moroccan Beef Salad with Papaya-Bean Sprouts & Sweet Chili Dressing and Lamb Sheekh Kebab in Cucumber Cups), starters (Crispy Chilly Vegetables, Cheese Balls, Mutton Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka) a mezze bar, soups, chaats, breads, main course and dessert. Chaats included Palak Patta Chaat, and Aloo Anar Ki Chaat besides common ones. There was a live counter dishing out Haleem with Sheermal, Pao Bhaji (Keema & Veg), Ghoogni (Lamb Chunks & Veg) and Jalebi with Hot Kesaria Milk. The entire spread was made by selectively mixing some items from various cuisines off the restaurant’s dinner buffet menu with special iftar preparations.

We went to the soup table and started with Yakhni Gosht Shorba with bread from the bread counter displaying a wide range including sweet and savoury varieties. The thin soup was delicious and set my palate for a long haul. The Arabian Chick Pea Soup, which is a lentil soup, didn’t score much with me.

The bread counter

We were served the assortment of chops after this. It aimed to recreate the experience of the friend treats dotting the roads during Ramadan. There were Pyaji, Alur Chop, Dal-er Dawra, Dim-er Chop and Meat Ball Chop. The Pyaji was rightly made and the Dal-er Bawra was decent. The Alur Chop and Dim-er Chop didn’t taste bad, but they were nowhere close to the street variety (which is indeed a challenge to match up in a five star setting).

Pyaji, Dal-er Bawra and Alur Chop

Meat Ball Chop and Dim-er Chop

We moved to the live counter. Started with ghhogni- the lamb variety, to have a taste of the famous Bengali mangsher ghhogni. I must say they got it right. A non-spicy, homely variety with generous lamb chunks. It was followed by haleem. Now this was an entirely different experience from what I have had so far in Mughlai restaurants of the city. A mash of mutton and several varieties of dal- pungent and extremely oily and spicy. It was bliss taking it in small spoonfuls with sheermal as my nose was sweating. Haleem was definitely high on my list of expectations from an iftar dinner and this one was one of the highlights of this dining experience. Sous chef Anirban Sinha met us at the table. He shared that this was made Lucknow-style, and they made it by cooking the dals and meat chunks for as long as twelve hours, as a result of which the meat and the dals get mixed form a mash.

Haleem with Sheermal

By the way, the haleem had a vegetarian variant, and Anirban insisted we try it. Honestly speaking, we did it with apprehension but was pretty impressed once we had two spoonfuls each. We never knew veg haleem existed anywhere. This is cooked for a shorter period and had some definition, unlike the mash that the mutton variant was.

Next I picked up pao bhaji (keema version). It was low on spiciness, hence I didn’t take it beyond a two-three spoonfuls.

Time for mains. Went to the mains counter and was surprised to see biriyani in only vegetarian variety. The only non-veg rice preparation was Khichada. It was the dry kind of khichdi that you get on a certain day in the week in mughlai restaurants. I am not fond of it as dry khichdi is not my kind, though it was well made here. I took Nihari and Afgani Meatballs in Herb-roasted Tomato Sauce (Chicken). The second one’s taste didn’t appeal to me, more for the tomato sauce. The Nihari tasted great, with sizeable mutton pieces in thick, generous gravy. Polished off the first serving with butter naan (Roghani Naan and Peshwari Naan were available) and had a repeat. The soft and succulent meat came off the bones easily and I savoured the bone marrow (a rare indulgence) from a few pieces. Just one point here, it was not the popular form of Nihari found in Kolkata, for instance in one of the best names like Sufia.

Front: Afgani Meatballs in Herb-roasted Tomato Sauce and Khichada. Back: Nihari

Nihari

I was almost full with provision for a small serving of dessert. But the dessert counter made me change my mind. A brilliantly curated range including Anjeer Halwa, Phirnee, Semiya Kheer, Khubani Ka Meetha, Dry Fruit and Fresh Cherry Tart and Baklava. The last dish was a pleasant surprise to Indrajit and Anindya, my blogger friends, as it was not available in Kolkata. Baklava is a well-known middle eastern pastry made with a think, flaky, open crust filled with nuts and honey. The Phirnee was low on sweetness and consistency, the Semiya Kheer was okay, but I was bowled over by Khubani Ka Meetha (A dry jelly-like preparation with khubani) and quickly finished a second helping. The Anjeer Halwa soaked with ghee and studded with dry fruits drew the perfect end to a hearty meal.


Semiya Kheer 

 Anjeer Halwa

The dinner buffet cost Rs 1550 plus taxes and made a strong case for it on value for money aspect apart from the merit of the offering. Trust The Lalit Great Eastern to come up with more such offerings in future.

It was nice meeting fellow bloggers Poorna Banerjee, Anindya Sundar Basu and Manjari Chowdhury (apart from Indrajit) and have a relaxed chat.  This has become a routine affair in the past few months thanks to preview and review invitations pouring in from restaurants, seeking out food bloggers’ take.


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