The flavour of Kolkata

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Au Bon Pain Park Street reloaded

The American café bakery (with a French name) which started operating in December 2013 on the corner plot of Park Street made iconic by Music World, the music shop, has come quite a long way. It impressed Kolkatans with its oven-fresh baked goodies and a premium range of Continental foods which were compared to its famous next door neighbour Flury’s. Its USP was health delivered in its foods. The food was either baked or cooked, but not fried.

The chain was brought to India by Avarna Jain, the daughter of Kolkata-based industrialist Sanjeev Goenka. She had developed a liking for this café when she was studying in the University of Pennsylvania in 2007. The first café in India was opened in Bangalore in a few years from then.

As it was going to complete about two and a half years in the city, Au Bon Pain had reflected upon the journey and gone back to the drawing board to re-strategise and come back in a new avatar which can address the current likes and preferences of its core base of customers- the youth. The café re-opened in June after a closure of a month with some revamp in décor and a refreshed and streamlined menu.

I was invited to a blogger meet on a Saturday afternoon in June organized by the café to sample its new food menu. I was happy to accept the invite.

The first thing that caught my attention was the new offering of unlimited refill of tea. Nothing can be better for a city which loves its tea. One has to order a cup of tea by paying Rs 50 once. If the paper cup is retained, the refills come for free. And one can choose one or more variants from Elaichi Tea, Cinnamon Tea, Vanilla Tea, Black Tea and Green Tea. Go to the dispenser and fill the cup yourself.

The unlimited tea counter

One more interesting thing that I noticed was that one can try any soup (in a small cup) from the few options at the soup counter for making up the mind on which one to order.

For those who like aerated drinks, there is an unlimited fountain refill at Rs 70. The condition is the same- retain the cup.

My first nibble was an Open Face Margherita (with chicken) from the hot sandwich section ordered by blogger friend Sumit Surai. A crunchy baguette topped with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, pesto sauce, onion, tomatoes and tiny chicken cubes makes itself the perfect comfort food. It comes at Rs 199.

Open Face Margherita (with chicken) 

I had taken a Banana and Yoghurt Cooler, a new item, but didn’t like it. Sumit told me that the Orange and Papaya Cooler tasted better (another new item) thanks to the tang of orange.

Met blogger friend Debjani Chatterjee Alam and got introduced to bloggers Devpurna Talapatra and Urmi Ghosh. We dived into a deep discussion of our common interest- food- in no time.

Bloggers in food talk (Left to right: Sumit Surai, Devpurna Talapatra, Urmi Ghosh 
and Debjani Chatterjee Alam)

My first order was sort of pre-decided. I had read up the menu on Zomato and wanted to sample the new introduction- Keema Kouign–Amann (pronounced as queen-a-mon) which was a puff with a chicken keema (Minced chicken) filling. The spicy keema inside the thick, crunchy puff brought pep to the gastronomic sojourn. This comes at Rs 79 for one and Rs 129 for two. Khurshid, who was attending the large group of bloggers, told me that unlike the past, they had done away with the happy hour offering of fifty percent off after 8o’ clock and had introduced such offers on select items. In line with that, the coolers mentioned before come at Rs 119 for a medium size and adding just Rs 10, you can upgrade to a large size.

Keema Kouign–Amann

Ordered Chicken Keema Cone-wich next. It’s sandwich bread with a minced chicken filling rolled into a cone shape. This one was delicious too, mostly thanks to the rich filling of chipotle and onions mixed with a generous amount of mozzarella and cheddar cheese. One of it is for at Rs 109 and two are for Rs 179. 

 Chicken Keema Cone-wich

Both Keema Kouign–Amann and Chicken Keema Cone-wich are new entrants in the bakery section which has five more such introductions.

Au Bon Pain has refurbished the bakery section. Now it is better equipped than before and you can see dishes being baked all day thereby making fresh bakes always available for you.

One of the many baking ovens

The wide range of artisan breads

I felt like having a second drink and ordered a Classic Mojito (Medium- Rs 109 and large- Rs 119), which was good, and I liked it much for the infusion of herbs.

 Classic Mojito

The cafe

The self-service counter

Au Bon Pain has introduced Rice Bowl as a proper meal option. There is Herb Rice with Chicken/ Tofu Thai Curry (at Rs 179/ 169). The tofu version was ordered at our table as the chicken version wasn’t available. None of us liked the taste. The herb rice had a smoky flavour but otherwise quite bland.

Herb Rice with Tofu Thai Curry

In the main course, the Arrabbiata Veggie Pasta with Chicken (Rs 249) was ordered and we all shared it. It tasted good thanks to the tangy and mildly hot Arrabbiata sauce and diced tomatoes. The garlic bread that comes on the side added to the experience. 

 Arrabbiata Veggie Pasta with Chicken and garlic bread on the side

We had ordered one more drink each. After some deliberation, I went for Frozen Mint Lemonade (Rs 149- medium, Rs 169- large). It was zesty and refreshing!

Our last round of drink- Frozen Mint Lemonade (second from left) and mojitos (first and third from left)

We wrapped up with a safe choice- walnut brownie (Rs 79). And though it didn’t look pleasing, as we all agreed, it tickled the taste buds easily. A nice, sweet ending of a hearty meal and session with like-minded folks.

Walnut brownie

All the prices mentioned are before taxes.

#ABPNewMenu #AuBonPain #AuBonPainParkStreet #AuBonPainNewMenu #KolkataBakery #KolkataCafe #ParkStreet

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Tasting Darjeeling tea and green tea from Goodricke

I have always liked my tea strong, through my transition from milk tea to black tea. So my palate has always favoured Assam tea. Darjeeling tea has never really appealed to me, its venerable global fame (especially for its aroma) notwithstanding.

Green tea is also beyond my interest area. I drink tea in a reasonably healthy form (Black, with low sugar) in moderate amount and I don’t have health issues. So, I have never felt the need for drinking it for the purpose that drives most people to go for it, i.e. weight loss, preventing cancer etc. And on the rare occasions of my sampling green tea, I found the taste awful.

A few days back, Goodricke sent me a nice-looking, small blue tin of their Castleton Premium Muscatel Darjeeling Tea and a box of Barnesbeg Green Tea along with an invitation to a tea-tasting session. I couldn’t attend the session, but was prompted to taste the teas.

The Darjeeling tea leaves were soaked in hot water for three minutes. The brew looked dark, unlike the one familiar to me, but the taste was impressive. Probably, that’s the magic of muscatel. It is difficult to put to words the taste of muscatel tea. On the net, it is described as “an elusive taste found in some Darjeeling teas, most likely second flush teas. It is very hard to describe the taste in words, but it is easy to recognize the taste once you are familiar with it”. Rajiv Lochan, owner of several tea gardens in India and CEO of Lochan Tea Ltd has remarked that muscatel is “very difficult to describe but it is something extraordinary and rare.”

To me, it was rather smooth while not being a compromise on a strong brew. It was definitely far from as strong as an Assam brew, but satisfactory enough, and paired well with the smoothness. So it can please staunch Assam tea admirers like me. There was no apparent aroma, though.

 Goodricke Castleton Premium Muscatel Darjeeling Tea

Goodricke Castleton Premium Muscatel Darjeeling Tea is highly expensive, and comes at over Rs 5000 a kg approximately. A 100 gram tin costs Rs 525. However, those who love Darjeeling tea and those who like their tea strong but would like to taste Darjeeling tea and won’t mind paying some premium for it, can surely go for it.

I was less apprehensive of the Barnesbeg Green Tea as it came with a lemon flavour. But I liked the taste. The mild liquor was not bitter as green tea tastes to me and the lemon bit made it flavourful. Definitely recommended to all those who are open to having green tea but despise it because of its taste. Goodricke Barnesbeg Green Tea is healthier than the average green tea as it is completely organic.

Goodricke Barnesbeg Green Tea 

#Goodricke #DarjeelingTea #MuscatelTea #GreenTea #OrganicTea

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Friday, July 15, 2016

The upcoming Bangla releases

After a dry stretch, the Friday of 22nd July till the end of August is going to see four important Bangla releases. Kolkata Curry takes a peek into them.

Khawto- This 22nd July release is an erotic thriller by Kamaleswar Chander Pahar Mukherjee starring Prosenjit, Raima and Paoli. Ronodeep Bose and Tridha Chowdhury play a young romantic couple. Prosenjit plays an author which seems to be a grey character. The Bengali audience has a fondness for thrillers, and here’s another one to quench their thirst. Khawto is dark and bold, which lends it a novelty. It explores love, lust, infidelity and betrayal. Need more reasons to check it out?

The Khawto poster. Source: Facebook

Eagoler Chokh- Releasing this Independence Day week, it’s a crime thriller for the adult audience by Arindam Sil with police detective Shabor Dasgupta back as the investigator. It's the second instalment of the Shabor franchise penned by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay which tasted success on screen with its first outing Ebar Shabor in January 2015. Saswata plays Shabor and the cast includes Jaya Ahsan, Anirban Bhattacharya (of last year’s Arshinagar) in a pivotal role, June, Payel and Arjun Chakraborty. Arunima is said to have sizzled in a bar song sequence.

In case you wanted to read a review of Ebar Shabor or revisit it, find it on this blog here.

Saswata as Shabor in Eagoler Chokh. Source: Facebook page 
of Shree Venkatesh Films

Hemanta- Releasing on the same day as Eagoler Chokh. It’s Anjan Dutt’s adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most cultivated creations- Hamlet. Stars Parambrata in the title role, Saswata as Claudius, Gargi as Gertrude (Hamlet’s mother), Jisshu as Horatio (Hamlet’s friend) and Payel as Ophelia, the love interest. That’s a strong cast! The film is set in today’s Bengali film industry and explores the issues plaguing it, including the financing by chit funds. It will be interesting to see Anjan back with this classic tale after two back to back Byomkesh films.

 The first look poster (Source: Parambrata's Facebook page)

Shaheb Bibi Golaam- Releasing 26th August. A musical thriller by film critic-turned-filmmaker Pratim D Gupta who you have been reading in The Telegraph (in t2) for long. This is his second full-length feature film as a director (after Panch Adhyay in 2012). Its only similarities with the classic novel by Bimal Mitra and the eminent films based on it in Hindi and Bengali are its title and the fact that it has a Shaheb (an Anglo-Indian), a Bibi (a housewive) and a Golaam (a taxi driver) in the central characters. Anjan Dutt plays Jimmy, an Anglo-Indian contract killer, Swastika plays Jaya, a housewife who is breaking bad and Ritwik plays taxi driver Javed, who “is a romantic at heart, who doesn't let his profession get in the way of his passion” as per the Facebook page of the film. It will present an unusual romantic pair in Ritwik and Parno. The film had been denied a certification by CBFC on account of its erotic content and got itself recently cleared by the appellate committee. The Mon bhalo nei song sung and composed by Anupam is gathering some encouraging buzz.

The first look poster

#Khawto #EagolerChokh #Hemanta #ShahebBibiGolaam #BanglaCinema #BengaliCinema

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Street food: Chana tikia and mango lassi

This chatwallah near the AC Market end of Lord Sinha Road makes a mean chana tikia, as I found out on an official visit to this area. It had the right tang of tamarind sauce and spiciness with crunchily tawa-fried double aloo tikia.

It made my day! At Rs 40 a plate, though not cheap (not anyway expected in this part of the city), it’s worth every rupee. Will visit again as I dig good chana tikia.

Now comes the perfect follow-up! It didn't happen on the same day, though. But that's pretty much possible on a foodwalk as the two places are not far apart. Just two metro stations.

The top of the beer mug is covered with dry fruits, cherry and khoa. Thick mango lassi inside (lassi mixed with mango juice, not syrup). 

Sheer bliss! Especially as a dessert after a hearty meal. 

Available at Esplanade East. From KC Dass to Dacres Lane, on the right (a few steps from Bhojohori Manna). There are a few lassi & juice shops selling it for many years, but the corner shop seems to be the most popular. As you draw close, the stuff of the shops will call you aloud to try their mango lassi. The only other lassi available is plain lassi, which is the same thing without the mango bit.

The corner shop

#Chaat #Lassi #StreetFood

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Thursday, July 07, 2016

Balconies and terraces of Kolkata - 1

Kolkata is home to some beautiful heritage architecture in residential houses, largely seen in its northern and central parts. It is one of the reasons the city fascinates me.

Here starts a series of balcony terrace, an important aspect of the architecture of a residential house. I have come across these buildings on my way.

Near Beadon Street, north Kolkata

Beadon Street area, north Kolkata

 Beadon Street area, north Kolkata

Goabagan, north Kolkata

 Rasbehari Avenue, south Kolkata

 Hazra Road (near Hazra crossing), south Kolkata. Various styles converge in one building.

#Balcony #Terrace #OldKolkata #KolkataHeritage

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Sunday, July 03, 2016

Soul of Kolkata- the exhibition debut of Streets of Calcutta

I have been waiting for this at the back of my mind for quite a while. I met Soumya Shankar Ghosal on 10th June last year in a new menu sampling session in a restaurant, introduced to me by blogger friend Indrajit Lahiri, and came to know of his unique initiative around street photography called ‘Streets of Calcutta’. He humbly told me that he had searched a lot but couldn’t find any other archive dedicated to the street photography of a single city anywhere in the world.

Streets of Calcutta has a website and an active an extremely popular Facebook group which today has crossed 9000 members (Find it here ). The Facebook group acts as the face of the initiative. Photographs reflecting the life on the streets of Kolkata get posted regularly in the group by the members who have an undying passion for street photography and for the City of Joy.

The group started conducting photowalks as one of its core activities, other than running the online group, early on. It gradually started doing photography review sessions (Offline and online), street photography competition and photography workshops. Brands like Nikon and Idea have collaborated with the group for their photography contests. Soumya also has the distinction to have curated the first ever photography exhibition of Instagram in India which took place in Kolkata in January this year with the ‘Diversity of Bengal’ as its theme (Read the post on this blog here ). So, an exhibition of Streets of Calcutta’s own was the natural progression.

It started taking shape as ITC Sonar came on board as the partner and agreed to host SOC’s first exhibition in its in-house gallery WelcomArt. An open competition was jointly floated on Facebook to select the photographs to put on display. There were thirteen categories inviting entries, like markets, festival, river, ‘Bhadralok’ (‘Gentleman’ in Bengali) and heritage. The aim was to encompass as many facets reflecting the soul of the city as possible, living up to the name ‘Soul of Kolkata’.

The organizers were overwhelmed as entries flooded in and stopped past four thousand six hundred. It will be an understatement that Soumya had a tough time judging and selecting a winner and a special mention for each category to be exhibited. To be fair to so many enthusiastic participants, a digital display section had to be planned for displaying other select entries.

'Soul of Kolkata', presented by ITC Sonar in association with Streets of Calcutta, was unveiled on 1st July and will go on till 4th July over 11 am to 7 pm at WelcomArt gallery at ITC Sonar. This was in keeping with ITC Hotels' initiative of 'Responsible Luxury' and part of the concierge services of this luxury business resort which celebrate the hidden treasures of its location. It is open to all. There are thirty exhibits including twenty six selected from the thirteen categories and a selection of forty seven on the digital display. They truly reflect the resplendence, the passion and the charm of  the city. The exhibits can be bought for just Rs 5000 each. They can be booked on the spot and will be delivered shortly after the exhibition.

The proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to an NGO is Habra for underprivileged kids.

The traditional inaugural lamp was lit by the Italian Consul General in Kolkata, eminent dancer Priti Patel, social activist Bonani Kakkar and Atul Bhalla, GM, ITC Sonar in the evening of 1st July.

 The Italian Consul General lighting the lamp. Photograph by Sukanta Pal.

Priti Patel lighting the lamp. Photograph by Sukanta Pal.

 Soumya Shankar Ghosal. Photograph by Sukanta Pal.

Many visitors and guests from various fields of the society turned up to see the deftly curated exhibits which include some stunning and mesmerizing shots. Take a look at some of them.

Here are some entries on the digital display.

 The winners and those awarded with special mention. Photograph by Sukanta Pal.

If you love the city or wish to know it better, being a resident or a visitor, spending some time tomorrow in the exhibition should be worth it. You may even end up picking up a frame to adorn your home or office wall, which will surely bring a different charm to the place.

#SoulOfKolkata #StreetsOfCalcutta #ITCSonar #WelcomArt #PhotoExhibitionKolkata

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