The flavour of Kolkata

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Meat Lover’s Deight at Buddha Bites

It is a Chinese restaurant chain that has proliferated at a scorching pace over the last two years. I had read a lot about this popular chain, so I accepted the invite of a blogger meet over its winter menu ‘Meat Lover's Delight’. 

I walked into its Harish Mukherjee Road outlet two days before Christmas. This was their third among the current count of eight outlets. Cover-wise, it’s medium-size and the décor is like most Chinese restaurants in south Kolkata but the difference is that it is themed on Lord Buddha – There is a beautiful mural and colourful pieces of cloth hanging from the wall showing his teachings. I could not relate it to the food but.

Before my blogger friends Indrajit, Debjani and Devlina arrived, I was talking to Kanishka Majumdar, whose wife is a owner of the chain. He has worked in star hotels and was instrumental in setting up the chain. It was set up with the aim to serve home style Chinese that suits the palate of the city. The major shift that they are making is to shift from Chinese cuisine to pan-Asian cuisine by introducing Japanese, Indonesian and Thai dishes. The Meat Lover’s Deight menu had a mix of Chinese, Japanese and Thai. I met the chef Prem Lama who is from Kathmandu and has worked in Ban Thai (The Oberoi Grand) among other places. He was excited about the shift in cuisine as he was finding little challenge in serving the same pattern of orders for Chinese food. It was interesting to note that all the sauces they use are made in-house.

I liked the tangy mocktail – Orange Lemonade – served to me as a welcome drink.

We started with Teriyaki Negi Chicken. A Japanese style preparation, it was dry and spicy and tasted good, though felt like a typical starter in a Chinese restaurant.

The Gai Sai Takrai Chicken was crispy chicken tossed with lemon grass and sweet chilli sauce. I found it too chewy to appreciate the flavours.

The Tausi Duck Pancake Roll, a Chinese dish, was dry and almost bland as it was served, i.e. without any accompanying sauce. But Indrajit pointed it out and requested a sauce. It tasted good with tamarind sauce.

Phad Khe Mao Tela which is Thai mixed seafood in chilli oyster sauce was tangy and spicy (with fish, prawn and squid). It was pleasing to have seafood with a new flavour. It would be better if it was a tad less salty. It paired well with The Japanese Burnt Garlic Fried Rice where the burnt garlic brought in a flavour different from the basic fried rice.

The Slice Roast Pork in Bamboo Shoot and Pakchoy with Lamb 8 to 8 Sauce both had a subtle taste with similar gravy. Either will go well with hot steamed rice as a simple meal. One may order either.

Overall, it was a decent oriental food experience. The starters cost Rs 250-375 and main course preparations are in a range between Rs 350 and 550. The staples (rice and noodles) are Rs 180 each.

The Meat Lover’s Delight menu stays till 10th January but its signature dishes will be retained in the new menu to be brought out in the same month. All the dishes mentioned above are among the signature dishes.

#OrientalCuisine #ChineseCuisine #ThaiCuisine #JapaneseCuisine #MeatLovers

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Friday, December 23, 2016

The Christmas treats from The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata

The goodiebox from the cake shop of The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata that arrived in my office was red, so was the man – dressed in a red t-shirt and cap. It felt for a moment that Santa had taken a disguise and appeared ahead of schedule.

The name ‘Great Eastern Hotel cake shop’ takes me back to my childhood. My father’s office was across the road, opposite the hotel’s erstwhile entrance on Old Court House Street. The aroma wafting out of the 19th century bakery (founded by English baker David Wilson) of The Great Eastern Hotel (The previous name) was irresistible and he was among many to queue up at the cake shop for their tempting Christmas cakes. Those wonderful cakes make one of the sweetest memories from that age of mine.

Coming back to the goodiebox. It had a card with handwritten Christmas wish from the General Manager of the hotel. I found a one pound Christmas fruit cake, a pack of Christmas cookies, a vanilla muffin, an orange muffin and a loaf of Masala Bread inside.

 Inside of the Christmas goodiebox

The vanilla muffin tasted good. It had a mild vanilla flavour, had nuts and was not intensely sweet which is how I like my cakes.

The Masala Bread topped with cumin seeds had a mild spicy flavour which was nice. To enjoy a slice of it better, toast it lightly and give it a pat of butter.

 The Masala Bread

The Christmas cake was also delicately sweet and good in taste. The taste is distinctly different from other cakes as they use clarified butter instead of butter. It is not loaded with dry fruits and candied orange peel, so you can have it any time of the year as a tea cake.

 The Christmas cake

I liked the Christmas cookies a lot. I crave for good cookies and the hard, crunchy, sticky, coconutty cookies were delicious. They had dried plums for the added goodness and again, were not intensely sweet. The children should love it.

 The Christmas cookies

If you wish to buy your Christmas cake from the hotel's cake shop, it's on Waterloo Street. They've opened well-decorated extended counters outside to cater to the long queue, so once you reach near the hotel at the end of the street, you shall not need further direction. The counters are opening around 9 o' clock. They also have an outlet of the cake shop in New Market where you may visit if you want to avoid a long queue. But try not to go there late afternoon as you may end up being too early for the next day.

My heartiest thanks to The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata for the gesture! Wish it a great Christmas season!

Wish you a Merry Christmas too! Soak in the chilly weather with good food.

#Christmas #Christmascake #TheLalitGreatEastern #TheBakery #TheLalitKolkata #TheLalitexperience #Heritage #KolkataHeritage

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Restaurant review: SOI

Kolkata is deservingly called the gastronomic capital of India. However, a comprehensive range of quality Thai food is limited to only a few restaurants including Ban Thai and Benjarong.

Enters SOI – The Asian Street Kitchen located inside Zaranj, the reputed fine-dining north Indian restaurant next to Indian Museum on Chowringhee. Few years back, right there used to be a fine-dining Asian cuisine restaurant called Jong’s. I liked its Chinese food on one visit.

I recently stepped in on invitation for a blogger meet to sample its food. It is a large space classily decorated in wood and beige tiles exuding the warmth of a relaxed dining and an old-world charm. The tables and cosy chairs are nicely spaced out. The owners have left their signature in the look and feel. The hand-painted wall tiles about various Asian travel destinations lend it a character.

As you look around, what will definitely draw your attention is the truck bar (which is apart from the old-world main bar done in all wood). It’s an actual truck serving as a bar which was dismantled and flown in from France (You read that right), as Aritra Sen, one of the partners, shared with us.     

The truck bar

They do serve Chinese food too, more as a filler to attract more customers as not everyone may appreciate Thai food, at least till they try it here. So was I with a limited exposure to this cuisine. The only Thai dish that I loved before coming to SOI was sankaya - a pudding I had at Tak Heng.

Our welcome drink was Sweet Thai Basil and Rambutan Caprioska served in a small, nicely-shaped bottle. Vodka mixed with Thai Basil, lychee crush and lemon. The Thai basil added a pleasant herbal touch to the deft interplay of lychee and lemon in the cocktail which worked good for me.

Thai Basil and Rambutan Caprioska

The Satay Kai (pan-seared Chicken satay) was good and the peanut sauce in which it was done added a full-bodied flavour to it topped with herbal notes.

 Satay Kai 

The Tempura Prawn with Sukiyaki and Teriyaki Sauce came next. It was rather flat because instead of tempura batter, the prawns were rolled over diced wonton sheets before being deep fried.

Tempura Prawn with Sukiyaki and Teriyaki Sauce 

The Papaya Salad got thumbs up from me. Diced, crunchy raw papaya and thin strips of red chilli among other vegetables made for a heady mix of tangy and hot and made my nose sweat. A recommendation for salad lovers who can handle real hot stuff!

Papaya Salad

Aritra met us at this juncture and shared bits of info about his passion. He chose to open a restaurant that specializes in Thai cuisine because of dearth of choice in the city. The ‘Asian Street Kitchen’ features in the extended name because they wanted to bring the world-famous Thai street food to Kolkata. To create authentic flavours, they source the ingredients all from handpicked vendors in Thailand. And a Thai lady who Aritra met on one of his trips to the country came over to Kolkata to train the kitchen team. His partner-cum-chef is Raghav Khullar whose father owns Zaranj.

They also use recycled paper instead of table linen in support of green environment and to keep the place spotlessly clean.

Recycled table paper

The main course followed. The Lemon Chicken - the familiar Chinese dish turned out well with tender chicken pieces and finely balanced sourness.

Magsha Moo was a red, spicy pork curry made with the traditional Thai recipe. The strips of juicy pork with button mushroom in the thick gravy checked all the tick boxes for my soft corner for hot and spicy food and went well with the steamed rice on the table topped with kafir lime. Pork lovers can go for it.

Magsha Moo 

Kaeng Moo, the famous Thai curries followed. I tried Phed or red curry first. Another deliciously pungent curry made with coconut milk and boneless flat pieces of pork. I was eager to try Kiew or green curry too as fellow blogger Kirti Mahamia had made her liking for it clear just after trying. The green curry was the perfect contrast to the red curry. The mild-flavoured coconutty curry having a dash of sweetness with flat, boneless lamb pieces paired lovingly with the hot, steamed rice.

 Thai Red Curry

Thai Green Curry

The sumptuous meal ended on a high note with a delectable deconstructed caramel sponge cake teamed with vanilla ice cream.

Deconstructed Caramel Sponge Cake 

To sum up in short, it’s the newest Thai food destination which every foodie with a liking for Thai food or interest to explore the cuisine should visit.

#ThaiCuisine #ThaiFoodKolkata #ThaiRedCurry #ThaiGreenCurry #Magsha

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The First Week of Italian Cuisine at Italian Consulate

It was a pleasant surprise to read the short email from the secretariat - a pre-invite to block the date of 22nd November and the promise that a further invite would be sent for a food and wine-tasting event. The occasion was ‘The First Week of Italian Cuisine in the World’ which was being celebrated globally for the first time over 21st to 27th November. The host was none other than the consul-general in Kolkata and the venue was the consulate. It was a kind of invite that a blogger only aspires for.  

The objective of ‘The First Week of Italian Cuisine in the World’ was to promote Intalian cuisine. The celebration was taking place in the countries where Italy had consular presence. It was observed by the consul-general that Italian food was popular in Kolkata but the city didn’t have Italian chefs. Hence they were brought in for the event to serve the authentic Italian flavour.

The event was held in collaboration with the five participating hotels (all five-star) and an Italian chef from each was at the helm of operations. There were Mauro Ferrari from Hyatt Regency, Francesco Francavilla from Oberoi Grand, Vittorio Greco from ITC Sonar, Alessio Lorenzo from Taj Bengal and Michelangelo Sparapano from The Park.

As I walked into the consulate, I saw the consul-general standing near the entrance to greet the guests. The party was taking place in the lawn. The five hotels put up their stalls here. I met a few blogger friends and some of us decided to do a round of the stalls to zero in on the dish to start with.

I stopped at Hyatt Regency first where chef Mauro Ferrari was searing his Marinated Open Chicken Alla Diavola on a hot plate. I decided to start with it after blogger friend Poorna Banerjee recommended it having tasted before. The chef served me himself. The tender, flat, roasted chicken breast pieces with caramelized sides energized the taste buds and prepared them for the gastronomic journey ahead. The chef poured two-three teaspoons of the salsa alla senape sauce (a mustard sauce) on the chicken and the bites smeared with it tasted even better. It was worth a repeat.

Chef Mauro Ferrari in action

Went to the ITC Sonar stall and saw chef Vittorio Greco in a black apron cooking a fish dish in a pan. The thick fillet in a light-coloured, thin sauce looked inviting as I am game for a lightly cooked fish preparation. It was named Beckti Capers Celery and Taggiasche Olives and seemed to be a stew with vegetables (The texture resembling the ‘Machher jhol’ prepared with seasonal vegetables in Bengali households). I took one piece on my plate and the fishy Bengali in me loved the subtle flavour of this minimally cooked creation.  I took a repeat of the dish later.

Beckti Capers Celery and Taggiasche Olives

Tried the cold cuts from the same stall. It was for the first time I tried uncooked, seasoned meat and it tasted good but salty. It should have been taken with bread served alongside.

 Vittorio Greco with resident Master Chef Sunayan Pramanik at ITC Sonar stall

As expected, the party was attended by distinguished people from various walks from the city. I spotted writer Amitav Ghosh and leading actress Koel Mullick with her producer husband Nishpal Singh. Koel obliged my blogger friends with a selfie.

We bloggers were constantly exchanging notes on what the picks were from the wide array of foods. Heard good things about the crepe at the Hyatt stall and the extremely thin crust pizza at The Park stall. Tried the crepe made with ricotta (Italian cheese), exotic vegetables like baby spinach, radicchio and pakchoi and parmesan fondue. The vegetables soaked in cheesy goodness between the soft, browned crepe sheets made love with the palate!

Crepes with ricotta, baby spinach, radicchio and pakchoi, parmesan fondue

Tried the pizza. I’ve heard that the pizza that we know here as an Italian dish is far from the kind Italians have. But the one that I saw there being made was as thin as tandoori roti! I am not a pizza person and it was a vegetarian pizza, so, it didn’t impress much but it did taste better than the stuff available here.

Same with the pasta I tried from the Taj Bengal stall and ITC Sonar stall. The one from the Taj Bengal was vegetarian and the one from ITC Sonar was my favourite penne with pork and veggies. Both were made with red sauce and tomato (which I don’t like in pasta). My kind of pasta is made with white sauce.

The penne pasta

The farfalle pasta

We wrapped up with desserts from the Oberoi Grand stall. I don’t have great weakness for chocolate cake/pastry (I’m a dry cake person), so I took the Barozzi Cake with some apprehension along with tiramisu which is my favourite Italian dessert. But the tasting proved different. The interplay of Ghana chocolate (a dark chocolate) and wine made for a pleasant surprise and can be encapsulated in one word – sublime! I like dark chocolate and it was at its best. The tiramisu was good and appreciated by my blogger friends but I would want a little more coffee in it.

Barozzi Cake (below), tiramisu (top left) and cannoli (top right)

The evening was a refined and rare culinary experience to cherish in a long time to come! My heartfelt thanks to the Italian consul-general Mr Damiano Francovigh for the invitation. It opened a window of gourmet Italian food to me and I am definitely admiring Italian cuisine much more after that evening.

#ItalianCuisine #ItalianChef #GourmetFood #ItalianConsulate #ItalianConsulateKolkata #Foodtasting

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Cake-mixing ceremony at Aauris

Thinking of the run-up to Christmas, probably the first thing that comes to one’s mind is cake-mixing ceremony. This age-old tradition followed the world over marks the beginning of the long-drawn preparation of baking the Christmas cake and spreads a lot of cheer and the warmth of the impending festive season among those who do the cake-mixing together. There is a religious angle to it too, as it is believed be a harbinger of good tidings and happiness.
It takes place as an event in all the big hotels around this time. As Aauris invited me to their cake-mixing ceremony well in advance, the curiosity value was high as it was my first ever invitation to a cake-mixing ceremony. It was more of an internal affair for the central Kolkata hotel, with a few food bloggers invited to join them on the occasion.

Aauris is the new kind on the block in the luxury hotel space, located at Robinson Street, off Loudon Street. I’ve been to this hotel earlier this year for a food blogging workshop (There’s a post about it on this blog) and I appreciate the unique and innovative art in the décor.

It was an early afternoon time when we had been requested to take seat. Poulami, the PR manager, first asked us bloggers what we would prefer to wear in the ceremony – chef cap or Santa Claus cap. All of us ended up wearing the latter. It was a simple paperboard rolled into the shape of a chef cap fitted as per the size of one’s head. Executive Chef Sujit Mondale was making the caps.

A long table was formed by joining tables and a wide variety dry fruits were put on it one by one at the patisserie near the entrance. There were usual suspects like cashew, raisin, dried plum, date, dry cherry, tutti frutti apart from chopped and candied orange peel (in green), chopped murabba, dry fig, dried apricot, black currant and sultanas. The hotel team was spreading the dry fruits on the table and it was a nice sight to see more and more colours being added to the tempting mix.

Blogger Indrajit Lahiri and Chef Sujit Mondale

The mix of dry fruits before pouring liquor and wine

The liquor and wine, essential ingredients of Christmas cake, arrived meanwhile. There were dark rum, red wine, brandy, whisky and cointreau (kwan-troh, a French liquor). The bottles were placed at one end of the table before they were poured one by one, with the rum picked up by the chef first. Thereafter, Ankur Salim Siddiqui, GM of the hotel, poured whisky and quipped that it was the ‘real thing’ being added as someone from his team wanted to find out what was being poured at that moment.

Ankur announced that it was time to dirty our hands. We put on the gloves and joined the team in mixing the liquor well with the dry fruits. The chef told us not to caress the fruits but crush them hard. That’s the way to mix the liquor really well and enable the dry fruits to absorb it as much as possible.

Mixing in progress

We kept on doing it till the chef who was keeping an watchful eye on the progress was satisfied. The crushed, colourful fruits mixed with liquor of different colours assumed a different texture. I couldn’t resist but taste a tiny morsel of the liquor-soaked goodies stuck to my gloves. Ah…..drunken dry fruit - unlike anything I had sampled ever and liked it.

Yours truly with the soaked goodies

The chef got the mixture collected in large trays and said that it would be kept for about four weeks before baking. More things would be mixed in phases, like spices (cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder, caramel colour, ginger powder and star anise powder) in a few days and more wine in about three weeks from the cake-mixing day. The schedule is set to ensure the dry fruits absorb the ingredients in the best possible manner.

My lovingly dirtied hands

The Aauris team (Ankur third from left) at left and bloggers at right with dirty hands

We chatted for a while over coffee and fruit cake (baked in their patisserie) before signing off. I was suffering from withdrawal syndrome after dealing with so much of tempting ingredients which would go into making a delicious Christmas cake. The only remedy would be biting into a freshly baked cake and yes, the one I had was excellent! Perfectly balanced in sweetness, the buttery taste was kind of therapeutic.  

As a parting gift we received a nicely wrapped basket of a variety of their cakes. I and my kids loved them.


#Cakemixing #Aauris #Christmas

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