The flavour of Kolkata

The flavour of Kolkata
Winter is the time to indulge in non-vegetarian delicacies to one's heart's content. This is from a foodwalk for beef kebabs in the area legendary for the dish - Chitpur. Photograph by Nabarun Saha.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Conversations with Srijit Mukherji

“Dhur, ora abar audience naki, audience toh amra….Dekhechho tomaay je tweet-gulo korechhe taate kirawm banan bhool!” (You call them your audience! Have you noticed their tweets? They can’t even spell right in English! Mind you, it’s us who are THE audience you can call your own.)

His core audience is this possessive about his work! And he probably realized it in this fashion only after his last release Zulfiqar (October 2016) – a double adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser and Anthony and Cleopatra into an unabashed mainstream movie – his first full-fledged attempt to mainstream cinema by his own admission. 

The above is a glimpse of the candour with which the director spoke in this recent chat show.

Right from the day Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee, a well-known performing artist, conceptualiser and director of refined and innovative cultural productions, posted on his Facebook profile that the last edition of his live talk show ‘Conversations’ in 2016 would feature director Srijit Mukherjee as the guest, requests kept on pouring on his timeline for blocking seats. I know Sujoy for a long time as I’ve organized shows directed, anchored and performed by him, and I was aware of his live talk show for a long time. So, I wasted no time to confirm my presence.

Conversations, as Sujoy says, is the only live talk show in Kolkata.

I walked in at The Palms, the multicuisine restaurant on Southern Avenue, the venue, well in time around mid-December. Someone in a black shirt walked in alone just ahead of me. I noticed that it was Srijit.

The medium-sized banquet kept filling steadily and as Sujoy took the mike just past 7.30, not only the seats were full, but many were standing at the rear.

Conversations started on the most speculated topic about Srijit at this point of time – his Mumbai stint – Has he shifted base to Mumbai for greener pastures? Will he not come back?


Srijit clarified that he has not shifted base at all and has no intention of doing so now. He shared that the first time he went to Mumbai was when he was offered to do a Hindi remake of his niche film Hemlock Society – a black comedy. It did not work out as the actor who would play the protagonist suggested a few changes in the script. Since then it has been a wait for the most successful director of Bangla cinema of the present times to make the first Hindi film on own creative terms. And Rajkahini, which made Mahesh Bhatt ecstatic, gave him the right opportunity. As it is well known, its remake is under production in Hindi as Begum Jaan with Vidya Balan in the titular role under the banner of Mukesh Bhatt and Mahesh Bhatt. Srijit added, the character of Begum Jaan was originally written for Vidya, which explains the abundance of Hindi lines said by the character played by Rituparna Sengupta in Rajkahini.

I was aware that this was not the first time Srijit’s film was being remade in another language. The one before Rajkahini, and the first, was Hemlock Society in Marathi. The director informed that it was named Welcome Zindagi.

The director revealed that he had to shoot Begum Jaan on a shoestring budget compared to Hindi cinema. He, in fact, has always had to work within a tight budget in his seven-year-long directorial career (Rajkahini is known as a prime example) and has learnt to live with it. To be more precise, he added, except for the cost of cast, the Hindi version wasn’t much ahead of the Bangla original in terms of budget. Then the film suffered huge adversities in the making (again, a fate of some of Srijit’s films). The director of photography quit the unit days before the first schedule and the set of the haveli where most of the film happens, erected in Jharkhand, was devastated by strom. To put it in perspective the director quipped, “It was resemblant of what we see of the puja pandal of Mudiali during its making in the month of August”. The shoot for a day had a plan A and a plan B depending on real time condition of the shooting zone. The cast and crew went through immense hardship through the shooting and the director saluted the spirit of Vidya in pulling it off.

Srijit informed that talks are on to remake Hemlock Society and Chotushkone (his immensely successful thriller) in Hindi. He is also researching on Noti Bonodini for a film on this legendary theatre actress from Kolkata.

Around this time, Sujoy, who was steering the conversation deftly, turned to the audience and invited questions. Someone asked Srijit whether he would be casting directors as some of the central characters in the Chotushkone remake, to which Srijit informed that things were different in Mumbai. Here in Bengali cinema, also in Marathi and Malayalam cinema, directors are revered like star actors, while in Mumbai it is a star-driven system. So it won’t generate as much of curiosity as it did when the famous directors Aparna Sen and Gautam Ghosh played the protagonists in Chotushkone. He was quick to add that Sanjay Leela Bhansali was a bright exception.

He talked of his experience of waching Sanjay Leela Bhansali, one of the friends he had made in Mumbai, on the sets. The whole cast and crew is scared of him and his obsession with details is the stuff legend is made of. It can so happen that he spotted one of the many group dancers in the rear of the floor not doing his/ her step right and as a result he will halt the take and do a re-take even if it is the fourteenth one. Srijit named an A-list actress who appears completely different when Sanjay is on the sets. Sanjay even shows dance steps his heroine if he is not satisfied with the take. Many don’t know that Sanjay is good at choreography and he directed the song sequences of 1942 : A Love Story.

Sujoy asked Srijit about the most hotly debated topic about him of the times – what prompted him to make a hardcore mainstream flick like Zulfiqar (released in October 2016). At the outset, Srijit admitted that Zulfiqar was unlike his other films and it didn’t work at a critical acclaim level and it evoked extremely polarized reactions. Many people from his core audience had problems accepting that he had made a mainstream movie. But the director set the record straight saying that he really wanted to have a shot at mainstream cinema.

Elaborating on the audience reactions to Zulfiqar, the director disclosed that there was a sharp divide between his core audience and the new audience he got with the film (like those in small centres like Baruipur and Seoraphuli). In the age of social media, everything is open to public. So the tweets and Facebook posts praising the film were noticed by his core audience members many of who were unhappy that the film was attracting such quality of audience. Srijit quoted a representative remark to show how strongly dismissive a section of his core audience was of this new audience –“Dhur, ora abar audience naki, audience toh amra….Dekhechho tomaay je tweet-gulo korechhe taate kirawm banan bhool!” (You call them your audience! Have you noticed their tweets? They can’t even spell right in English! It’s us who are the audience for you.). The director, however, made it a point to acknowledge in the show that he owned his new audience just as he owned his core audience.

The director urged the audience in the show to let him make his kind of cinema. “Please don’t box me, let me be”, said he.  

Since he now has a body of work built since 2010, Sujoy asked him to pick his favourites. Srijit stated that it was like picking his favourite children, however, if it had to be done, it would be Jaatishwar, Hemlock Society, Baishe Shrabon, Chotushkone and  Rajkahini.

The conversation was at the last lap. Sujoy invited questions from the audience and many pitched in. Noted film critic and journalist Shoma A Chatterjee attended the show and she shared her honest view on Srijit that he could do much better. She added that directors shouldn’t act as protagonist in their own films as that runs the risk of narcissism. Srijit gracefully accepted this and revealed a piece of information for the first time – When he was making Autograph (his debut film), Shoma wrote a wrong email to him with a word of encouragement. She narrated her story of struggle in it. Srijit acknowledged that it was inspirational to him.

Post event, the director was surrounded for photographs, selfies and more questions which seemed endless and showed the stardom he enjoys in his city.

There was some refreshment for the audience post-show from The Palms. I liked the succulent and done-to-perfection chicken kebabs and the fried vegetable wontons.

Finally, one line for the host - It was such a delightful and insightful conversation with a sprinkle of wit and humour (by both the host and the guest) because of the excellent conversationist Sujoy Prosad Chatterjee. I am looking forward to the next season of Conversations. 


#TollyDiaries #livetalkshow #conversation #SrijitMukherjee #Cinema #BengaliCinema


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Thursday, January 05, 2017

The khiri kebab in UP Bihar Restaurant

I first heard of this dish more than five years back in a business meeting with Nizam's manager. He strongly recommended us to check it out at their adjacent restaurant Moghul Garden (which is basically the section of Nizam's that serves beef) in New Market. He also mentioned that it was unlike a beef kebab as it was made of cow’s udder.

About two years back, my deputy was raving about this eatery with a strange name - UP Bihar Restaurant. She had loved the beef dishes she had there the previous evening and being a fellow foodie, mentioned it as a must-visit place serving awesome khiri kebab. I bookmarked the restaurant mentally to check it out.

I still couldn’t make it there though I passed by it or took a nearby road countless times. Then t2 (the tabloid supplement of The Telegraph) gave the final nudge. In a one-page article earlier this week on beef delicacies to look for this season which covered UP Bihar Restaurant, khiri kebab was the only dish mentioned if one visited the restaurant in the evening. I turned up the same evening.

It’s a few outlets away from Nizam’s. An old and worn-out place which has resisted change with time and pretty downmarket in appearance and nature. It appears to be a restaurant owned by a Muslim family from Bihar or UP and frequented by Muslim customers for its beef dishes among other things. The place is not small and has old Kolkata-style small curtained cabins for family dining at one side. It serves the cheapest of meals to the blue-collar working class as evident from the multiple printouts pasted on the walls showing rice and dal available at Rs 8 and 6 only. There are some basics in place but - attired waiters and mouth freshener post-dining for instance.

The khiri kebab that came quickly looked inviting. And the first few bites told me why it was such a gushed-about dish. It’s unlike any beef dish I had experienced before (largely because of the body part it is made of). The small chunks of meat finished on tawa with onion rings and a dash of chilli were soft, juicy, a wee bit chewy and worked a lethal charm for the tastebuds. The chewiness is in fact part of the sensorial experience (it’s sort of what you get in gizzard). There were tiny burns at places but the taste merits overlooking it.



If you are a passionate foodie looking for just good food and don’t care for the ambience for the sake of it, go and savour the khiri kebab in which UP Bihar Restaurant proclaims specialization. And you don’t get better value for money with twenty pieces at just Rs 92! Over everything, it will give you a pure old Kolkata experience which I love!

My next visit doesn't look too far and I would like to check out its beef biryani in particular.


#khirikebab #beef #beefkebab #delicacy #HiddenGem #OldKolkata #Kolkatafood #NewMarket


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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.


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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Sunday, November 27, 2016

First Flush- love in a bylane, indeed

When I first walked into this tea café in a lane in Golpark in August, just after it opened its doors, I found the ambience intimate, cozy and different - Low glass-covered cane tables and chairs with relaxed seating and nicely spaced out, framed photos on the wall done in cream colour with red punctuating in racks displaying books, teapot, cups & mugs and a low cabinet. The tables are small and laid out with two or four chairs. Since people don’t come here for a meal, a table can comfortably accommodate four guests. The warm feel resembles a living room, which makes for a perfect lazy afternoon / evening meet-up with friends or even a relaxed business meeting.

You can reach here by taking the lane adjacent to the Axis Bank ATM on the left just before Golpark, going from Gariahat. A red door and a glowsign bearing the name with a thoughtful tagline “Love in a bylane” welcome you.

First Flush serves a small range of teas, the specialty being Darjeeling tea (first and second flush). The menu includes Gidda Pahar, Thurbo Moonlight and Castleton among others.

I like my tea strong, hence between Darjeeling tea and Assam tea, my loyalty goes with the latter. When I told the same to Subhasish Mitra, the owner, in a recently held blogger meet, he advised me to try second flush. I was soon served Avongrove tea in a colourless cup and plate through which its nice light brown colour came out well. I liked the flavour which was precisely between mild and strong.

Subhasish is a senior official working in IBM. His passion for tea, as my short conversation with him indicated, is probably the reason behind his first business venture in F&B. This part of the city doesn’t have well-known tea joints like in central Kolkata. So, being close to Gariahat – the heart of south Kolkata – it’s a well-chosen location.

There was a small, compact menu for the blogger meet, and first arrived Bacon Cheese Bomb. It was bacon wrapped around molten cheese served with a dip. The cheese caressed the palate and the perfectly done bacon flirted with it before melting away. The dip enhanced the sublimity of the dish. A definite recommendation for a light bite and I wonder why it is not listed among the signature dishes on the menu. A portion of five pieces is reasonably priced at Rs 200.

 Bacon Cheese Bomb

The usual banter and leg pulling among blogger friends was on in full swing, along with discussing what was happening in the city blogger circuit. The next to come was American Fish ‘n’ Chips with Beer Batter served with lemon butter sauce and French fries – a signature dish of the house. The thick fillet of Bombay beckti fried in a thin batter went well with the yummy sauce. The crunchy French fries are abundant. Subhasish told me that it was one of the popular picks. We called the young chef and asked what the sauce was and he shared with us the secret – it was lemon butter sauce added with cream, lemon juice, salt and pepper that brought out the killer taste. At Rs 390 for two pieces, it’s value for money.

 American Fish ‘n’ Chips with Beer Batter

As I asked about its offerings in coffee, Subhasish told me that they serve Jamaican, Irish, Puerto Rican and Colombian coffee. Though the range is small, the options are decent.

I tried the cappuccino and loved it.

My cappuccino

Next came American Club Sandwich which was noticeably heavy for one person, so we shared it. A full sandwich served generously with French fries should suffice you for dinner. At one layer it has slices of salami and at the other, poached duck egg. Tastes good, especially the finger-licking yolk. If you are looking for a sandwich meal, just order one. It is expensive though, at Rs 295.

American Club Sandwich, the heavyweight

It was a sweet ending with a nice brownie with chocolate sauce and a lage scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Blogger Debjani Chatterjee Alam posing with the brownie with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream

To summarize, it has the qualities to justify its tagline – love in a bylane, whichever way you think. It’s a place that you may develop a soft corner for as it’s just right to unwind alone with an invigorating cuppa tea (The books in the rack can give company) or with friends over coffee and snacks, also for lovebirds to while away time.

(Left to right) Bloggers Debjani, Madhushree, Anindya, yours truly, Subhadip and Subhasish Mitra (owner)

I was told by Subhasish that the pastas also move well. Noted, for the next time.


#Cafe #Firstflush #Tea #Darjeelingtea  #Fingerfood #Sandwiches


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