Ask Vir Ask Vir

Kolkata has become one of India’s great restaurant cities

One of the many things that the good citizens of Calcutta disagree with the rest of us about is the quality of the restaurant food in their city.

They think it is fabulous. We think it is mediocre.


I have to confess that till I went eating in Cal a couple of weeks ago, I was in the latter camp.


   My views on the food in Cal were shaped by my experiences when I lived there. The Bengali food at restaurants was mediocre:  to eat well you had to go to private houses. (It helped that my then boss Aveek Sarkar’s wife, the art curator Rakhi Sarkar, made the best food in town so, it was easier to cadge invitations from them than go to Bengali restaurants.) There was vaguely authentic Chinese food in Chinatown but the Cal Chinese were, after so many generations, more Bengali than Chinese. The food in Tangra was usually completely inauthentic, and later, influenced by Punjabi Chinese.


   So, I followed a simple policy. I ate in the streets where the food was always good and stuck to a few downmarket places, including Nizam’s and the other roll makers. (The roll is Calcutta's greatest and most unrecognised contribution to our cuisine.) Cal biryani was not the craze it has now become but there were some good places.


   Then, a funny thing happened. I moved to Delhi and suddenly, the Cal food scene exploded. It was almost as if they were waiting for me to leave before they started making the good stuff.


   As you may have guessed from my recent columns, I am on a quest to find the best restaurants in the country. So far, I have done Gurgaon (the less said about that the better) and Bangalore (not bad at all) and I am going to Goa next. But of all the cities I have tried, there is no doubt that Calcutta beats the hell out of the rest.


   Who would have thunk it?


   6 Ballygunge Place opened just as I was leaving or shortly after I left. And though the locals kept telling me how good the food was, I never took them seriously till this trip when I went to the original branch on my first night in Calcutta. The concierge at my hotel had booked me in as Mr Kumar and nobody bothered too much about us when we walked in. We were given a perfectly acceptable table in one of the upstairs rooms and ordered several dishes.


   To my surprise, everything was terrific: kosha mangsho, chingri malai curry, dab chingri, chorchori, piyaji, cholar dal, aloo poshto, dhokar dalna, baigun bhaja, mochar ghanta, and more. Given how many dishes we ordered I thought at least one of them would be less-than-good. In fact, they were all good.


   Just as the food arrived so did the manager who recognised me. The service then became even more attentive (two guys were assigned to watch me) and they offered to shift me to a better table (I declined; there was no need). But it was too late to do anything about the food—which was outstanding.


   The following day I went to the small but charming restaurant on top of Sienna Store. The chef is Auroni Mookerjee who I know from the days when he worked for Ritu Dalmia in Delhi. And there are similarities between his restaurant and Ritu’s Latitude.


   "Doma Wang is a Calcutta institution. Half-Chinese and half-Tibetan she serves what she calls Himalayan food."

   I knew he was good but I hadn’t counted on him being this good. The food was exceptional. The secret of a good Bohri samosa is the patti or the outer covering. Most people buy it ready made from experts. But here Auroni made his own and the samosas were amazing. He was not thrilled when I ordered an omelette and a hamburger but both are good tests of a kitchen.


   He need not have worried. The omelette, made with free range eggs, was bright yellow and melting on the inside. The hamburger was mutton (you can serve beef in Cal but he says the mutton is better) and was also delicious. There were two outstanding rice dishes, one made with Gobindobhog rice and the other made with a mixture of two different kinds of rice and foraged wild mushrooms.


   Auroni is a major talent. You will hear more about him.


   Another huge surprise was Sorano, a newish Italian restaurant. By now, I have come to expect mediocre pasta and pizza directed mainly at vegetarians at most Italian restaurants. But this was the real thing: excellent Napoli-style pizza, perfectly fried chicken Milanese cut into strips and served as finger food, a salad that explored the textures of tomato, the sort of pasta shapes you don’t see on Indian menus, an authentic mushroom risotto and lovely, slow braised lamb.


   The restaurant works because of the passion of Saket Agarwal, its owner who is there nearly every day, who knows his Italian food and whose family is totally involved. His wife designed the restaurant and his very young son who was also there is an aspiring chef.


   Doma Wang is a Calcutta institution. Half-Chinese and half-Tibetan she serves what she calls Himalayan food. She is famous for her momos which have more in common with the traditions of her Chinese father than her Tibetan mother: translucent dim sum style skin and tasty fillings. Her father also left her his recipe for prawn balls, a sort of Chinese pakora that I found irresistible. Her Chili Pork is justly renowned (Gaggan Anand ordered it on his last trip to his city) but there was so much more: Nepali pickles with dum aloo, a deep fried Tibetan meat pie, chilli chicken and more.


   Kasturi is one of the great names in Calcutta. It serves Bangladeshi food which is similar to but not quite the same as the food of West Bengal. I don’t know the cuisine well despite having made two trips to Dhaka but I ordered anyway from the delivery menu. All of it was fine but none of it was very good. Later I was offered many explanations. 1) I ordered from the wrong branch. 2) I ordered the wrong things. 3) I ordered on Independence Day when the chef was off. 4) I am a fool who does not know anything about the cuisine of East Bengal. (This was phrased more politely but that is what it amounted to).


   I ate out so much that I didn’t even have time to go to my favourite haunt, the Grand Market Pavilion at the ITC Royal Bengal. It has India’s largest buffet with many live counters and excellent chaat (made in front of you) and a North Eastern section. In my wilder imaginings I think of it as only a North Eastern restaurant because the food is so good.


   I did find the time to visit the Glenburn Penthouse, a beautiful but tiny hotel hidden away in a building in Chowringhee. The dining room is lovely and the views are amazing. My old mate Shaun Kenworthy looks after the food so it was only to be expected that he serves the best cream tea in India.


   I am back in Cal next month. I will try more places. And I will get even fatter. Still, there are worse ways to make a living!




  • Captain Sudhir Dixit 28 Aug 2022

    So well written.

Posted On: 26 Aug 2022 12:00 PM
Your email id will not be published.
Security code:
Captcha Enter the code shown above:
Your email id will not be published.
Friend's Name:
Friend's E-mail:
Your email id will not be published.
The Message text:
This email was created by [your name] who thought you would be interested in the following Article:

A Vir Sanghvi Article Information

The Vir Sanghvi also contains hundreds of articles.

Additional Text:
Security code:
Captcha Enter the code shown above:

CommentsOther Articles

See All

Ask VirRead all

Connect with Virtwitter

@virsanghvi on
Vir Sanghvi