The name of the café is…well, Café. If you are getting ready for a review of an upscale café, then it’s my duty to warn you that this café is everything that is not modern. In fact, time here didn’t advance much beyond the 70s.
Subhankar aka The Curious Bangali had been at this Café sometime back and his facebook posts made Abhik and me curious too. Being pure blooded food enthusiasts, we three quickly planned a rendezvous at this café. The place is located very close to Hazra crossing, but well hidden from the maddening crowd by Jatin Das Metro Station Gate (opposite Ashutosh College)….the reason I never noticed it, in spite of living in South Kolkata all my life. It occupies the ground floor of an old building. A large signboard outside makes it hard to miss, once you reach the spot.
I reached later than my friends, and I stood at the entrance for a few seconds to absorb the atmosphere. A place steeped in yesteryears. The very front part was I think a রক বা বারান্দা (verandah) that was later made into an outer room. The separating wall makes the horizontal strip ideal for group hang-out or cosy chat. The inside room is large enough but punctuated in the middle by pillars, dividing the room into left zone and right zone. The cashier or manager conveniently sits between two pillars, almost invisible yet can watch the entire café. Old-world basic wooden chairs and tables are laid out along the walls and pillars keeping a narrow pathway free for servers and customers. High ceiling and large windows with arches keep the room well ventilated. Nonchalant blue walls. Unassuming customers reclaiming the slow life. Indulging in a stopover before heading home.
Already happy, I waved back to my two friends who were beginning to get concerned at my frozen state at the entrance. I joined them at their table only to find out they had already polished off chicken afghani. Quickly forgiving them, I concentrated on the next dish – Chicken Fry (read cutlet). A regular breast was mildly spiced, dipped in batter, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried. Nothing extraordinary, yet keeping it simple was an achievement in itself. The meat was in focus. No chillies either to distract. Instead there was a hint of sweetness. Which was completely new to my taste buds and they didn’t complain. The fry was served with mustard sauce and boiled potato cubes. Neither looked inviting and so I gave those a miss.
Next entered the petite chicken roast submerged in a flavoured jus. Half a young chicken cooked till tender. Minimum cajoling with a spoon is enough for the meat to separate from the bones. Spoon a bit of the thin gravy along with the chicken bite and put in the mouth. Savour the delicate art of spicing that flavoured the ‘melt in the mouth’ chicken flesh. The hotness of clove and pepper blended with sweetness of cinnamon. This dish is a masterpiece created with artistic precision. The star comes with a bodyguard of halved potato. Burly and intimidating, so I refrained from tasting it. Some fire toasted white bread slices could be ordered to play the supporting roles (as we Indians often feel lost without carbs).
The showstopper was bread pudding. Sounding simple? Fa….ar from it.
A small block of bread nourished with condensed milk, cashews and raisins. Scented with Vanilla. Crowned with a light as air meringue that was delicately browned. Sweet just enough to entice your taste buds for the next bite until you finish it all. And crave for more. I felt like running to the kitchen and giving the staff a hug. How on earth I lived all these years without experiencing this solitaire of desserts? To make up for the loss I will have to come back here again and again.
I did ask the person who was serving us for a permission to visit the kitchen. He answered with a strong no. “বাইরে যা খুশি করুন, ভেতরে যাওয়া চলবে না”. Much like a parsee bawa. But he could also see that we were there to celebrate the food. And he allowed me a glimpse into the kitchen through the small gap that is used by the serving staff for shouting orders and receiving food. A tiny room without any window where two glamourless aged men were engrossed in executing the dishes. I was told they were with the place since 1977 which was probably the time when the cafe took birth. Our server was a middle aged man. He dutifully turned the items to a blank on the wooden menu board once they got over.
For me, Good Food has always been about the total experience and not just the food. The character of a place almost always reflects on the food and helps build a memory. The evening at this vintage Cafe in the blessed company of two questioning and appreciative minds was an experience that shook my goodfoodmemories blog out of slumber. I do hope you enjoyed reading the piece and look forward to your continued visits.
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Address: 41/A S. P. Mukherjee Road, Kolkata-26
Hours: 4-9 pm (the dishes get over fast)
Prices of the dishes tasted:
- Chicken Afghani- Rs90
- Chicken Fry- Rs90
- Chicken Roast – Rs130
- Bread Pudding – Rs50
My friends Subhankar and Abhik are two enlightened food enthusiasts on a never ending quest for more experiences and knowledge. They also have better vocabulary than me. If you are a true lover of food, you may want to follow their blogs.
Subhankar Ghosh – curiousbangali.in
Abhik Bhattacharya – uncookedwords