Luchi – Fish Fry Bhalobasha at Chilekotha

Sometimes, I truly feel that my parents can be the brand ambassadors of Bengali food. Even after cherishing Bengali cuisine for 8 decades, they still prefer nuchi, pheesh phry and the works when they eat out. So for family dinners, our go-to place is 6BP. However, this time when we were selecting a restaurant for mom’s birthday dinner, we decided to give the newly opened Chilekotha at 7/2B Dover Lane, a try.

Honestly speaking, if you are a true blue Bengali grew up reading Sarat Chandra, Satyajit Ray and Ruskin Bond, you can never ignore a name like Chilekotha. For my non-Bengali readers, I would loosely translate Chilekotha as Attic, but it’s really a room on the rooftop. In the older days, most of the individual houses in Bengal were adorned with a ‘Chilekotha’. It was a space where usually extra bits and pieces of a household were stored. However, it was also a space where rules were broken, imaginations were given wings and passions were let loose. Our previous generation had actually lived the Chilekotha days-played to their hearts’ content in the room that was hidden from the world, emptied that jar of pickles during summer breaks, smoked their first cigarette, or stole the first kiss from their sweethearts. So, Chilekotha spells nostalgia and romanticism for us Bengalis.

And if you combine that with Bengal’s other love – food, the outcome has all the potential to be a super hit. So did Chilekotha live up to the expectations? Let’s find out!

Location wise, the restaurant is pretty easy to found, though it is not on the main road. If you are coming from the Golpark side, after negotiating Gariahat 4-point crossing, you will have to drive straight ahead and take the second left. After driving straight down for about 700 mts, you will find the restaurant on the left side. Here’s the location on Google map.

Chilekotha is on the ground floor of a residential building. The good thing is the entrance,  that comes with an ornamental door, is right on the sidewalk. This was another reason we had chosen the place. My folks have weak knees and they just can’t do stairs-even 5-6 steps. Inside, there are two rooms. The outer room is on the funkier side- with a yellow Kolkata taxi picture on the back wall. The wooden benches give the space a casual look. It was also a bit dark hence was not social media friendly.

I wanted to take pictures. So we moved to the inner room which was well lit and in spite of being not so big a space, gives the impression of a large room. The inner room is on a higher level and my folks had to negotiate two steps. But the staff was extremely nice and they made sure mom and dad could do it comfortably. I met an acquaintance from the PR world inside and we both caught each other by surprise. She was on work, so after exchanging quick hellos we three settled down at a table. There were four large tables and each could accommodate 4-5 persons. One wall was painted with a view from a roof top to give the room a chilekotha feeling. Next to the wall, in a corner, there was a spiral iron staircase just like you find one in the old houses. This one obviously goes nowhere. There were faux antique shuttered windows giving a feel of a typical Bengali house of the previous century. My ancestral house had those and it was emotional to be surrounded by those. There was also an antique phone and how could I not mention the jumbo switch box, immediately transporting me to my childhood days. All good. Mom was impressed which should be counted as 10 stars as she usually does a ‘nak shintkano’ in star hotels as well. No, I am not gonna translate that.

We had ordered Diamond Fish Fries for starters. Impressive sizes, thick fillet of Bhetki and thin crumbed walls. Tasted good, just a tad overpowering lime juices in the marinade. Usually, excess lime is used to cover smells. Was it yesterday’s fillet or was the cook having a bad day? We wondered. Fries were served with herbed tartar sauce and it was yum!

The main course started with Luchi, Begun Bhaja (fried eggplants slices). I like my begun bhaja crispy, these were lightly fried. Luchis were not puffed up. Sliding the luchi into the oil when it is just rightly hot, is a skill. Otherwise, the luchis were soft and light.

Next, we had Daab Chingri and Bhetki Paturi with steamed white rice. Daab chingri was more of a chingri malaaikari than being baked in a tender coconut shell with coconut shell meat. The dish was served in a jhuno dab (older coconut) and that was proof enough. Four large tiger prawns came with it. It had all the goodness of a malaaikari. But if I am to compare it with the finger licking good dab chingri served at 6 Ballygunge Place, Chilekotha has miles to go. I must mention all the ingredients were absolutely superb. Freshest chingri, fresh coconut milk and hand ground spices. The Bhetki paturi too used excellent fish and tasted nice and subtle. The pungency of mustard and heat of chillies were missing. Those were my personal preferences and everyone might not appreciate that.

The last dish of the main course was Dhakai Mutton Tehari. Those who are unfamiliar with Tehari or Tahari, let me enlighten. It is something between Pulao and Biryani. Unlike biryani, smaller chunks of meat with fat are used and another important ingredient is milk. Meat and rice are prepared separately and then put on a dum (low heat cooking with sealed lid). Tehari usually has a lot of onions in beresta form (crispy fried onions) as well as in paste form.

 This was the first time we had Tehari and the Chilekotha version was more of a mutton pulao. Colourwise, it was yellow, rather than white- the Tehari Colour. Melting mutton chunks and delectably flavoured short grain rice really delighted us. We simple loved the taste and ignored the fact that it had no beresta. One pot carried 6 pieces of mutton and enough rice for sharing.

Desert options were not really enticing. Ma had ordered a payesh, and a small bowl of sugared milk with boiled rice was served. Sorry, there’s no picture.

Prices at Chilekotha are slightly less than its seniors such as Bhojohori Manna and 6 Ballygunge Place. The restaurant actually has some Bengali cuisine giants in 2 km radius and has good chances of catching surplus crowd in high demand seasons like Noboborsho, Jamai Shashthi and Durga Pujo. It also has a fusion menu that looked very interesting. I would surely go back to taste some of the fusion dishes. By now it was clear, that Chilekotha team has good intentions. However, they lack in good recipes. Most of the shortcomings I mentioned would not even be noticed by patrons unless they are Bengali cuisine experts which both mom and I were. So all they need is a good recipe consultant and they would be good to go! Chilekotha owner Debaleena Chakraborty was present at the restaurant and when she requested feedback, I did give her some hints.

The interior is surely beautiful, the location is priceless (with plenty of parking on the street outside),  and if you are not extra critical, food is good without creating deep holes in pockets. Our damage was 2153 which really was not much in today’s world. Must mention the staff was extremely helpful, with a great sense of hospitality. They even made sure that my parents could get into the car comfortably. Very rare and I must praise owner Debaleena Chakraborty for nurturing a good team.

Chilekotha was born only 4 months back and is taking baby steps. I have written an honest review from my perspective and I do hope if Chilekotha management is reading this, they will take it in right spirits and take steps to overcome any gaps. Otherwise, in the long run, promotions will not really of big help. Excellent food will be.

Mandatory pic with the birthday girl!