We spent five days in the City of Joy, and a large part of it was the food. For your enjoyment and edification, here’s a list of places we went to!
The Street at The Park
Lovely little place at the Park hotel with tasty short eats, amazing cold coffee and very good service. Perfect for stepping out of the muggy humidity and cooling off while posting social media updates!
Imagine Saravana Bhavan. Now imagine it with meat (pork sausages, especially). Now imagine it with alcohol. Now imagine everything at one tenth the price. That’s Olypub – a Kolkata institution more important than the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (which is apparently the second oldest golf club in the world after St. Andrews, but that’s another story for another day). Cheap eats, consumable only with a reasonable amount of liquid accompaniments, old waiters who walk around with a peg measure in their hands and are disappointed if you order anything that cannot be measured using those peg measures, tables occupied by whole families, complete with infant, small child, teenager, unmarried uncle and grandparents – all make the Olypub experience unique. Olypub is the Mona Lisa of Park Street – always attracts a crowd, everyone wondering what’s so great about it but nevertheless clicking a selfie with it, and forevermore beginning random sentences with, “When I saw the Mona Lisa…” If there’s just one place you visit in Kolkata, let it be the Olypub!
“Yeh tho machli ka hotel hai! (But this is a hotel for fish),” gleefully declared the waiter when Vidya asked him for a vegetarian thali. He did not mean this was a temporary residence for visiting finned denizens of the deep – rather he meant that this was a restaurant that specialised in fish dishes. While the restaurant is a self-proclaimed purveyor of Dhakai Meals, that’s just a cover for their fish business. Their menu has exactly one rice, one vegetable, one dal and about fifteen types of fish dishes. The waiter is very happy to bring out a large tray with the different fish dishes and explain to you what they are, how they’re made and how they taste. The fish dishes are winners – so, if you’re looking for fish to eat, this is the place to go.
Roxy at The Park
A slightly pretentious, loud place with questionable service standards. Nevertheless, good for a couple of drinks if you have nowhere else to go. The food is served from a kitchen in another restaurant, so budget at least a half hour from the time you place your order. Overall, avoidable.
Go to this place on College Street when it is really hot and humid. Spend ten minutes and fifty rupees on a daab sherbet. It will rehydrate you in the most delightful way possible. As it has rehydrated every Bengali worthy from Subhash Chandra to Sourav, from Arundathi to Amartya and from Mrinal to Satyajit. Yes – all of them are the same folks you think they are.
Indian Coffee House
To the Calcuttan, this is just the Coffee House. The uniformed waiters in their starched turbans make for good pictures. The giant photo of a young and handsome Rabindranath Tagore as Valmiki on one of the walls makes for good pictures. The second floor vantage point from which you get a top view of the first floor makes for good pictures. This place makes for good pictures and little else – below average food and coffee, not too much atmosphere to speak of and always crowded.
We found this place as I was looking for a vegetarian breakfast place within walking distance of the Jorasanko Thakur Bari – the ancestral Tagore house. Nothing very fancy – just tasty vegetarian food in a clean setting, with a very usable toilet. More than you can ask for when you are wandering the streets of Kolkata in the heat and humudity. The food is strictly average, though they do know how to make a decent dosai. Good for a pitstop, and the air-conditioning definitely helps!
Aaheli at Peerless Inn
This is a fancy place – everything about it, the expansive, plush decor, the comfortable temperature and humidity, the gentle whispered tones in which the staff speaks to you, the prices with an extra digit added on – everything indicates this. We ended up here on a search for that elusive culinary beast – a traditional Bengali thali. Contrary to what anyone might tell you, this does not exist – the Bengalis (and their cuisine) being too eclectic to be defined by a set menu of a few food items. Aaheli puts together a few Bengali dishes together and calls it a thali. They have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of the thali – one costs an arm, while the other costs a leg. You might as well order the Perrier to go with it. For a first timer like me, or for anyone not familiar with the ins and outs of Bengali food, this is a good introduction, and the staff are well versed in explaining it to clueless outsiders. I would recommend a leisurely visit, and make sure you’re carrying your moneybags.
Yauatcha is a Cantonese dimsum and tea restaurant with a presence in a few Indian cities. Their Mumbai edition is Michelin-starred. For such a fancy setting, the place is surprisingly accessible to common gourmands, and the price does not induce immediate heart attacks. As is to be expected, the decor, the staff, the ambiance – everything is classy and quiet. After elaborate consultations with Apu, our waitstaff for the day, we went with the set menu – which comes in Regular and Vegetarian variants. This is a six-course meal with eight dishes, accompanied by a drink. I really liked the fact that their portions are all half portions – ensuring that you are able to taste all the dishes, and even finish a few. The food was exceptionally good, and some courses were simply outstanding. For me, the place certainly lived up to the hype, and exceeded a few of my expectations.
This is me indulging in a spot of cheating. I did go to the Kusum Rolls shop, right next to the Olypub. I did eat a Kusum Roll – egg and chicken. However, I was too full from the Olypub when I went to the Kusum Roll shop, and was able to indulge in the roll only at the Kusum Roll counter at the airport. The shop is right on the street, with a crowd of punters vying for the attention of the the folks manning it. Judging by the quality of the roll I had, it has more to do with bang for the buck – it was massive and cost very little, and this wasn’t even double egg or double chicken – than with outstanding taste. Don’t get me wrong – it is bursting with flavor and does have a certain roll-y goodness to it – just that it is not outstanding. I would not seek it out the next time, but I’m glad I got it out of the way this time.