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Every city has a few iconic places to eat – restaurant being too pretentious a term for some of them – that are part of the city’s social and cultural history. It is not only about the food they serve – which is usually fantastic – but about the ambience and quirks of the place. Somehow, these have become part of the image of the place, adding to the legend.

For all of them, the aura is as important as the menu. Many of them have been described as over-rated by non-regulars. There have been complaints of poor service. That is again part of their charm. Old-timers, wanting to keep the riff-raff out of their favourite adda, even tacitly support this!

This post is the first in (hopefully) a series in which I try to recount my experiences at these places.

Bangalore – Koshy’s

I love the way they put a table cloth when you order a beer. I love the way old-timers refuse to sit in the AC section. When I asked a friend why he didn’t want to sit inside, he said “That is not Koshy’s. That is Jewel Box. Koshy is out here.” I love their Brain Masala. Of course, I have been repeatedly told I should always be ordering the steak at Koshy’s. Its location – at the cusp of St Marks Road and MG Road – is as iconic.

When I was in Bangalore, there used to be a night-club called 180 Proof (now Hard Rock Café) just ahead. I remember clearly a discussion I overheard at Koshy’s on the meaning of 180 proof and whether absinthe was 180 proof alcohol.

It was as if I was back in Calcutta. How better can I compliment a place?

Picture courtesy: Iyer Matter.

Bombay – Britannia & Co.

Any restaurant which shuts on Sundays and opens for only 4 hours on other days gets undying admiration from Bengalis. I mean, the bugger doesn’t care about money and only about the quality of the food. Wah wah – one more Caramel Custard, please.

The red-check table cloth. The chatty owner shuffling from table to table. The bow-tied waiters. Even the hideous-tasting ‘unique drinks’ are part of the Britannia lore. It is a small matter that the legend was started by Berry Pulao and the Dhansak – which are quite fantastic.

I had lunch there again yesterday – after a gap of nearly five years – I was a little apprehensive whether I would like it as much as I did the first time. I needn’t have worried. From the first spoon of the Pulao to the last mouthful of Caramel Custard, it was beautiful. The warm sun outside, the patience of the waiting crowd and the sleepiness of Ballard Estate on a Saturday were all just as beautiful too.

Did I tell you that their Sali Boti is even better than their Berry Pulao? Well, try it and tell me if you agree.

Calcutta – Peter Cat

Very few restaurants – actively or passively – discourage mobile phone conversations nowadays. Peter Cat not only puts a tent card requesting patrons not to speak on the mobile phone, the stewards walk up and whisper polite warnings if you do speak!

Peter Cat is all about legend. As I had written some time back, an overwhelmingly large number of Calcuttans have been to Peter Cat after their first salary and that is a sentimental high no other gastronomical creation can match.

And their iconic dish – Chelo Kabab. No single dish in any restaurant in the world would form such a large part of the total orders as Chelo Kabab does in Peter Cat. It is currently described in their menu as ‘the protected regional product of West Bengal, our special kababs prepared in rare spices blended with Persian herbs and served on a bed of rice with butter and an egg’. Whoa!

When I was in Peter Cat last, I took a picture of the menu with my mobile phone camera. As I took out the phone, the steward frowned and started towards me. When I pointed the camera at the menu, he smiled and turned away. Must be happening a lot in there!

Delhi – Karim’s

There is nothing left to say about Karim’s that Lonely Planet, HT City Eating Out Guide or Time magazine hasn’t said already. Except that contrary to popular belief, the restaurant did not start in Bahadur Shah Zafar’s time. The descendants of the Mughal emperor’s chefs started the restaurant in 1913 (CENTENARY ALERT!!) and has been serving soul-stirring food ever since.  Which means no other restaurant in the world is probably as Mughlai as Karim’s.

Part of Karim’s charm is, I think, the inaccessibility. Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin, I can understand. Even their Malaviya Nagar outlet is particularly bad for turning and parking. I guess you feel the food better when you work hard for it.

I don’t know if there is any one dish that Karim’s is really famous for because I manage to forget every item I order by the time I visit next. Actually, I forget the dishes by the time I walk out of the restaurant. All that remains is a whirl of meat, ghee and spices that tend to engulf one’s senses. In fact on the way out, I manage to lose myself in the bylanes as well. How does the second left matter after Chicken Jahangiri?

Hyderabad – Paradise

How many places in the world do you know where a street or a square is named after a restaurant located there? Paradise Circle is the only one place I know of.

For those who think biriyani is paradise, Paradise is biriyani. In a city known for biriyani, they have taken it to a different level altogether. Actually they have taken it to three different levels altogether – the air-conditioned section upstairs, non-AC downstairs and the terrace outside!

Their chicken-mutton mixed biriyani is an innovation that deserves a Nobel Prize – either Chemistry or Peace. And their take-away section deserves one in Economics – for the most efficient revenue generation. Their hermetically sealed packages of biriyani and kabab are handed over in one smooth motion after the money is handed over and you are back in your waiting cab even before the ignition is switched off.

Visits to Hyderabad are incomplete without a sealed packet of Paradise in your hand baggage. Don’t tell me you’ve not done it even once!

Lucknow – Tunday Kababi

They have opened branches in malls of Lucknow and Delhi. And yet, their original shop hidden in the labyrinth of Aminabad remains the touchstone of all carnivores. I had written about it once earlier and haven’t eaten there recently to add on that.

Except that I’d give anything to eat there right now.

Picture courtesy: Outlook magazine

The Nizam from New Market…

So why is this about New Market and Nizams? Because this one is about wafting memories that have since floated down  from the legendary open market in Kolkata, right down to the suburbaness that is Andheri West. This one is about the memory of singing along with Shahrukh in his Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon, from the much overlooked Yes Boss from a matinee at Roxy to move towards the back alleys of New Market to the food mandala that resides there. Ah yes – fresh out of Elite, guiltily enjoying the tackiness of one of the foremost creature films that hit India : Anaconda – The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (oh yes, I liked it! I am man enough in admitting it! ), and then moving almost in default – to that institution called Nizams. The rolls – the heavenly rolls. The porotha , yielded by flour, fried lovingly in oil, splattered with the fried chillies, onion and other madness, filled with red juicy nuggets of mutton cubes- tossed in marinade of a hundred recipes, and then garnised with lemon squeeze and sauces. Served hot! Or the biriyani – mutton biriyani! Grains of basmati – glittering in saffron-yellow sunshine, bristling lightly in ghee (not too much), married with a plethora of spices, adorned with a piece of potato and the egg and then  digging deep and you find those chunks of lamb – tender and sumptious… all served with the lemon wedges, slit chillies and onion rings (although given the current scenario, the onion may be a disappearing number). Ah yes – Nizaams biriyanis and rolls, served in the New Market Mohalla , in a the communal table or the curtained private ‘femily room‘ – depending on if you are with your fresh love of school (‘female party’ as uttered by the liveried waiters) or your gang of dudes from your neighbourhood! Good times of Kolkata!

This post is not about Nizams. Or New Market. But its about rediscovering rolls and Kolkata style biriyani in the town of Andheri West, in Mumbai.

A few years back, when my mind and pallette was suffering from withdrawal pangs of how the Kolkata roll was diminished by the hugely overhyped (and may I add grossly inferior) Frankie in Mumbai nagariya, Rahul and another ex- colleague of mine from STAR, Sayan – told me about this cart joint called Bhimas in Andheri West, that apparently served up rolls Kolkata style.

 ‘Go for it – Almost like Kolkata rolls’ Sayan said

‘You dont have to speak much modon, this guy just hands out the stuff. No chitchatting.  Its more of the silent strong treatment type. Do your business and leave ‘ said Rahul! (I had this overwhelming feeling that I was a dog being trained!!)

‘Where exactly is it?’ I asked salivating

‘ Its close to the Andheri gurudwara…” said Rahul and Sayan in chorus, knowing fully well that I am a newbie in Mumbai and would have no clue where this aforementioned gurudwara would be.

( And then Rahul went back to ragging me, the lowly management trainee I was then!… Good times! ) 

Fresh in Mumbai then, and goaded by the promise of a Kolkata Nizaam reverie, I had gallivanted to the haven to taste the delight. Let it be known now, it was ok- decent, given that nothing of the sorts existed in Mumbai anywhere else. I happily gorged on a few and there in hangs a tale!

Now , its been 4 years in Mumbai and I have shifted base in Andheri West from Santacruz. One sultry evening, while passing down Oshiwara, I noticed this non descript road-side stall ambitiously titled Kolkata Konnection. The Karan Johar nomenclature form aside, it drew my heart strings! Could it be a roll shop which borrows more from the city rather than just a name? I explored.

” They say you will forget Shiraz and Nizaam rolls after you have ours”, ambitously proclaimed the owner (incidentally he is not a Bengali). I tried it, and from therein lies the basis of this post.

Kolkata Konnection is truly a slice of life Kolkata rolls. Made in the same style as I have grown up seeing in Babughat, Park Street , Lindsay or any of those nook and corners of Kolkata,  there arrived the white paper wrapped Indian tortilla, stuffed generously with irregular cubes of juicy chunky meat, with sauteed onions and chillies, smacked with sauces. There is also, I suspect, a dash of chat masala along with the mandatory lemon squeeze. Freshly from the tawa, it was handed to me , a beckoning of sorts to bite into a promise. So I did! It was – well- Kolkata taste buds all over again. Not the Nizaam fare, not the Shiraaz fare, but still pretty darn good… I am a person who believes in excess, so I had ordered the double egg mutton roll. Loved every lip smacking part of it!

I succumbed. Kolkata Konnection had me hooked and now a challenge was thrown to taste more. Quickly scrolling down their one pager pamphlet menu, revealed all kinds of chop-cutlets, biriyanis, gravy accompaniments, and surprise of surprises – Moghlai Porotha. I decided that the biriyani should  be put to test.

A word on Mumbai biriyanis. So this rice artifice that goes by the misnomer of biriyani in Mumbai is not – lets face it – what it should be. Any self respecting fellow who has tasted the real fare in Shiraz or in Dilli Darbar will know what the Lucknowi Biriyani is all about. Its not a pulao wearing multi coloured hues, not adorned with paraphernalia like dry fruits and doesnt have a dump of masala with the meat safely ensconced in the bottom. And the biggest piece of deceit – they dont have the aloo! No siree – that aint biriyani the way its meant to be! Its just not cricket!

But here I was, suitably encouraged with the gastronomical delight that was the roll, so the mutton biriyani was the call. Five hungry minutes later, there came the dish laden with the good stuff. A generous mound of rice, smelling divine, with the all important aloo peeking through. The smell itself was sign enough. I jumped into it with unabashed glee. The rice was soft and had absorbed the masala very well, the saffron aroma wafted through in every mouthful, the aloo was perfectly boiled and the mutton – wallahh! not hard at all, not too soft that it loses its texture too soon for you not to enjoy its juices- just perfect! It wasnt too spicy, the flavours of the rice and the meat and the marinade worked together to create this drowning feeling of sumptiousness that was this biriyani. Well done- the battle was won! I was advised by the now-over zealous owner to try it with the Rezala. I did, on a later visit – but that’s another story. Suffice to say, the biriyani in itself was a triumph!

So thats the story about Kolkata Konnection. I have a special account in my name in their home delivery clientele, I also get an extra aloo by special request. So that’s Kolkata Konnection – my walk back to the Nizam and the Shiraz days, to New Market backyard, to ultimatelu a delicous memory. To the good things of life!

Prithvi

PS: I also tried their Moghlai Parotha. Not the best, but will do! There is also Hyanglas in Lokhandwala that serves all of the above. Much has already been spoken about it. While it was good when it first launched, its now slowly on its descent. And their home delivery sucks! (And then it sucks some more!)