Saturday, 12 April 2014

What to expect: Poila Boishakh Buffet at ITC Sonar

For the longest time Bengali cuisine had been a domestic stronghold and an archetypal Khadyoroshik Bangali couldn't extol the virtue of home-cooked food enough. The Ma-Thakuma-Pishima clan possessed the most extraordinary culinary skills, to a bonafide Bangali. Mochar ghonto, no matter how cumbersome a deal was cooked at home and shukto was best made at home. Not many could imagine going restaurant-hopping to sample a ghonto or a malaikari. That was food we had at home. Until, things changed.

Of course, hole-in-the-wall eateries selling chop-cutlet (deep-fried goodies) were always a favourite and then there were the pice hotels that sold unpretentious, mundane Bengali food, but fine-dining specialty restaurants are comparatively new. That makes one wonder what happened to that fiery pride in home cooking? Yes true a part of the clientele in these restaurants comprise NRI Bongs and foreign tourists keen on sampling the region's delicacy. But that can't just be it. Bengalis are venturing out of their homes to have food that once was a part of regular meals. 

We could perhaps discuss the sociology of Bengali cuisine another time. I shall get to the point of this post. So, with Poila Boishakh, Bengali New Year, just round the corner, Specialty restaurants and city Five stars are all gearing up for the celebrations and on offer are elaborate Bengali meals. I recently sampled what's on offer at the ITC Sonar (As a member of the Kolkata Food Bloggers I had received an invitation for a preview of their Poila Boishakh feast). 

To start with, the chilled glass of creamy Gondhoraj Lassi was quite the respite from the heat that has claimed the city's peace. Basically, a generous amount of Gondhoraj lemon rind is tossed into regular lassi and the concoction is allowed to rest for a few hours so that the flavour steeps in and then the lassi is skillfully churned with the juice of the same lime, chilled and presented in pretty glasses. It was quite pleasing on the palate, though I would have ideally opted for the Aam Porar Shorbot, a celebrated beverage in this part of the country made with charcoal-grilled raw mangoes, which was also on the menu. The Chef shared how the mango was charred in Tandoors, just how they should ideally be, and to me that should be the USP of the drink.

For appetizers there was Beckti Paturi (Bekti fillet laced in a pungent mustard marinade, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed), Jhuri aloo bhaja (potatoes cut thin and fried crisp) and Chingri Trigoonabhaja. Now I am allergic to prawns and couldn't sample the Chingri Trigoonabhaja, I had to make do with an innocuous vegetable chop instead, but this dish seemed rather interesting. By the look of it and the bits I gathered from the Chef, it was Chingri in a crust made of poppy seeds, sesame and kalonji (onion seeds) fried deep. I couldn't comment on its taste, but if the reaction of the others seated at my table was anything to go by, this one was perhaps the star of the appetizers platter. I must say  though that the paturi failed to impress me. The fish was fresh but over cooked for my liking and the mustard too pungent to savour. 

Now the tricky thing about judging Bengali cuisine at a restaurant is that there is always a point of reference, which, though helpful in a way, sometimes makes in job difficult. You will always compare the mochar ghonto with that you have had at an aunt's place and aunt most often wins. Now I am not an authenticity snob, as I have mentioned before, the dish simply has to make go "mmmmmm" to win my heart. Both the Mochar Ghonto (finely chopped banana flower cooked with select spices to make a dry savoury treat every Bengali swears by) and Thorer Chhenchki (Banana stem, finely chopped, boiled and stir fried), failed to impress me - I couldn't find that balance of flavour or the play of texture typical to these simple treats. The aloo posto was insignificant too and while I loved the hint of asafoetida in the Chholar Dal Narkel Diye, I wished it was a tad sweeter. But that's just me. 

For the main course, there was Chingrir Malaikari, yes I had to pass, followed by Rui Macher Kalia and Kosha Mangsho. The Rui Macher Kalia was light on the palate, I think it was the closest a five star restaurant could get to home-style cooking. But it was definitely not the best Kalia I have had in town. I was seriously let down by the fish itself. Again, no complaint about the freshness or quality of the fish, but I do think I riper fish would have done better in the Kalia. While it was a generous slice of fish, it had too many bones, the flimsy ones being the most irksome. I personally prefer the fish ripe, with a bit of the fat I so love when I am making a kalia or having them simply fried. In a jhaal (usually a mustard-based curry) or a jhol (soupy curry) too ripe a fish doesn't work. 

However, the Kosha Mangsho was a hit. Especially when paired with the Luchi. About the luchi, these were some of the best I have had. No matter how mundabe luchi (Bengali version of the puri) sounds, not everyone can make that perfect luchi. The piping hot luchi - large, round, a light golden in colour, soft, the upped crust just a little crisp, and puffed-perfect so that the moment I dug into the centre with my finger whooooshhh it went - was for me the star of the show. And the perfect accompaniment was the Kosha Mangho, the boneless pieces of meat oh so tender. Spicy but not overpowering not fiery. It was not the typical kosha mangsho we make in Bengali kitchens, but it was one tasty dish. 

Desserts comprised Chenar Jalebi (Chhanar Jilipi) Raj Bhog and Nalen gurer Payesh. I wonder where they source their gur from in the middle of the summer for the payesh was just how I like it. Creamy and not too sweet. Over all a sumptuous meal, but not an extraordinary experience. 

Recommended for the Luchi and Kosha Mangsho 

Pochet pinnch: Rs 2000 plus taxes with soft beverages and Rs 2750

plus taxes for unlimited premium brands of select alcohol

Timings: April 11-19 Dinner Buffet
             April 15 Both Lunch and Dinner Buffet 

Where: Eden Pavillion
ITC Sonar 

No comments:

Post a Comment