Kolkata, I discovered on my last trip, is full of Bengali food.
No, I'm not an idiot. Till not so long ago, Bengali wasn't on the menu if you wanted to eat out in Kolkata. Chinese they did, Continental they kind of did, Italian, Punjabi, South Indian all check but Bengali; there you had to be nice to your grandmother or persuade someone to get married (not to you though, the bride and groom don't get to eat anything at a wedding). Bengali snacks and sweets clogged every nook and corner, individual dishes (such as kosha mangsho) was available in places but a full Bengali meal had always been out of reach of the dining-out crowd. For a very long time, Suruchi was the only restaurant serving Bengali food, and that too only at lunch. Aaheli came along a decade and a half ago and remained the sole option for a while; Oh Calcutta finally came to Kolkata too, but much more has changed in the Bengali food scene since.
Kolkata, as I discovered on my last trip, is now full of Bengali food.
The latest trend seem to have been started by Kewpie's (named after the author of the one cookbook that made me a respectable chef in New York - Bangla Ranna). The restaurant seems to have set a template for the new crop of Bengali restaurants. First, take an old, vaguely mansion-looking house in a tiny, out-of-the-way lane. Then, fill it with art on the walls, bric-brac in the nooks and waiters dressed in dhotis. Finally, focus on a full-service menu; not just a couple of favourites, but more of an all-round introduction to all the pieces of Bengali cuisine from snack to sweet and all the really important stuff in between. This crop of restaurants are firmly about fine dining - atmosphere, ambience and fancy presentation tagged to some very good food.
I'm presenting it as a 'new' trend, but my visits to Kolkata are hardly frequent - think decade rather than months. Kewpies was born in 1988, and I first ate there in 2006 but what can I say - I write slowly. I've been to Kolkata only three or four times after that, and managed to stuff myself at three of these new-format restaurants - Kewpie's, 6 Ballygunge and Tero Parbon.
I'm not really going to write separate reviews of all three. Though each has its relative merits, all are very worth a visit for gharoa (homely) cuisine elevated to fine-dining. Prices are steep by Kolkata standards, but the average Mumbaikar will feel very good about it all. Best of all, its outstanding food - real honest top-flight bengali, from standards like bhapa ilish and chingdi malai curry to rare jewels such as chital muthiya or mochar ghonto. Go with the flow of the food (coursewise only, please), overeat till you look like a Bengali and come out stupefied.
You can read a lot more about Kewpie's here.
There are now many others Bengali restaurants - Bhojohori Manna, Prince, Share Chuattor were some names I heard. Next time...