The other night I went out with friends to Fire and Ice, the Italian eatery on Calcutta’s Middleton Street. By the way, you’ll have to get used to me calling the city by its old name. I belong to the recalcitrant, change-resistant old order, which is perfectly happy with ‘Kolkata’ when speaking in Bengali, but finds it downright weird to call it anything other than ‘Calcutta’ while communicating in English. Besides, I can’t bear the mauling that ‘Kolkata’ receives from the non-natives. More often than not, the sound that emanates from these bemused tongues is either Kaul-kat-ta, or at best, Kaul-kata. It’s an assault, no less, and completely destroys any illusion one might have had about being able to assert the city’s Bengali character through the name change. So I continue to use the far more democratic ‘Calcutta’. It may sound colonial to the Bong nationalist, but it’s what I call home in the English language.
Anyway, this place I was talking about -- Fire and Ice – it’s been around for a while and in my humble opinion it’s probably the best Italian joint in the city. It calls itself a pizzeria – and rightly so. For though it has a range of pastas, lasagnas, risottos, crespelles and so on, its thin crust pizzas are without doubt its crowning achievement. I always feel that the best pizzas are the simplest – thinly rolled pizza dough topped with chopped or pureed tomatoes, some beautiful Mozzarella, seasoned with oregano and freshly ground pepper and baked to perfection. The great thing about the pizzas at Fire and Ice is that they manage to retain that fine balance, that sharp, clean, uncluttered taste no matter how elaborate the topping. Er, let’s omit the pizza they’re calling Fire of Bengal from this list. With mutton, green chillies and coriander leaves, it’s not exactly what I want my pizza to be. Did I try it? Ye gods, no. Of course, as they say, different strokes for different folks. A mutton and mirchi pizza may sound like undisguised folly to me – but I know there are lots of folks who dig such culinary mish mash. I like my chicken or mutton tikka with roti, naan, or lachchha paratha, and maybe with a bit of kali daal on the side. But, hey, if some people want them on a pizza, who am I to disagree?
On the whole, though, Fire and Ice keeps its dishes fairly authentic. Importantly, the pasta itself is always cooked to a tee. Though I have been to the restaurant many times, I have never found the pasta underdone, as it so often is even in Calcutta’s 5 Star hotel restaurants. For some reason the chefs, sous chefs or whatever it is that they call the johnnies who are entrusted with the task of judging when the pasta is ready, usually like to err on the side of caution. Result: pasta that’s so al dente, that your dente may be at risk.
Excellent though the pastas are at F and I , I usually give them a miss and plump for their pepperoni pizza. As I said, almost all their pizzas are standout dishes, but to me, the pepperoni tastes the best! It’s pretty basic -- thin crust pizza, tomato, Mozzarella and the salty salami baked to a crisp – but ooh, it’s so right, it’s so fingerlickin’ good! My one complaint: They have far too few salamis on each pizza. It’s not exactly cheap (Rs 440 plus tax), so a somewhat more liberal scattering of them delish pepperoni would have been much appreciated.
I have never met the Italian woman who runs Fire and Ice – I have heard it said that she is from Naples – but I doff my hat to her for taking her culinary skills so far afield and giving us this little spot of Italy in the heart of Calcutta. It’s a bistro-style place – buzzing, convivial, happy – the kind of happiness that invariably comes from the consumption of good food. As always, I had a great time there that night. Company of friends. Hilarious banter. A glass of red. And my favourite pepperoni pizza. Could it get any better?