Bohemian rhapsody

I have always believed that outlandish – and modish -- stuff like, say, Yellowfin tuna with aubergine caviar or a raan wrapped in mille feuille, was all very well for them other types of cuisine. As far as Bengali food went, I kinda liked it true blue. Call me square, but that’s been my thinking all along.

So I went to this restaurant called Bohemian in south Calcutta’s Ballygunge Place with some amount of trepidation. I had heard from friends that they did a “contemporary” take on Bengali cuisine. Meaning what, I wondered. Lau Chingri encased in shortcrust pastry? Or maybe a doi maachh with mint reduction? Anyway, I decided that whatever it was, it needed checking out.

Well, I have to say that Bohemian knocked the suspicion and scepticism right out of my mind. Chef Joy Banerjee, who made his bones in Oh! Calcutta – the restaurant chain that’s put Bengali cuisine firmly on the country’s culinary map – has come up with a menu that’s as interesting to read – and salivate over -- as it is to get a taste of. He’s got stuff like Panch phoron flavoured chicken escallops, Cottege cheese nuggets with aam kashundi, Mushroom and pineapple skewers with spicy coriander and kalo jeera, Pan-braised fish with aam ada sauce, Spicy grilled fish with randhuni enriched curry sauce, Hilsa baked with a bori crust (though this is seasonal) or Chicken supremes tossed with pomegranate and spicy mustard. There’s lots more, and I spent many happy minutes contemplating the menu and the novel juxtaposition of tastes it conjured up.

So how was the food? Well, I couldn’t eat through the whole menu, of course – not even in the interest of this blog! But whatever I had was a real wake-up call for jaded taste buds -- and hidebound notions, I might add. I had the Garlic and coriander keema wraps as a starter, where the taste of coriander sat very well with the keema filling. Then I had the Pan-braised fish with aam ada sauce. It was braised bekti in white sauce deliciously spiked with the sharp, piquant flavour of ginger and raw mangoes. Served with tossed veggies and steamed rice, it’s a knockout dish, presenting an explosion of flavours quite unlike anything I’ve ever had. My companion chose the Chicken supremes with pomegranates and spicy mustard. I helped myself to a bit of that too. Like the fish, this one was also an admirable mélange of tastes and ingredients. Enough to, you know, make you sit up and say, hey, where the heck was that hiding all these years!

The Gandharaj soufflé that I had for dessert was also a triumph. Not just because the boring lemon flavour had been replaced with the inimitable taste of our sublime lime Gandharaj, but also because it was light and airy -- as a soufflé is meant to be. (Sadly, most so-called soufflés in India feel heavy and lugubrious. They are actually more mousse than soufflé.)

I had a nice chat with Chef Joy after dinner – he has this agreeable habit of coming round to meet the diners. He said he didn’t like to call his creations fusion food. He preferred the term “contemporary Bengali cuisine”. I would like to qualify it further and say that he is breaking new ground to give full play to the possibilities of typically Bengali spices and sauces such as panch phoron, kalo jeera, randhuni, mustard, kashundi, and so on. He is marrying them to Western-style dishes and the result, at least going by what I had, is superbly encouraging.

Bohemian is a small eatery – 30-cover I was told, though it looked even smaller. It’s also just seven-months old. But it’s clearly caught on. The day I went, a weekday, I had to wait quite a while to get a table. Chef Joy is pushing some serious boundaries here. And while he hasn’t busted my love for authentic Bengali cuisine, he’s certainly opened my mind to a whole new culinary idiom that he is making up as he goes along.   

Comments

  1. Your description has fired up my curiosity. I'll give it a try at the earliest opportunity.

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  2. Saugata, you must try it....i have been there more than six or seven times now and each time it was a gastronomic pleasure......mmmmm feeling like going again right now...never mind the extra kilos to shed off after that....shuma the way you describe the entire thing it makes us readers crave for food right away...

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