Well this does not constitute a Rabindra Jayanti post. It is Tagore’s 150th birthday today. I won’t pretend that I have a point of view on this. The closest I come to Tagore these days is through the piped music at Oh Calcutta, Tardeo. And of course Facebook and Twitter updates from folks on the maestro’s birthday.
I did buy some good caatla (river trout) and hilsa from the Khar Market today, cooked murgir jhol bhaat (chicken curry and rice) for lunch and followed it with some chilled roshogolla that the folks at Speciality Restaurants sent me.
Bengali? Yes. Cultural? Possibly not.
Well two stones in one because chicken curry rice is what Mom would dish on Sundays and it is Mother's Day today.
This post is about a Bengali icon of a different sort. Bijoli Grill (BG). The legendary wedding caterers of my early days at Calcutta ... the stuff of the poshest weddings in the city. I was around eight then but knew that BG dinners were special. BG were folks who catered for the lunch of cricketers at the Eden Gardens and the exclusive Club House there. A world we left when my dad passed away. In the more plebeian existence that followed, Bijoli Grill existed in our lives as ‘ice cream soda’, the sweet aerated drink that was a raging hit at Calcutta.
Bijoli Grill has changed over the years. The ice cream soda is no more. Nor is the suspiciously yellow coloured pineapple drink that they sold. Bijoli Grill moved out of the rarefied airs of high society Calcutta and made its wares available to the proletariat through franchises across the city.
And then BG came to Mumbai. Ironically at distant Powai. Mumbai, the great leveller spares none. Not even the exclusive caterers of Calcutta’s High Streets of yore. It had to settle in the fringes of Mumbai far away from the Marwari and Bengali barrister weddings of Ballygunge Phari, Park Sreet, Alipore, the hot spots of Calcutta in the 1980s.
I passed Powai the other day as I travelled back from a meeting to work. On a hunch I tweeted asking to know where Bijoli Grill at Powai was. The answers came rushing in and we did a U Turn and headed in search of BG:
The following tweets are in order of recency:
fossfan Amit Bhowmik
@Finelychopped obviously the bhetki fry :-) biryani is good but grossly overpriced.
fossfan Amit Bhowmik
@Finelychopped enter.from the pizzahut lane and it's on your left. Inside the amusement park.
in the same premises where Hakone is, next to Powai Plaze can be a landmark. RT @finelychopped: Where is the bijoli grill at powai?
SudhaKanago Sudha Kanago
@Finelychopped diagonally opp saffron spice, in between powai plaza and hakone entertainment playhouse
And there it was. In the Hakone Complex. Possibly one of India’s first Go Karting complex. Where we headed, more than a decade back, after a party in the house of strangers where I found myself as a young bachelor. My high spirited attempts to drive the go carts when I didn’t know how to drive led me to rolling onto the tyres thrice before they politely asked me to get off the track. But that’s another story and we do not condone drunken driving.
Like Bijoli Grill, Hakone too has probably lost a bit of its aura as Powai has grown a lot since then. But still finding a Bengali restaurant in the middle of the desolate sunny concrete stretches of Mumbai was quite refreshing. It was a small restaurant. There were a few tables with sofas but I was made to sit on a two seater, with comfortable chairs, as I was alone.
The menu very very extensive and overwhelming if you are alone. Some street food dishes which Bijoli Grill is famous for. A long list of dishes from Bengali homes. The prices in between the pricey Oh Calcutta and Calcutta Club. The typical Bengali meal consists of small portions of many dishes. No such options here. I looked longingly at the fluffy white luchis going to the next table but I knew that I had to choose wisely.
So I decided to do a one eighty degree turn and chose a couple of Bengali ‘Mughlai’ dishes. Stuff we can’t cook at home. Dishes which came to Calcutta thanks to the Nawabs of Oudhs, who were politely packed off to the city by the Brits, according to Vir Sanghvi’s ‘Rude Food’.
|Excellent mutton biriyani|
I wanted to order a lassi but it wasn’t there on the menu. The Bengali version, ghol, was listed on the menu but was MIA.
I headed straight for the mutton biriyani. This was phenomenally good. Fragrant, delicately spiced, very artistic, very Nawabi, very Calcutta. The rice long grained, firm, each grain individually caressed by a very loving cook. The mutton bony the way it is meant to be. Pleasantly succulent unlike in Calcutta. The potatoes, added to the Lucknowi recipe when the Nawabs fell on hard times according to Sanghvibiriyani... a British princess gone beautifully native.
The biriyani cost Rs 220 (5 USD). Would probably buy me three biriyanis at Calcutta where on my recent trip I almost felt as if I was carrying dollars when I compared stuff with Mumbai prices. Still the fact is that the biriyani at Bijoli Grill Powai was right up there with the best at Calcutta and was slightly closer to home than Calcutta.
I chose a chicken chaap to go with the biriyani. A bit of an indulgence. The biriyani was quite tasty and didn’t need a side kick. I requested for leg pieces in my chaap and got it.
There was minor problem with the dish as I later told the manager. It was an excellent kosha chicken. Perhaps even a chicken do piyaza if you take the caramelised onions on top of the dish.
|Kosha chicken masquerading as chicken chaap|
The truth is that the chicken chaap served to me at Bijoli Grill was as real as SRK’s love and affection for Dada, an IPL simile that most Bengalis would get. And if you don’t then it's suffice to say this was a fake chaap.
My friend Kurush Dalal of Dalal Caterers told me that he caters Bengali food too but never for Bengalis. He said he didn’t want to face the “but this is not how my mother made kosha mangsho comments”. Kurush’s mom was the legendary Lade Katy Dalal and she had obviously taught him well.
But I can say with full confidence that the chicken in a dark brown kosha murgi like sauce at Bijoli Grill was nothing like the chicken served in a light orange meets light brown granular gravy decked in rose essence served as chaap in Calcutta’s Mughlai restaurants.
The dish was good but not kosher.
I wanted to finish the dish with a nice chilled mishti doi (sweet curd) but this too was missing in action. So settled for the Calcutta version of malpua. The malpuas were just right in their consistency and bites of mouri.
A Nawabi (feudal lord during the Mughal era) meal for around Rs 550 (12 USD).
In case you are wondering, there was no ice cream soda. Bijoli Grill has stopped making these. Here’s a bit more from twitter on this.
ankanmandal Ankan Mandal
@Finelychopped Spoke to the owners during my wedding - they have no plans of reviving it - they say "case cholche" #CholcheCholbe
I did go back to Bijoli Grill. A stop on the way back from another meeting. Powai is becoming one of my favourite pit stops as I have said earlier.
I was alone again. So had to give the Bengali menu a miss again. Ordering everything in a traditional five course Bengali meal would make me bankrupt and would lead to a lot of wastage too. I was almost going to order biryani again when inspiration struck me.
I ordered luchis, which we don't make at home, and kosha mangsho.
The luchis were good. Puffed like balloons. Gossamer thin. Fried to perfection. However, and it's a rare admission for a Ganguly fan to make, it was eclipsed like the batsman at the other end when Tendulkar is on song.
For the kosha mangsho was meat perfection.
It was meat cooked to submission. Tender to the point of driving you crazy. The meat slithering down languorously off the bone. The Mutton Sutra.
Without doubt the best restaurant kosha mangsho at Mumbai. To add to the best Calcutta Biryani in town. That's quite a pedigree.